Searched & Answered: Jefferson Davis

Nothing like a controversial historic person to send people to the internet for answers, right? So…we thought we’d tackle the search term “Jefferson Davis” and answer some questions.

Of course, there’s always more to say, discuss, or write, but the purpose of these videos are to give quick answers and some extra information – not hours of lecturing. Without further ado, here are some brief answers to the suggested search questions related to Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy during the American Civil War.

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1863: “If Your Commanding Officer Orders You”

October 10, 1863

He began by paying a warm tribute to their gallantry, displayed on the bloody field of Chickamauga, defeating the largely superior force of the enemy, who had boasted of their ability to penetrate to the heart of Georgia, and driving them back, like sheep, into a pen, and protected by strong entrenchments, from which naught but an indisposition to sacrifice, unnecessarily, the precious lives of our brave and patriotic soldiers, prevented us from driving them. But, he said, they had given still higher evidence of courage, patriotism, and resolute determination to live freemen, or die freemen, by their patient endurance and buoyant, cheerful spirits, amid privations and suffering from half-rations, thin blankets, ragged closes, and shoeless feet, than given by baring their breasts to the enemy.

He reminded them that obedience was the first duty of a soldier, marking that when he was a youth a veteran officer said to him: “My son, remember that obedience is the soldier’s first duty. If your commanding officer orders you to burn your neighbor’s house down, and to sit on the ridge-pole till it falls in, do it.” The President said, this is an exaggerated statement of the duty, but prompt, unquestioning obedience of subordinates to their superiors could not be too highly commended. If the subordinate stops to consider the propriety of an order, the delay may derange the superior’s whole plan, and the opportune moment for achieving a success or adverting a defeat may be irretrievably lost.

He alluded to the boast of our enemy that, on the occupation of East Tennessee, they would heavily recruit their army and subjugate us with the aid of our own people, but the boast had not been fulfilled. He said the proper course to pursue towards the misguided people of East Tennessee was, not to deride and abuse them, but to employ reason and conciliation to disabuse them of their error; that all of us had once loved and revered the old flag of the Union; that he had fought under its folds, and, for fifteen years, had striven to maintain the Constitution of our fathers in its purity, but in vain. It could not be saved from the grasping ambition for power and greed of gain of the Yankees, and he had to relinquish it. The  error of the misguided among us was, that they clung longer than we to what was once a common sentiment and feeling us all, and, he repeated, they must be reasoned with and conciliated.

In closing, he expressed his deep conviction of our eventual success under the blessing of Providence, and expected the army of Tennessee, when they had should resume active operations, not to pause on the banks of the Cumberland, but to plant our banners permanently on the banks of the Ohio. – This, he believed, would be done. As the humble representative of the people he returned their grateful thanks to the army of Tennessee for what they had already accomplished, and fervently invoked the blessing of Almighty God upon all our officers and men comprising it.

Newspaper account, originally published on October 14, 1863 in Confederate in Marietta, Georgia.

General Braxton Bragg

A Command Problem

After the Battle of Chickamauga, the Confederate Army of Tennessee experienced dissension and leadership problems. The army’s commander – Braxton Bragg – wanted to replaced Generals Leonidas Polk and D.H. Hill, two of his corps commanders since he believed they had not led well in the recent battle. Meanwhile, Bragg’s subordinates – irritated that he did not pursue the defeated Union army and capture Chattanooga – wanted him removed from command; in fact, twelve of them wrote to President Jefferson Davis petitioning for Bragg’s removal.

This prompted Davis himself to travel west, arriving at Bragg’s headquarters on October 9, 1863, to attempt a resolution. The corps commanders confronted the president directly, asking for Bragg’s removal.

The following day Davis made a speech to the assembled officers and about one hundred soldiers. A newspaper correspondent recorded a summary of that address for publication.

By the time Davis left on October 14, he had decided to keep Bragg in command of the Army of Tennessee, but agreed to transfer Polk and Hill. Everyone else was apparently supposed to regain their trust in Bragg and continue their cheerful devotion to duty whether they liked the commander…or not.

Jefferson Davis

Duty of a Soldier – In Context

Davis’s anecdotal story seems odd and even morally flawed. Yes, soldiers and subordinate officers should obey commands, but should they obey blindly? It’s a dilemma that has haunted military history for centuries, long before and certainly after the Civil War.

