(Archive - Week of March 5, 2005)
Jefferson Davis
President of the Confederacy during
the Civil War

Born in Kentucky in 1808 and raised in Mississippi, Jefferson Davis graduated from West Point in 1828. Following brief service in Congress and military duty in the war with Mexico, he served as Secretary of War (1853-1857) under Franklin Pierce. In that post he oversaw the construction of the new Senate and House wings of the U.S. Capitol. Davis returned to the Senate in 1857, on the eve of the Civil War, and witnessed some of the most dramatic events in Senate history.  As talk of secession filled the Senate Chamber, Davis joined the "Committee of Thirteen" to seek compromise and avoid war. When Mississippi left the Union, however, Davis resigned. He bid farewell to the United States Senate on January 21, 1861. A month later, he became President of the Confederacy. Captured by Union troops in 1865, Davis was indicted for treason and imprisoned for two years. He died in New Orleans in 1889.

Davis had an impressive political career before he became president of the Confederacy, but he was appointed, not elected, to many of the offices he held in his antebellum career. His limited experience with electoral politics was a handicap to his presidency, and, perhaps more important, he lacked the personal qualities that made Abraham Lincoln a successful president.

Raised on the Mississippi frontier, Davis's life was shaped by his brother Joseph, who was twenty-four years his senior. Joseph Davis made a fortune as a lawyer and planter, and he played a paternal role in Jefferson's life for many years. After Jefferson graduated from West Point and served in the army, Joseph gave him a plantation and the slaves to farm it. In the 1840s, Joseph managed the plantation so that Jefferson could go into politics.

Jefferson Davis became a staunch states' rights Democrat and champion of the unrestricted expansion of slavery into the territories. He was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1845?his only successful electoral campaign?and then was appointed to the Senate after he became a hero while serving in the army during the Mexican War. In the Senate he opposed the Compromise of 1850, particularly the admission of California as a free state. In 1851 he resigned from the Senate to run unsuccessfully for the Mississippi governorship. In 1853, President Franklin Pierce appointed Davis secretary of war. Davis served ably in this office and in 1857 reentered the Senate, where he continued to advocate the spread of slavery into the territories. During the secession crisis, he resigned from the Senate and in 1861 was chosen by acclamation to be the Confederate president.

Davis worked very hard at his presidential duties, concentrating on military strategy but neglecting domestic politics, which hurt him in the long run. He could not manage congressional opposition as successfully as Lincoln, nor could he inspire the southern public as Lincoln did his public in the North. Davis was also a poor judge of people, unlike Lincoln. The Confederate president protected incompetents, such as Braxton Bragg, and he did not make use of talented men he disliked, such as Joseph E. Johnston. In April 1865 the Union armies finally surrounded Richmond, and Davis and his family fled the city for the Deep South, only to be captured in Georgia in May.

Davis's life after the war was bleak. Charged with treason, he went to prison in Fort Monroe, Virginia, where he remained for two years. In prison his physical and emotional health deteriorated, and he was never the same after he was released in May 1867. He and his family traveled abroad for two years. When he returned to America, he had trouble making a living. He worked for an insurance company in Memphis, but the company went bankrupt, and when he published a history of the Confederacy, it did not sell well. He lived off the charity of friends and relatives until his death in New Orleans in 1889. He refused to take the oath of allegiance to regain his citizenship, which was restored only posthumously by the U.S. Congress in 1978.

Jefferson Davis Speaks to the Senate
Withdrawal from the Union

I rise, Mr. President, for the purpose of announcing to the Senate that I have satisfactory evidence that the State of Mississippi, by a solemn ordinance of her people in convention assembled, has declared her separation from the United States. Under these circumstances, of course, my functions are terminated here. It has seemed to me proper, however, that I should appear in the Senate to announce that fact to my associates, and I will say but very little more. The occasion does not invite me to go into argument, and my physical condition would not permit me to do so if it were otherwise; and yet it seems to become me to say something on the part of the state I here represent, on an occasion so solemn as this.

It is known to senators who have served with me here that I have for many years advocated, as an essential attribute of state sovereignty, the right of a state to secede from the Union. Therefore, if I had not believed there was justifiable cause; if I had thought that Mississippi was acting without sufficient provocation, or without an existing necessity, I should still, under my theory of the government, because of my allegiance to the state of which I am a citizen, have been bound by her action. I, however, may be permitted to say that I do think that she has a justifiable cause, and I approve of her act. I conferred with her people before that act was taken, counseled them then that, if the state of things which they apprehended should exist when the convention met, they should take the action which they have now adopted.

