The Deteriorating State of the Confederacy

March 13, 1865 – President Jefferson Davis submitted a contentious message to the Confederate Congress as a growing sense of defeat spread throughout the South.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

While Confederate officials became more vocal in their belief that independence could not be attained, Davis refused to publicly acknowledge such a possibility. His continued resistance was reflected in a letter he wrote to influential Virginian Willoughby Newton:

“In spite of the timidity and faithlessness of many who should give tone to the popular feeling and hope to the popular heart, I am satisfied that it is in the power of the good men and true patriots of the country to reanimate the wearied spirit of our people. The incredible sacrifices made by them in the cause will be surpassed by what they are still willing to endure in preference to abject submission, if they are not deserted by their leaders… I expect the hour of deliverance.”

But the future seemed increasingly bleak for Davis. In early March, he received a message from General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Trans-Mississippi Department, in which Smith noted that he was under heavy criticism from the southern press for failing to send troops east to stop the Federal surge. Smith asked Davis to relieve him of command, but while Davis agreed with some of the criticism, he refused to fire Smith.

Davis then turned to Congress, which he believed was not doing enough to sustain the war effort. The members were scheduled to adjourn in mid-March, but Davis urged them to stay on in special session to consider “further and more energetic legislation.” He then accused the senators and congressmen of inaction in the face of emergency.

He requested the modification of laws governing impressments and raising revenue, as well as military recruiting. Specifically, Davis wanted all class exemptions removed from the Conscription Act, a new militia law to strengthen local defenses, and the same power that President Abraham Lincoln had to suspend the writ of habeas corpus.

Congress responded by approving legislation allowing for the recruitment of black men into the military, which Davis signed into law. Members also revised the impressment law of March 6, 1863, by forbidding the Confederate government from taking breeding livestock from private farms. However, the members did not act upon any of the president’s other recommendations. Instead they issued a response to Davis’s message, which read in part:

“Nothing is more desirable then concord and cordial cooperation between all departments of Government. Hence your committee regret that the Executive deemed it necessary to transmit to Congress a message so well calculated to excite discord and dissension…”

The members approved a new national flag, which was a modified Stainless Banner, and they voted to give official thanks to Lieutenant General Wade Hampton for his defense of Richmond. Then they adjourned. Many senators and congressmen deeply resented Davis’s charges of obstructionism.

General Joseph E. Johnston, a longtime Davis opponent, wrote to his friend and fellow Davis opponent, Senator Louis T. Wigfall of Texas, in response to Wigfall’s assertion that Davis was in intense anguish over the state of the Confederacy. Johnston wrote, “I have a most unchristian satisfaction in what you say of the state of mind of the leading occupants of the Presidential Mansion. For me, it is very sufficient revenge.”

Near month’s end, when the future appeared even bleaker than when the month began, Davis told a friend, “Faction has done much to cloud our prospects and impair my power to serve the country.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 262-63; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 17256-66; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 563, 567, 572; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 646-49, 651-54; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 473; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 751; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 379; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q165

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