Tag Archives: Alexander Stephens

Davis Urges Suspension of Habeas Corpus

February 3, 1864 – President Jefferson Davis delivered a message to Congress asking for the authority to suspend the writ of habeas corpus.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

By this time, Federal military forces had begun various campaigns that included looting, pillaging, and plundering private property in the South. This had caused widespread disorder that required attention from the Confederate government. Consequently, Davis requested the same authorization that President Abraham Lincoln had assumed (without congressional consent) to apprehend and jail citizens suspected of disloyalty without trial.

In his message, Davis noted the “discontent, disaffection, and disloyalty” pervading the Confederacy, partly due to the demoralizing effects of Federal military occupation. Davis also alleged that such sentiments were rising among those who “have enjoyed quiet and safety at home.” He stated that suspending the writ was necessary to combat the rising number of Federal occupiers and Confederate dissidents, both of which tended to demoralize the people and encourage potential race wars between slaves and masters. Davis wrote:

“Must the independence for which we are contending, the safety of the defenseless families of the men who have fallen in battle and of those who still confront the invader, be put in peril for the sake of conformity to the technicalities of the law of treason?… Having thus presented some of the threatening evils which exist, it remains to suggest the remedy. And in my judgment that is to be found only in the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.”

Although the Lincoln administration had suspended the writ long ago and jailed thousands of anti-war dissidents without trial, this concept was still controversial for the Confederacy, which had been founded on the principle that states’ rights checked a potentially overreaching national government. As such, many members of the Confederate Congress opposed Davis’s request. Conversely, supporters argued that such a measure was necessary to suppress draft opposition and other “disloyal” practices.

After nearly two weeks of acrimonious debate, Congress finally approved authorizing Davis to suspend the writ of habeas corpus. The bill included a specific list of treasonable offenses, thus limiting Davis’s ability to act arbitrarily as much as possible. To further appease detractors, Davis only had suspension power until August 2.

Nevertheless, fierce critics remained, including Davis’s own vice president, Alexander Stephens of Georgia. Stephens declared that “constitutional liberty will go down, never to rise again on this continent” if Davis was empowered to suspend the writ. He called the bill a “blow at the very ‘vitals of liberty’” and accused Davis of–

“… aiming at absolute power… Far better that our country should be overrun by the enemy, our cities sacked and burned, and our land laid desolate, than that the people should thus suffer the citadel of their liberties to be entered and taken by professed friends.”

Despite opposition from Stephens and both of Georgia’s Confederate senators, the state legislature approved a resolution supporting this and all laws designed to win the war. Even so, the opposition to suspending the writ of habeas corpus remained so strong that Davis rarely exercised the power.

However, passage of the law prompted William W. Holden to suspend publication of his Unionist newspaper, the Raleigh (North Carolina) Standard. Many Confederate officials had targeted Holden as a traitor for urging southerners to rejoin the Union, and Davis could have ordered him arrested and jailed without charges.

Holden declared that “if I could not continue to print as a free man I would not print at all.” Holden then announced that he would oppose Governor Zebulon Vance in the upcoming election, but Vance turned many of Holden’s supporters against him by accusing him of treason.

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References

Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 331; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 950; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 394, 398; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 460-61, 465; 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. 435, 692-93, 697-98; 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), Q164

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Confederate Peace Overtures

July 4, 1863 – Confederate officials arrived off Hampton Roads, Virginia, to negotiate prisoner exchange terms with the Federals. They were also unofficially authorized to negotiate a possible end to the war.

Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

President Jefferson Davis instructed Vice President Alexander Stephens to “proceed as a military commissioner under flag of truce” to Hampton Roads, Virginia, and then, if the Federals permitted, on to Washington. Robert Ould, the Confederate agent in charge of prisoner exchange, accompanied Stephens.

The men were to try renegotiating the violated prisoner exchange cartel, as the Confederates accused the Federals of keeping officers and men in confinement even after being exchanged. But Stephens was also authorized to entertain offers to end the war if the subject came up.