I hope none who hear me will confound this expression of mine with advocacy of the right of a state to remain in the Union, and to disregard its constitutional obligations by the nullification of the law. Such is not my theory. Nullification and secession, so often confounded, are indeed antagonistic principles. Nullification is a remedy which it is sought to apply within the Union, and against the agent of sates. It is only to be justified when the agent has violated his constitutional obligation, and a state, assuming to judge for itself, denies the right of the agent thus to act, and appeals to the other states of the Union for a decision; but when the states themselves, and when the people of the states, have so acted as to convince us that they will not regard our constitutional rights, then, and then for the first time, arises the doctrine of secession in its practical application.

A great man who now reposes with his fathers, and who has been often arraigned for a want of fealty to the Union, advocated the doctrine of nullification, because it preserved the Union. It was because of his deep-seated attachment to the Union, his determination to find some remedy for existing ills short of a severance of the ties which bound South Carolina to the other states, that Mr. Calhoun advocated the doctrine of nullification, which he proclaimed to be peaceful, to be within the limits of state power, not to disturb the Union, but only to be a means of bringing the agent before the tribunal of the states for their judgment.

Secession belongs to a different class of remedies. It is to be justified upon the basis that the states are sovereign. There was a time when none denied it. I hope the time may come again, when a better comprehension of the theory of our government, and the inalienable rights of the people of the States, will prevent any one from denying that each state is a sovereign, and thus may reclaim the grants which it has made to any agent whomsoever.

I therefore say I concur in the action of the people of Mississippi, believing it to be necessary and proper, and should have been bound by their action if my belief had been otherwise; and this brings me to the important point which I wish on this last occasion to present to the Senate. It is by this confounding of nullification and secession that the name of the great man whose ashes now mingle with his mother earth has been invoked to justify coercion against a seceded state. The phrase "to execute the laws" was an expression which General Jackson applied to the case of a state refusing to obey the laws while yet a member of the Union. That is not the case which is now presented. The laws are to be executed over the United States, and upon the people of the United States. They have no relation to any foreign country. It is a perversion of terms, at least it is a great misapprehension of the case, which cites that expression for application to a state which has withdrawn from the Union. You may make war on a foreign state. If it be the purpose of gentlemen, they may war against a state which has withdrawn from the Union; but there are no laws of the United States to be executed within the limits of a seceded state. A state finding herself in the condition in which Mississippi has judged she is, in which her safety requires that she should provide for the maintenance of her rights out of the Union, surrenders all the benefits (and they are known to be many), deprives herself of the advantages (they are known to be great), severs all the ties of affection (and they are close and enduring), which have bound her to the Union; and thus divesting herself of every benefit, taking upon herself every burden, she claims to be exempt from any power to execute the laws of the United States within her limits.

I well remember an occasion when Massachusetts was arraigned before the bar of the Senate, and when then the doctrine of coercion was rife and to be applied against her because of the rescue of a fugitive slave in Boston. My opinion then was the same that it is now. Not in the spirit of egotism, but to show that I am not influenced in my opinion because the case is my own, I refer to that time and that occasion as containing the opinion which I then entertained, and on which my present conduct is based. I then said, if Massachusetts, following her through a stated line of conduct, chooses to take the last step which separates her from the Union, it is her right to go, and I will neither vote one dollar nor one man to coerce her back, but will say to her, God speed, in memory of the kind associations which once existed between her and other states.

It has been a conviction of pressing necessity, it has been a belief that we are to be deprived in the Union of the rights which our fathers bequeathed to us, which has brought Mississippi into her present decision. She has heard proclaimed the theory that all men are created free and equal, and this made the basis of an attack upon her social institutions; and the sacred Declaration of Independence has been invoked to maintain the position of the equality of the races. That Declaration of Independence is to be construed by the circumstances and purposes for which it was made. The communities were declaring their independence; the people of those communities were asserting that no man was born - to use the language of Mr. Jefferson - booted and spurred to ride over the rest of mankind; that men were created equal - meaning the men of the political community; that there was no divine right to rule; that no man inherited the right to govern; that there were no classes by which power and place descended to families, but that all stations were equally within the grasp of each member of the body politic. These were the great principles they announced; these were the end to which their enunciation was directed. They have no reference to the slave; else, how happened it that among the items of arraignment made against George III was that he endeavored to do just what the North had been endeavoring of late to do - to stir up insurrection among our slaves? Had the declaration announced that the negroes were free and equal, how was the prince to be arraigned for stirring up insurrection among them? And how was this to be enumerated among the high crimes which caused the colonies to sever their connection with the mother country? When our Constitution was formed, the same idea was rendered more palpable, for there we find provision made for the very class of persons as property; they were not put upon the footing of equality with white men - not even upon that of paupers and convicts; but, so far as representation was concerned, were discriminated against as a lower caste, only to be represented in the numerical proportion of three-fifths.

