The Papers of Jefferson Davis

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

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The Papers of Jefferson Davis

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The Papers of Jefferson Davis

June 1841--July 1846

Jefferson Davis. edited by James T. McIntosh. introduction by S. W. Higginbotham

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The Papers of Jefferson Davis

June 1865--December 1870

Jefferson Davis. edited by Lynda Lasswell Crist, Suzanne Scott Gibbs, Brady L. Hutchison, and Elizabeth Henson Smith. introduction by William J. Cooper, Jr.

"Being powerless to direct the current, I can only wait to see whither it runs," wrote Jefferson Davis to his wife, Varina, on October 11, 1865, five months after the victorious United States Army took him prisoner. Indeed, in the tumultuous years immediately after the Civil War, Davis found himself more acted upon than active, a dramatic change from his previous twenty years of public service to the United States as a major political figure and then to the Confederacy as its president and commander in chief.

Volume 12 of The Papers of Jefferson Davis follows the former president of the Confederacy as he and his family fight to find their place in the world after the Civil War. A federal prisoner, incarcerated in a "living tomb" at Fort Monroe while the government decided whether, where, and by whom he should be tried for treason, Davis was initially allowed to correspond only with his wife and counsel. Released from prison after two hard years, he was not free from legal proceedings until 1869. Stateless, homeless, and without means to support himself and his young family, Davis lived in Canada and then Europe, searching for a new career in a congenial atmosphere. Finally, in November 1869, he settled in Memphis as president of a life insurance company and, for the first time in four years, had the means to build a new life.

Throughout this difficult period, Varina Howell Davis demonstrated strength and courage, especially when her husband was in prison. She fought tirelessly for his release and to ensure their children's education and safety. Their letters clearly demonstrate the Davises' love and their dependence on each other. They both worried over the fate of the South and of family members and friends who had suffered during the war.

Though disfranchised, Davis remained careful but not totally silent on the subject of politics. Even while in prison, he wrote without regret of his decision to follow Mississippi out of the Union and of his unswerving belief in the constitutionality of state rights and secession. Likewise, he praised all who supported the Confederacy with their blood and who, like himself, had lost everything.

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The Papers of Jefferson Davis

October 1863--August 1864

Jefferson Davis. edited by Lynda Lasswell Crist, Kenneth H. Williams, Peggy L. Dillard, and James I. Robertson, Jr.

Kenneth H. Williams, Associate Editor
Peggy L. Dillard, Editorial Associate

The autumn of 1863 was a trying time for Jefferson Davis. Even as he expressed unwavering confidence about the eventual success of the Confederate movement, he had to realize that mounting economic problems, low morale, and rotating army leadership were threatening the welfare of the new nation. Less than a year after the October 1863 Confederate victory at Chickamauga, the South relinquished Atlanta to Sherman.

During the tumultuous eleven months chronicled in Volume 10, Davis retained his fervor for southern nationalism as he struggled furiously to command a war and maintain a government. As the letters contained here illustrate, he soldiered bravely on.

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The Papers of Jefferson Davis

September 1864--May 1865

Jefferson Davis. edited by Lynda Lasswell Crist, Barbara J. Rozek, Kenneth H. Williams, and Richard J. Sommers

During the last nine months of the Civil War, virtually all of the news reports and President Jefferson Davis's correspondence confirmed the imminent demise of the Confederate States, the nation Davis had striven to uphold since 1861. But despite defeat after defeat on the battlefield, a recalcitrant Congress, naysayers in the press, disastrous financial conditions, failures in foreign policy and peace efforts, and plummeting national morale, Davis remained in office and tried to maintain the government -- even after the fall of Richmond -- until his capture by Union forces on May 10, 1865.

The eleventh volume of The Papers of Jefferson Davis follows the last tumultuous months of the Confederacy and illuminates Davis's policies, feelings, ideas, and relationships, as well as the viewpoints of hundreds of southerners -- critics and supporters -- who asked for favors, pointed out abuses, and offered advice on myriad topics. Printed here for the first time are many speeches and a number of new letters and telegrams. In the course of the volume, Robert E. Lee officially becomes general in chief, Joseph E. Johnston is given a final command, legislation is enacted to place slaves in the army as soldiers, and peace negotiations are opened at the highest levels. The closing pages chronicle Davis's dramatic flight from Richmond, including emotional correspondence with his wife as the two endeavor to find each other en route and make plans for the future in the wreckage of their lives.

The holdings of seventy different manuscript repositories and private collections in addition to numerous published sources contribute to Volume 11, the fifth in the Civil War period.

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