Davis and the Confederacy had more than a handful of problems by 1863. Command dissension in the Army of Tennessee and Army of Northern Virginia and rebellious states within the Confederacy who didn’t want to obey directives from the government in Richmond – just to name a couple relative issues.

The account the president chose to preach seems to offer a solution: “Everyone obey and don’t question…or else we’ll have a culprit to blame if we lose this war.” Whether he intended it or not, it comes across as an instruction and a veiled threat.

Historical Musings

Many of Jefferson Davis’s proclamations and speeches from the Confederate era follow similar themes and principles. Here are a few examples and ironies to consider:

  • “Freemen” – meaning white free men who had freedom to keep slaves.
  • Constitution – this is always a major point for Davis and he sticks to an antebellum Southern interpretation of the Constitution with a heavy emphasis on states rights over union.
  • Explanation of the war – usually reflecting a belief that the war was forced upon the South.
  • Hopes for victory – he concluded his address with a belief that the Army of Tennessee would retake that state and drive the Yankees back to the Ohio River.

Ultimately, speeches and interpretive ideals would not save the Confederacy. Nor did it stop the problems in the Army of Tennessee’s command structure.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

1863: “I Have No Complaints To Make Of Any One But Myself”

Camp Orange

8 Aug 1863

Mr. President

Your letters of 28 July & 2 Aug have been recd., & I have waited for a leisure hour to reply, but I fear that will never come. I am extremely obliged to you for your attention given to the wants of this Army * the efforts made to supply them. Our absentees are returning, & I hope the earnest & beautiful appeal made to the country in your proclamation, may stir up the virtue of the whole people & that they may see their duty & perform it. Nothing is wanted but that their fortitude should equal their bravery to ensure the success of our cause.

We must expect reverses, even defeats. They are sent to teach us wisdom and prudence, to call forth greater energies & to prevent our falling into greater disasters. Our people have only to be true & united, to bear manfully the misfortunes incident to war & all will come right in the end. I know how prone we are to censure, & how ready to blame others for the nonfulfillment of our expectations. This is unbecoming in a generous people & I grieve to see its expression. Continue reading

Richmond 1863: Bread Riots

Richmond. Capital of the Confederacy for the majority of the American Civil War. A town at war with itself, even as the nation fought to redefine the meanings of union, constitution, and freedom.

This month’s blog series will take a closer look at some important events in Richmond’s 1863 saga. As the middle year of the war, 1863 had its share of dramatic moments that filled this Virginia city’s streets with riots, tears, blood, chains, and questions. Today, we’ll take a closer look at the riot which rocked Richmond society and revealed some of the Confederacy’s greatest challenges away from the battlefields. Continue reading

10 Things You Should Know About The Civil War & The Great Lakes

Unless you live near them, the Great Lakes probably aren’t on your mind. That’s unfortunate because these huge bodies of water in the north eastern part of the United States – along the Canadian border – have been the scenes of many historic moments in American History.

There’s an idea that the American Civil War wasn’t fought in the North. And – generally speaking – that’s mostly true. However, there were plenty of riots, local disturbances, sabotage attempts, and other violent issues in the “Union” states. And Confederates caused disturbances around the Great Lakes.

Today – to provide some historical back-up to some plot points in Lighthouse Loyalty – we’ve rounded up ten basic things you should know about the Civil War on the Great Lakes. Continue reading

What In The World Happened In 1867?

1867. It’s the historical year of the historical fiction book Lighthouse Loyalty. In chapter eleven, after Uncle Richard’s trip to town, the family reads the news from a newspaper.

Father read about debates on a newly purchased territory of the United States in the far northwest; the paper called it Alaska and said it was just a frozen wasteland. He started to read aloud about Indian fighting on the western plains but then changed to a different column which discussed President Andrew Johnson’s arguments with Congress over Reconstruction – how to rebuild the South after the war. I thought the Indians would’ve been more frightfully exciting than the release of the former Confederate president and increasing tension between the President Johnson and Congress.

Today’s post covers some of the topics they read about and a few other interesting happenings in history during that year. Continue reading