Stephens and Ould boarded the flag-of-truce steamer Torpedo at Richmond on the 3rd and proceeded down the James River to the Federal lines at Norfolk. Davis hoped to time the journey so that Stephens would arrive at Washington around the same time as General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

The Torpedo reached Hampton Roads on the morning of Independence Day. Stephens sent a request to the Federal admiral stationed there to be allowed to continue to Washington. The admiral instructed Stephens to wait while he notified his superiors.

When President Abraham Lincoln received the request, he favored the idea of talking with Stephens, his old friend from Congress. But news of the Federal victory at Gettysburg arrived around the same time, and Lincoln’s cabinet argued that negotiating peace now would give the Confederacy false hope that it still may gain independence. Lincoln ultimately acknowledged that once the Federals destroyed the Confederacy’s ability to wage war, southerners “would be ready to swing back to their old bearings,” without negotiations on ending the war, or even on prisoner exchange.

Stephens and Ould waited for two days aboard the Torpedo before Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton telegraphed a response to the Federal commanders at Fort Monroe: “Until you receive (Lincoln’s) instructions hold no communication with Mr. Stephens or Mr. Ould, nor permit either of them to come within our lines. Our victory is complete. Lee’s in full retreat.”

The Federals informed Stephens and Ould, “The request is inadmissible. The customary agents and channels are adequate for all needful military communications and conference between the United States forces and the insurgents.” The Confederates returned to Richmond the next day, unable to discuss either prisoner exchange or peace with the Federals.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21469-75; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 300, 302; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9671; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 652-53; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 323; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 376, 379; 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. 650, 664; 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), Q363

The Confederate Conscription Act

April 16, 1862 – President Jefferson Davis signed a bill into law requiring all able-bodied white men between the ages of 18 and 35 to serve at least three years in the Confederate military. This was the first national draft in American history.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

By this time, Federal forces were closing in on Richmond, New Orleans, and vital points along the Mississippi River and Atlantic coast. The Confederates had just lost thousands of men in the largest battle ever fought in America up to that time, and many men who had enlisted in the Confederate army for 12 months at the beginning of the war were about to go home.

All these factors led to a growing call for conscription, which had been intensely debated in the Confederate Congress. Opponents argued that it violated the same civil liberties southerners had seceded to uphold. Some claimed that forcing men into the army showed weakness by indicating that volunteerism alone was no longer enough to maintain the war effort.

Supporters invoked the same arguments they had rejected when northerners made them before the war, citing the constitutional powers of Congress “to raise and support armies” and “provide for the common defense, as well as to make laws “necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers.” They also contended that conscription would provide the military with the manpower desperately needed to secure Confederate independence.

Ultimately, new Secretary of War George W. Randolph persuaded enough congressmen to approve the bill, and then he persuaded Davis to sign it into law. Thus, the Confederacy took the first and most expansive step toward centralizing state and national armies.

State officials would administer the draft, and draftees would be allowed to elect their own company, battalion, and regimental officers. The number of draftees would be proportional to the number of residents in each state and county. A regular recruiting system was also introduced to counter battlefield losses with continuous recruitment.

Soldiers preparing to return home after serving 12 months were now told they had to stay on for another two years or the war’s end, whichever came first. The three total years of service began on the soldiers’ original enlistment dates. Davis initially resisted extending one-year enlistments to three years, but he finally resolved that it was a necessary measure.

Politicians hopeful that the prospect of a draft would stimulate more volunteerism added a provision giving draftees 30 days to volunteer instead. Men could also pay a $500 commutation fee to evade the draft. This clause applied to pacifists such as Quakers and Mennonites; it also aimed to enable skilled laborers and the wealthy to continue serving the Confederacy in non-military capacities.

Another provision allowed for men to hire substitutes to serve in their place from “persons not liable for duty,” usually those outside the specified age range or foreigners. The substitute clause was based on the English tradition of assuming that those who could afford to hire a substitute could be more useful to the war effort outside the army. “Substitute brokers” became a lucrative profession as a result. This provision caused such widespread resentment among those who could not afford to hire a substitute that it was eventually repealed.

