Tag Archives: Provisional Confederate Congress

Davis Deals with Critical Commanders

August 4, 1861 – Confederate President Jefferson Davis responded to allegations made by Major General P.G.T. Beauregard, who joined with Major General Joseph E. Johnston in criticizing Davis’s administration.

President Jefferson Davis and Gens J.E. Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

President Jefferson Davis and Gens J.E. Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

By this month, Davis began experiencing dissension among his two top commanders at Manassas. Davis hoped that the Confederate Army of the Potomac would maintain the strategic initiative by resuming the offensive after the Battle of Bull Run, but Johnston, the army’s ranking officer, cited a lack of supplies as a reason not to advance. Davis wrote to Johnston on the 1st:

“We are anxiously looking for the official reports of the battle of Manassas, and have present need to know what supplies and wagons were captured. I wish you would have prepared a statement of your wants in transportation and supplies of all kinds, to put your army on a proper footing for active operations…”

Davis urged Johnston to “be prompt to avail ourselves of the weakness resulting” from plummeting Federal morale due to their defeat last month.

That same day, a letter was read to the Confederate Congress from Beauregard arguing that “want of food and transportation has made us lose all the fruits of our victory. We ought to, at this moment, be in or about Washington… From all accounts, Washington could have been taken up to the 24th instant, by 20,000 men!” The press quickly published this letter in various newspapers, and taking the hero of both Fort Sumter and Bull Run at his word, most southerners put the blame on Davis for failing to adequately care for the troops.

Davis testified before Congress and asserted that the Commissary Department was working as well as it could with its limited resources, and that Beauregard’s letter may have exaggerated the issue. Davis acknowledged that Beauregard had informed him the week before that some regiments had no food, but Davis had shared a report with him from Colonel Lee at the Commissary stating that local citizens were making up the ration shortages by donating food. Davis conceded that if the army lacked rations, “the neglect of the subsistence department demands investigation and proper correction.”

Three days after Beauregard’s letter was read to Congress, Davis wrote a letter assuring him that the government was doing all it could to meet the army’s needs. Davis then stated:

“I think you are unjust to yourself in putting your failure to pursue the enemy to Washington to the account of short supplies of subsistence and transportation. Under the circumstances of our army, and in the absence of the knowledge since acquired, if indeed the statements be true, it would have been extremely hazardous to have done more than was performed… Enough was done for glory, and the measure of duty was full; let us rather show the untaught that their desires are unreasonable, than, by dwelling on possibilities recently developed, give form and substance to the criticisms always easy to those who judge after the event.”

Davis then wrote once more to Johnston regarding the complaints about inadequate food and medical care in the army. The president continued defending himself against criticisms and accusations from the public, Congress, and his commanders throughout the month.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 6398-405, 6742; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 69-70; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 52; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 103-05, 110

The Bull Run Aftermath

July 22, 1861 – News of yesterday’s Confederate victory spread throughout North and South. Southerners celebrated while northerners resolved to continue the fight.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Rain began pouring on the battlefield on the night of July 21. The chaotic Federal retreat had compelled Confederate President Jefferson Davis to order a pursuit all the way to Washington, reasoning that such panicked troops could not defend the capital. But the rain prompted Davis to modify his order to begin the pursuit the next morning.

In a late-night meeting between Davis and his top commanders, Generals Joseph E. Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard, the commanders argued against any pursuit at all. They explained that their men were too disorganized and exhausted to advance, especially in the heavy rain and mud. They did not have enough food or ammunition for another major battle, and they lacked the equipment needed for what could be a long campaign against Washington. Moreover, the Davis administration had maintained that the Confederacy would fight only to secure independence, not to conquer the U.S.

The generals provided intelligence showing that Washington’s defenses were too strong to penetrate. Davis, not wanting to override the commanders who knew their troops best, relented. Meanwhile, Confederates continued gathering their wounded, burying their dead, and rounding up prisoners. The captured Federals and civilians would be transported to Richmond and treated as prisoners of war as leverage against threats from the Lincoln administration to execute Confederate captives as traitors or pirates.

Davis awarded Beauregard a promotion from brigadier to full general for his battle performance:

“Sir: Appreciating your services in the battle of Manassas, and on several other occasions during the existing war, as affording the highest evidence of your skill as a commander, your gallantry as a soldier, and your zeal as a patriot, you are promoted to be a general in the army of the Confederate States of America, and, with the consent of Congress, will be duly commissioned accordingly.”

