February 16, 1861 – Jefferson Davis reached the Confederate capital at Montgomery, Alabama after a five-day journey from his plantation home south of Vicksburg, Mississippi.
On the afternoon of February 10, a slave delivered a message to Davis as he and his wife Varina pruned rose bushes at their home of Brierfield in Warren County, south of Vicksburg, Mississippi. The message informed Davis that he had been named provisional president of the new Confederacy. Varina noted, “Reading that telegram, he looked so grieved that I feared some evil had befallen our family. After a few minutes, he told me, as a man might speak of a sentence of death.”
President-elect Davis left for Montgomery the next day after bidding farewell to his family and slaves at Brierfield. The 600-mile trip involved taking a boat to Vicksburg, then traveling via railroad to Jackson, Chattanooga, and Atlanta before doubling back to Montgomery. A direct route from Davis’s home would have been just 100 miles, but the hurried nature of the trip combined with a lack of direct railroads made the journey much more difficult.
Davis delivered a speech at Vicksburg explaining he had tried to preserve the Union and the “constitutional equality of all the States… (But) our safety and honor required us to dissolve our connection with the United States. I hope that our separation may be peaceful. But whether it be so or not, I am ready, as I always have been, to redeem my pledges to you and the South by shedding every drop of my blood in your cause…”
That same day, Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia took the oath of office to become the provisional Confederate vice president in a simple, unprepared ceremony at Montgomery. The Provisional Congress had resolved to install Stephens before Davis arrived. Stephens delivered a speech in which he made no policy statements but instead declared that the founders had erred if they intended blacks to be considered “all men” in the Declaration of Independence. Stephens said:
“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery… is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first in the history of the world based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”
The Davis train reached the Mississippi capital at Jackson on the 12th, where Davis resigned his commission as major-general of state militia. Davis’s train stopped roughly 25 times on its journey until finally arriving at Montgomery on February 16. Upon his arrival, Davis addressed cheering greeters:
“The time for compromise has now passed, and the South is determined to maintain her position, and make all who oppose her smell Southern powder and feel Southern steel if coercion is persisted in… We ask nothing, we want nothing; we have no complications.”
That evening, “fire-eater” William Lowndes Yancey introduced Davis as a statesman, soldier, and patriot to a welcoming crowd at the Exchange Hotel. Yancey announced, “The man and the hour have met.” Davis addressed the gathering:
“It may be that our career will be ushered in in the midst of a storm; it may be than, as this morning opened with clouds, rain, and mist, we shall have to encounter inconveniences at the beginning; but, as the sun rose and lifted the mist, it dispersed the clouds and left us the pure sunshine of heaven. So will progress the Southern Confederacy, and carry us safe into the harbor of constitutional liberty and political equality…”
Festive bands played “Dixie’s Land,” a minstrel song new to southerners, supposedly written by Daniel Decatur Emmett in New York City. President-elect Davis spent the next day preparing for his inauguration on the 18th.
- Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 216
- Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 52
- Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 34-38
- McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 244, 259
- Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 222-23
- Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 27, 28-30