The original Conscription Act offered no exemptions from the draft other than commutation or substitution. Realizing that this could deplete the southern workforce, Congress enacted an amendment five days later that included exemptions for many classes and professions, including government workers, war industry laborers (i.e., those working in textiles, mines, foundries, etc.), river ferrymen and pilots, telegraph operators, hospital employees, apothecaries, printers, clergymen, and educators.

These exemptions invited fraud, as many new schools quickly opened, along with pharmacies that featured “a few empty jars, a cheap assortment of combs and brushes, a few bottles of ‘hairdye’ and ‘wizard oil’ and other Yankee nostrums.”

Men who owned 20 or more slaves were also exempted from the draft so they could maintain supervision of farm production and defend against potential slave uprisings. This became known as the “Twenty Negro Law.” It only applied to states that had laws requiring white men to oversee and police their slaves. Many criticized this provision as favoring plantation owners.

Governors Joseph E. Brown of Georgia and Zebulon Vance of North Carolina were among the most virulent critics of the Conscription Act. Brown declared that no “act of the Government of the United States prior to the secession of Georgia struck a blow at constitutional liberty… as has been struck by the conscription act… at one fell swoop, (the act) strikes down the sovereignty of the States, tramples upon the constitutional rights and personal liberty of the citizens, and arms the President with imperial power.”

It was not surprising that Georgia and North Carolina accounted for 92 percent of all exempted government workers in the Confederacy. Even Davis’s own vice president, Alexander H. Stephens, became an outspoken opponent of this measure.

Many who supported the Conscription Act blamed Davis for making it necessary because of his strategy to stay on the defensive and protect many static points at once. Davis countered that “without military stores, without the workshops to create them, without the power to import them, necessity not choice has compelled us to occupy strong positions and everywhere to confront the enemy without reserves.”

The Confederate press generally supported the new law but did not hesitate to expose its weaknesses. Despite resentment to government coercion, many saw this as necessary to meet the wartime emergency. The law affected nearly every Confederate family in some way, even though nearly half of those drafted never served.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 484-85; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (16 Apr 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 158, 160, 163; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 155-56, 245, 767; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 394-95; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 136, 139; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3310; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 73-74; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 197, 200; 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. 430-32; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 372-73; Spearman, Charles M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 613-14; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 129; 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), Q262

The Official Inauguration of Jefferson Davis

February 22, 1862 – Jefferson Davis took the oath of office to become the first official president of the Confederacy.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Davis and Vice President Alexander H. Stephens had been elected to their posts by delegates of the Montgomery convention the previous February on a provisional basis only, pending a general election. That general election had officially elected Davis and Stephens as Confederate president and vice president in November. Under the Confederate Constitution, they were to serve one six-year term and were ineligible for reelection.

Confederate officials selected February 22, George Washington’s Birthday, as the presidential inauguration day at the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. Thousands of people attended the ceremonies, which began in the Virginia Hall of Delegates and then moved outside to a canopied platform beside the statue of Washington in the Capitol Square. Davis was escorted to the platform by his black footmen; they all wore black because, as one of them said, “This… is the way we always does in Richmond at funerals and sichlike.”

On the platform, Davis took the chief executive’s oath, kissed the Bible, and delivered his inaugural address. He declared: “Whatever of hope some may have entertained that a returning sense of justice would remove the danger with which our rights were threatened, and render it possible to preserve the Union of the Constitution, must have been dispelled by the malignity and barbarity of the Northern States in the prosecution of the existing war.” He cited as evidence:

“Bastilles filled with prisoners, arrested without civil process or indictment duly found; the writ of habeas corpus suspended by Executive mandate; a State Legislature controlled by the imprisonment of members whose avowed principles suggested to the Federal Executive that there might be another added to the list of seceded States; elections held under threats of a military power; civil officers, peaceful citizens, and gentle-women incarcerated for opinion’s sake–proclaimed the incapacity of our late associates to administer a Government as free, liberal, and humane as that established for our common use.”