16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Bing public domain

16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Bing public domain

In Washington, President Abraham Lincoln met with his cabinet on the night of the 21st and listened to eyewitness accounts of the Federal disaster. Emma S. Edmonds, a Federal field nurse at Georgetown Hospital, described the post-battle chaos:

“Washington at that time presented a picture striking illustrative of military life in its most depressing form… Every bar-room and groggery seemed filled to overflowing with officers and men, and military discipline was nearly, or quite, forgotten for a time… The hospitals in Washington, Alexandria and Georgetown were crowded with wounded, sick, discouraged soldiers. That extraordinary march from Bull Run, through rain, mud, chagrin, did more towards filling the hospitals than did the battle itself… Measels, dysentery and typhoid fever were the prevailing diseases after the retreat…”

Federal troops continued straggling into Washington the following day. Walt Whitman, poet and correspondent for the Brooklyn Standard, wrote:

“The defeated troops commenced pouring into Washington over the Long Bridge at daylight on Monday, 22nd–day drizzling all through with rain… The sun rises, but shines not. The men appear, at first sparsely and shame-faced enough, then thicker, in the streets of Washington–appear in Pennsylvania Avenue, and on the steps and basement entrances… Amid the deep excitement, crowds and motion, and desperate eagerness, it seems strange to see many, very many, of the soldiers sleeping–in the midst of all sleeping sound…”

Many panicked soldiers hurried to the railroad station to take trains back home, but Federals officials put the railroads under heavy guard. Some troops nearly swamped a boat coming from Alexandria by rushing onto its decks. Northerners learned of the Federal fiasco in the newspapers, and gloom pervaded the northern states. A New Yorker wrote, “Today will be known as BLACK MONDAY. We are utterly and disgracefully routed, beaten, whipped.”

Major General Irvin McDowell, commanding the Federals at Bull Run, rode into Arlington and issued orders posting troops to defend Washington, just across the Potomac. General-in-Chief Winfield Scott also ordered Federals to garrison the forts surrounding the capital and assigned 15,000 men for McDowell to post on the Virginia side of the river in defense. The rest of McDowell’s army now fell under Major General Joseph Mansfield, who commanded all troops in the capital.

Northern pundits and officials offered many reasons for the defeat. Some blamed Major General Robert Patterson for failing to stop Johnston from reinforcing Beauregard; this had been remedied just before the battle when Scott removed Patterson from command. Others blamed Scott for going through with the battle even though the green Federals troops were not prepared; few acknowledged that Scott had not wanted to fight in the first place but only succumbed to pressure from the northern public and the Lincoln administration. Others blamed McDowell and his officers for a lack of leadership. McDowell had actually performed well during the battle, but his strategy had been too complicated for such inexperienced soldiers to execute.

Lincoln finally concluded that the Federals had fought bravely and would have won the battle had Johnston not arrived with reinforcements. The Federals may have been routed, but they could be reorganized and trained to fight again. A correspondent for the London Times reflected most northerners’ sentiment by predicting: “This prick in the great Northern balloon will let out a quantity of poisonous gas, and rouse the people to a sense of the nature of the conflict on which they have entered.”

In the Confederacy, southerners celebrated the dramatic victory on the 22nd. Confederates at Manassas collected the vast quantity of arms, supplies, and equipment that the retreating Federals had left behind. Many soldiers expressed astonishment at the extravagant stores they found, especially since they were almost out of food.

Davis met with Johnston and Beauregard once more on the night of the 22nd, where the question of whether to pursue the Federals came up again. The rains had turned the roads to mud, and the Potomac River had swelled, making it very difficult to cross. Not only were the Confederate troops just as inexperienced as the Federals, but they were hungry and tired as well. And regarding Washington’s fortifications, Beauregard said, “They have spared no expense.” Unaware of the chaos and panic sweeping the capital at that time, the men resolved once and for all not to pursue.

In Richmond, the Provisional Confederate Congress received Davis’s dispatches from the battlefield. Based on these, Congress approved resolutions thanking God and calling on citizens to offer thanksgiving and praise to God for the victory at Manassas. The resolutions also condemned the bloodshed caused by the Federal invasion and offered to the families of those who died in battle assurance that “the names of the gallant dead as the champions of free and constitutional liberty” would be remembered in the people’s hearts.

In the North, the mood was balanced between grim determination to continue the struggle and hopeless despair. Horace Greeley, influential editor of the New York Daily Tribune, exemplified the latter. Greeley had been one of the most vocal supporters of destroying the Confederacy before the battle; his newspaper had published the war cry, “On to Richmond!” But on July 29, Greeley wrote to Lincoln stating that he now had a change of heart after “my seventh sleepless night–yours, too, doubtless.”

He wrote, “You are not considered a great man, and I am a hopelessly broken one… Can the rebels be beaten after all that has occurred, and in view of the actual state of feeling caused by our late awful disaster?” If the Confederacy could not be defeated, Greeley advised, “do not fear to sacrifice yourself to your country… every drop of blood henceforth shed in this quarrel will be wantonly, wickedly shed, and the guilt will rest heavily on the soul of every promoter of the crime.”

Greeley recommended negotiating an armistice “with a view to a peaceful adjustment.” He then asserted that in New York City, “the gloom… is funereal–for our dead at Bull Run were many, and they lie unburied yet. On every brow sits sullen, scorching, black despair. If it is best for the country and for mankind that we make peace with the rebels at once and on their own terms, do not shrink even from that.”

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Sources

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 95; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 6177-87, 6293, 6305-16, 6730; Davis, William C., First Blood: Fort Sumter to Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 150-52; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 59-61; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6455; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 85; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 52; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 98-100, 102; 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. 345, 347; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 121, 130; 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), Q361

The Confederate Capital Relocation

May 20, 1861 – The Provisional Confederate Congress approved a measure relocating the national capital from Montgomery, Alabama to Richmond, Virginia.

The new Confederate Capitol at Richmond | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The new Confederate Capitol at Richmond | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Legislators hoped that moving to Richmond would strengthen Virginia’s support for the Confederacy. President Jefferson Davis had initially opposed such a move because Richmond was much closer to the U.S. than Montgomery. However, he acknowledged that Virginians had made a tremendous sacrifice to join the Confederacy, knowing their state would be a prime invasion target. Thus, Davis endorsed the bill.

The next day the Provisional Congress approved a resolution “that this Congress will adjourn on Tuesday next, to meet again on the 20th day of July, at Richmond, Virginia.” Davis was authorized to move his executive department from Montgomery to Richmond at any time before July 20, and if any change in the war should “render it impolitic to meet in Richmond,” Davis could call Congress into session at any other place of his choosing.

Most members of Congress agreed that placing the Confederate government in Richmond would gain them a military and psychological advantage. However, it would also place them within near the mounting conflict in northern Virginia, and protecting Richmond would become a key military strategy that left the Confederacy vulnerable in other military theaters.

On May 27, President Davis and other Confederate officials boarded the rear coach of a train to move the executive department from Montgomery to Richmond. Fellow passengers did not know Davis was on the train until people cheered him from station platforms along the journey, hailing him as “Jeff Davis” and “the old Hero.”

Davis arrived to a two-gun salute on the 29th, and Richmond became inundated with government officials soon thereafter. Prominent Virginians such as Governor John Letcher and other dignitaries greeted Davis at the station with a carriage drawn by four white horses.

Letcher and the Richmond mayor traveled with Davis to the Spotswood Hotel, where the president delivered a speech from the hotel balcony. Davis later inspected troops at the fairgrounds and delivered another speech. He called his audience “the last best hope of liberty… The country relies on you. Upon you rest the hopes of our people; and I have only to say, my friends, that to the last breath of my life I am wholly your own.” The Richmond Daily Enquirer reported, “The mantel of (George) Washington falls gracefully upon his shoulders. Never were a people more enraptured with their Chief Magistrate than ours are with President Davis.”

Shortly after arriving in Richmond, Davis received a briefing on the state’s military situation. Currently three armies guarded the three most important (and vulnerable) regions:

  • General Joseph E. Johnston guarded the Shenandoah Valley from Harpers Ferry
  • General P.G.T. Beauregard guarded northern Virginia from Manassas
  • Generals Benjamin Huger and John B. Magruder guarded the seaward approach to Richmond from Norfolk and the Virginia peninsula between the York and James rivers

The Blue Ridge Mountains separated Johnston and Beauregard, the two commanders closest to Washington. However, their troops were close enough to each other to join forces if needed.

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Sources

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 5952, 5962; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 45-46; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 55; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 32; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 2580; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 76-77, 79; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 630-32; 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), Q261

New Laws for the New Confederacy

March 9, 1861 – The Provisional Confederate Congress approved a measure to help finance the new government. Other bills passed this month included creating a national flag, providing for national defense, and approving a permanent constitution, among other measures.