Davis contrasted these Federal actions to those of his administration, stating that “through all the necessities of an unequal struggle there has been no act on our part to impair personal liberty or the freedom of speech, of thought, or of the press.”

Noting the financial troubles in the North, Davis predicted a Federal economic collapse: “The period is near at hand when our foes must sink under the immense load of debt which they have incurred, a debt which in their effort to subjugate us has already attained such fearful dimensions as will subject them to burdens which must continue to oppress them for generations to come.”

Davis expressed his view that the war was a test of what the southern people were willing to endure to defend their freedom: “It was, perhaps, in the ordination of Providence that we were to be taught the value of our liberties by the price which we pay for them.”

Trying to turn a negative into a positive, Davis cited unexpected benefits from European powers adhering to the Federal blockade:

“If the acquiescence of foreign nations in a pretended blockade has deprived us of our commerce with them, it is fast making us a self-supporting and an independent people. The blockade, if effectual and permanent, could only serve to divert our industry from the production of articles for export and employ it in supplying the commodities for domestic use.”

However, he also acknowledged the recent defeats in the Western Theater and North Carolina:

“After a series of successes and victories, which covered our arms with glory, we have recently met with serious disasters. But in the heart of a people resolved to be free these disasters tend but to stimulate to increased resistance. To show ourselves worthy of the inheritance bequeathed to us by the patriots of the Revolution, we must emulate that heroic devotion which made reverse to them but the crucible in which their patriotism was refined.”

Davis concluded:

“With humble gratitude and adoration, acknowledging the Providence which has so visibly protected the Confederacy during its brief but eventful career, to thee, O God, I trustingly commit myself, and prayerfully invoke thy blessing on my country and its cause.”

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References

Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 217-18; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 113; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 84-85; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 174; 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. 402-03, 433; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 265-67; 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), Q162

The Confederate National Elections

November 6, 1861 – Elections took place throughout the Confederacy to replace the provisional national government with a permanent one.

The 1st Confederate National Flag | Image Credit: RussellHarrison.com

The 1st Confederate National Flag | Image Credit: RussellHarrison.com

The Confederate government set this date for a national election, but states had conducted their own balloting based on their constitutions. An editorial in the Richmond Daily-Dispatch stated:

“For the first time the people of the Confederate States will to-day elect their own President and Vice President. There is no opposition to either of the candidates for these high positions. But it is most important that this fact should not be permitted to keep a single voter from the polls. Every loyal citizen of the Confederate States should feel that he has a duty to discharge to his country to-day by voting for the President and Vice President, and thus ensuring a full vote, and thereby letting the world see that the new Government is the work of the People of the South, and not of a faction, as is falsely pretended by the Yankee despotism.”

The Democratic Party was the only major political party operating in the Confederacy, making the focus of this election more local than national. Voters tended to cast ballots according to prewar preferences, ignoring candidates’ stances on secession as long as they supported the Confederacy. Five states (Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, and Alabama) allowed soldiers to vote by absentee ballot.

Members of the Confederate House of Representatives were generally chosen at public meetings, with most provisional congressmen winning permanent seats. State legislatures selected the Confederate senators.

Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens were the unanimous choices for permanent president and vice president. According to the Confederate Constitution, they were to serve one six-year term. Inauguration ceremonies were scheduled for February 22, George Washington’s Birthday.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (November 6); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 12382-90; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 237-38; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 132; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 135

Naval Operations Along the Coast and at Sea

July 6, 1861 – C.S.S. Sumter completed her first major raid on Federal shipping, Federals strengthened their blockade and their strategy, and a Federal crew fought back against Confederate privateers off the Atlantic Coast.

C.S.S. Sumter

Capt Raphael Semmes | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Capt Raphael Semmes | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

On July 3, C.S.S. Sumter under Captain Raphael Semmes captured her first prize: the 700-ton bark Golden Rocket from Maine, off the coast of Cuba. Sumter brought the vessel to Cienfuegos, Cuba. Three days later, Sumter brought seven more prizes to Cienfuegos in the Confederacy’s first major raid on Federal commercial shipping: Cuba, Machia, Ben Dunning, Albert Adams, Niad, West Wind, and Lewis Kilham.