The official Confederate banner was adopted on the 4th. That day the Committee on the Confederate Flag, Seal, Coat of Arms, and Motto issued a report to the Congress recommending adoption of the “Stars and Bars” flag of seven stars and three stripes. Designed by Professor Nicola Marschall, the flag had seven white stars (one for each state) on a blue canton at the left and three stripes (red, white, and red) at the right. Its close resemblance to the U.S. flag reflected the affection that many Confederate officials still had for their former country.

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

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

Eager to hoist the new banner on the day of Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration, that afternoon the first “Stars and Bars” were raised over the Confederate Capitol, which also served as the Alabama State Capitol, by the granddaughter of former President John Tyler. The flag ultimately disappointed many southerners due to its lack of uniqueness.

Two days later, the Provisional Congress approved three national defense measures. The first aimed “to provide speedily forces to repel invasion, maintain the rightful possession of the Confederate States, and to secure public tranquility and independence against threatened assault.” This authorized President Jefferson Davis to recruit up to 100,000 volunteers for 12 months and organize them into companies, battalions, regiments, brigades, and divisions. This reflected the growing doubt that the Lincoln administration would allow the southern states to leave in peace.

The second bill authorized creation of a Provisional Army of the Confederate States, consisting of regular and volunteer state militia. The president would apportion the officers. The third bill authorized the organization of an Army of the Confederate States, separate from the provisional army, to contain 9,420 men. Officers leaving the U.S. army would be offered the same rank in the new Confederate army. Ranks above colonel would be awarded by army officials, not politicians, to maintain military professionalism without political influence.

Congressional committees, many of which met in secret, considered other bills related to light ships, the lighthouse bureau, vessel registration, rail transportation, liquor, and Native American relations. They also debated postage bills, as the Senate confirmed John Reagan of Texas as postmaster general.

On the 9th, the Provisional Congress authorized issuing up to $1 million in treasury notes in denominations of $50 and up. The notes would be payable after one year at 3.65 percent interest, and they could be used for all public debts except for the export tax that had been imposed on cotton on February 28. A one-year reissue was also authorized.

The Congress unanimously approved the permanent Constitution of the Confederacy on the 11th. Congressional committeemen had worked for five weeks to finalize a document that would protect the southern way of life and uphold the rights of individuals and states. Vice President Alexander H. Stephens had been one of the principal authors. The preamble declared:

“We, the people of the Confederate States, each State acting in its sovereign and independent character, in order to form a permanent federal government, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity—invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God—do ordain and establish this Constitution for the Confederate States of America.”

The document’s template followed that of the U.S. Constitution, including copying the first 12 amendments. But there were also several important changes. The president and vice president would serve a single six-year term. The president had the authority to veto parts of appropriations bills (a line-item veto), as well as authority to dismiss cabinet officers and diplomats without Senate approval.

The right to own slaves was guaranteed, just as it was in the U.S. according to the Supreme Court ruling of Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857). The right to bring slaves into Confederate territories was also guaranteed. Slave importation from every foreign country except the U.S. was prohibited, and Congress reserved the right to prohibit slave importation from any non-Confederate state or territory.

To protect states’ rights, the national judiciary could not review state cases, protective tariffs and nationally funded internal improvements were prohibited, and states were allowed to form alliances with other states and raise their own armies. Any three state legislatures could propose a constitutional amendment, and national revenue would mainly come from export tariffs on cotton and tobacco. Only Confederate citizens had the right to vote, and a two-thirds majority in both chambers of Congress was needed to admit a new state. Neither nullification nor secession was addressed.

The new Constitution was conservative, not revolutionary, because it sought to maintain the traditional southern way of life. The New York Herald called it the same as “the Constitution of the United States with various modifications and some very important and desirable improvements.” Several clauses, such as term limits for the president, creation of a civil service, and appropriations procedures later became part of U.S. law. The Confederate Constitution was submitted to the states for ratification, with the following state legislatures approving this month:

  • Alabama on March 13
  • Georgia on March 16
  • Louisiana on March 21
  • Texas on March 23
  • Mississippi on March 29

Acknowledging Louisiana’s contribution to the Confederacy, the Provisional Congress approved a resolution officially thanking the state for the gift of $536,000 seized from the U.S. mint and customs house in New Orleans.