Semmes informed the Spanish colonial officials at the port that he had brought his prizes there “with the expectation that Spain will extend to cruisers of the Confederate States the same friendly reception that in similar circumstances he would extend to the cruisers of the enemy…” However, the Spanish government later released the captured ships on the grounds that Spain had not recognized the Confederacy as an independent nation.

The Federal Blockade

U.S.S. South Carolina under Commander James Alden began blockading duty off the important port of Galveston, Texas. On July 4, South Carolina seized Confederate blockade-runners Shark, Venus, Ann Ryan, McCanfield, Louisa, and Dart.

At the vital port of Charleston, South Carolina, the Confederate privateer Petrel ran the blockade and made it out to sea. North of Charleston, U.S.S. Daylight under Commander Samuel Lockwood began blockading duty off Wilmington, North Carolina, another key port.

As Federals continued working to strengthen their blockade of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens expressed confidence that “in some way or other (the blockade will) be raised, or there will be revolution in Europe… Our cotton is… the tremendous lever by which we can work our destiny.”

Meanwhile, the Federal Navy Blockade Strategy Board recommended to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles that the navy purchase old vessels weighing at least 250 tons each, load them with heavy stones, and sink these “stone fleets” to block southern waterways.

The idea was based on Confederates who had sunk four hulks in Charleston’s Main Ship Channel on January 11, after the merchant vessel Star of the West tried provisioning Fort Sumter. The Board justified the plan by reiterating the importance of cutting off Confederate shipping. Welles approved, and 7,500 tons of stone filled 25 whaling vessels, to be manned by specially recruited captains, seamen, and mates.

The Board also proposed dividing the Atlantic Blockading Squadron into a North and South Atlantic Squadron, with the division between North and South Carolina.

Confederate Privateering and Federal Reprisal

As C.S.S. Sumter threatened Federal shipping and the Federal blockade threatened Confederate commerce, Confederate privateers operated along the Atlantic coast. The most prominent vessel was Jefferson Davis, which seized the brig John Welsh and the merchant schooner Enchantress off southern Delaware. The Confederates seized five crewmen and $13,000 worth of cargo. This became a national story due to the Federal government’s strong opposition to Confederate privateering on the high seas.

A little over two weeks later, U.S.S. Albatross captured the newly Confederate-manned Enchantress off Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina. Enchantress was brought to North Carolina, and the Confederates were placed in irons and transported to the Philadelphia Navy Yard to face prosecution for piracy.

On July 7, Jefferson Davis moved northward and seized the schooner S.J. Waring some 150 miles off Sandy Hook, New Jersey. The Confederates transferred Waring’s charts, supplies, and quadrant to Davis, along with Waring Captain Francis Smith, two mates, and two seamen. They left two seamen, a passenger, and a black steward named William Tilghman aboard Waring, along with five unarmed crew members from Davis. Waring’s new Confederate captain ordered the U.S. flag lowered, shredded, and sewn into a Confederate flag. Tilghman vowed revenge for this insult.

His revenge came nine days later, when he overwhelmed the Confederate crew and reclaimedWaring. Late that night, Tilghman took advantage of unwitting Confederate seamen on relief duty by killing the Confederate captain and his first and second mate with an axe as they slept. The seamen quickly surrendered and were spared death by promising to bring Tilghman and his fellow Federals to a northern port.

Waring arrived in New York on the 22nd under Tilghman’s command. He received $6,000 for his efforts to retake the ship, becoming the first black hero of the war.

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Sources

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 720; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 54-56, 58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 41-43, 45; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 733; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 90-92, 94-95; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 243; 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. 383; Still, Jr., William N., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 535, 703; Time-Life Editors, The Blockade: Runners and Raiders (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 146

Davis Arrives at Montgomery

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.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

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…”

Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

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.

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Sources

  • 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