On the 16th, resolutions were approved asking state officials to “cede the forts, arsenals, navy-yards, dock-yards, and other public establishments within their respective limits to the Confederate States.” Adhering to states’ rights, the Confederate government issued this as a request, not a demand. Meanwhile, the Confederate Convention that had assembled at Montgomery on February 4 adjourned.

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Sources

  • Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 29
  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 5383-407, 7779, 8497
  • Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 161, 245, 262-63
  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 16, 18
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 45-52
  • Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 54
  • 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), Q161

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

The New Confederate Government

February 9, 1861 – The Provisional Confederate Congress assembled in Montgomery, Alabama, and delegates to the Montgomery Convention selected a provisional president and vice president.

The Provisional Congress contained 28 senators and 122 representatives, many of whom had formerly served in the U.S. Congress. Some congressmen still hoped to reconcile with the North, while some were just as determined to keep the new Confederate government out of state affairs as they did the Federal government. Most belonged to the planter class that had traditionally represented southern leadership.

The Provisional Confederate Congress | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The Provisional Confederate Congress | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Congressmen passed their first bill on February 9:

“That all the laws of the United States of America in force and in use in the Confederate States of America on the first day of November last, and not inconsistent with the Constitution of the Confederate States, be and the same are hereby continued in force until altered or repealed by the Congress.”

That same day, delegates to the secession convention unanimously elected Jefferson Davis of Mississippi as provisional president, subject to a general election to be held later. Davis, a former U.S. secretary of war and senator, was politically moderate, which delegates hoped would appeal more to the states still considering secession than such “fire-eaters” as Robert B. Rhett, William Yancey, Robert Toombs, or Howell Cobb.

When Georgia presented Alexander Stephens as vice president, delegates unanimously elected him to that post. Each state delegation cast one vote. Celebrations took place throughout Montgomery as enthusiastic southerners thronged to the city to take part in these historic events.

The Provisional Congress began regularly approving legislation on February 12. This included assuming authority over disputes involving Federal forts on Confederate soil. The Confederacy also retained all customs collectors and treasurers in office until April 1. These officials would hold the same powers and responsibilities they had held under the U.S. government.

A resolution passed on the 15th reflected the intent to enter into peaceful relations with the U.S. It declared:

“…that it is the sense of this Congress that a commission of three persons be appointed by the President-elect, as early as may be convenient after his inauguration, and sent to the Government of the United States of America, for the purpose of negotiating friendly relations between that Government and the Confederate States of America, and for the settlement of all questions of disagreement between the two Governments, upon principles of right, justice, equity, and good faith.”

Turning to commerce, the Provisional Congress approved legislation “to declare and establish the free navigation of the Mississippi River.” The bill included an opening declaration that “the peaceful navigation of the Mississippi River is hereby declared free to the citizens of any of the States upon its borders, or upon the borders of its navigable tributaries.”

Provisions granted freedom for “all ships, boats, or vessels” carrying cargo, “without any duty or hindrance, except light-money, pilotage, and other like customary charges.” This intended to calm spreading fears in northern states bordering the Mississippi that secession would cut off free river navigation. The Confederacy further demonstrated its commitment to free trade by repealing U.S. laws that barred vessels from trading without a license and laws that imposed discriminatory duties on certain foreign vessels or imports.

The Confederacy’s first financial law authorized the president to borrow up to $15 million over the next 12 months. The loan would be used to not only fund the government but to pay for national defense. Bonds would be issued that were to pay eight percent interest in 10 years. The interest and principal of this loan would be paid by the nation’s first tariff—one-eighth of one percent on all exported cotton.

For defense, Congress authorized the president to form a provisional army out of companies, battalions, and regiments, and to appoint general officers subject to congressional consent. According to Section 5: “That the President be further authorized to receive into the service of this Government such forces now in the service of said (Confederate) States, in such numbers as he may require for any time not less than 12 months unless sooner discharged.” Congress had initially sought to allow the president to receive troops for just 60 days, but Davis persuaded them to agree to a year. The bill passed more easily since the Provisional Congress still consisted of just one chamber.

Other measures approved this month included issuing $1 million in Treasury notes; creating executive departments that would become the president’s new cabinet; and organizing a Confederate navy, post office, and courts.

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Sources

  • Channing, Steven A., Confederate Ordeal: The Southern Home Front (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 10-11
  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 4280-91, 4304, 8497, 8542
  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 41
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 33-34, 36, 40, 42-43
  • 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), Q161