Then, Senators, we recur to the compact which binds us together; we recur to the principles upon which our government was founded; and when you deny them, and when you deny to us the right to withdraw from a government which, thus perverted, threatens to be destructive of our rights, we but tread in the path of our fathers when we proclaim our independence, and take the hazard. This is done not in hostility to others, not to injure any section of the country, not even for our own pecuniary benefit; but from the high and solemn motive of defending and protecting the rights we inherited, and which it is our sacred duty to transmit unshorn to our children.

I find in myself, perhaps, a type of the general feeling of my constituents toward yours. I am sure I feel no hostility to you, senators from the North. I am sure there is not one of you, whatever sharp discussion there may have been between us, to whom I cannot now say, in the presence of my God, I wish you well; and such, I am sure, is the feeling of the people whom I represent toward those whom you represent. I thereore feel that I but express their desire when I say I hope, and they hope, for peaceful relations with you, though we must part. They may be mutually beneficial to us in the future, as they have been in the past, if you so will it. The reverse may bring disaster on every portion of the country; and if you will have it thus, we will invoke the God of our fathers, who delivered them from the power of the lion, to protect us from the ravages of the bear; and thus, putting our trust in God, and in our own firm hearts and strong arms, we will vindicate the right as best we may.

The Price in Blood!
Casualties in the Civil War

"...but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came."

Abrahm Lincoln
2nd Inaugural Address
4 March 1865



At least 618,000 Americans died in the Civil War, and some experts say the toll reached 700,000. The number that is most often quoted is 620,000. At any rate, these casualties exceed the nation's loss in all its other wars, from the Revolution through Vietnam.

The Union armies had from 2,500,000 to 2,750,000 men. Their losses, by the best estimates:

Battle deaths: 110,070
Disease, etc.: 250,152
Total 360,222

The Confederate strength, known less accurately because of missing records, was from 750,000 to 1,250,000. Its estimated losses:

Battle deaths: 94,000
Disease, etc.: 164,000
Total 258,000

The leading authority on casualties of the war, Thomas L. Livermore, admitting the handicap of poor records in some cases, studied 48 of the war's battles and concluded:

Maj. Gen.
Ulysses S. Grant
Officer of the Federal Army

Of every 1,000 Federals in battle, 112 were wounded.
Of every 1,000 Confederates, 150 were hit.
Mortality was greater among Confederate wounded, because of inferior medical service.

The great battles, in terms of their toll in dead, wounded, and missing is listed on this site:   

The Ten Costliest Battles of the Civil War

Some of the great blood baths of the war came as Grant drove on Richmond in the spring of 1864- Confederate casualties are missing for this campaign but were enormous. The Federal toll:

The Wilderness, May 5-7: 17,666
Spotsylvania, May 10 and 12: 10,920
Drewry's Bluff, May 12-16 4,160
Cold Harbor, June 1-3: 12,000
Petersburg, June 15-30 16,569

These total 61,315, with rolls of the missing incomplete. The Appomattox campaign, about ten days of running battles ending April 9, 1865, cost the Union about 11,000 casualties, and ended in the surrender of Lee's remnant of 26,765. Confederate dead and wounded in the meantime were about 6,500.
Lesser battles are famous for their casualties. At Franklin, Tennessee, November 30, 1864, General Hood's Confederates lost over 6,000 of 21,000 effectives -most of them in about two hours. Six Confederate generals died there.

Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman

Hood lost about 8,ooo men in his assault before Atlanta, July 22, 1864; Sherman's Union forces lost about 3,800.

The small battle of Wilson's Creek, Missouri, August 10, 1861, was typical of the savagery of much of the war's fighting. The Union force Of 5,400 men lost over 1,200; the Confederates, over 11,000 strong, lost about the same number.

The first battle of Manassas/Bull Run, though famous as the first large engagement, was relatively light in cost: 2,708 for the Union, 1,981 for the Confederates.

The casualty rolls struck home to families and regiments. The Confederate General, John B. Gordon, cited the case of the Christian family, of Christiansburg, Virginia, which suffered eighteen dead in the war.

The 1st Maine Heavy Artillery, in a charge at Petersburg, Virginia, 18 June, 1864, sustained a "record" loss of the war-635 of its 9oo men within seven minutes.

Another challenger is the 26th North Carolina, which lost 714, of its 800 men at Gettysburg-in numbers and percentage the war's greatest losses. On the first day this regiment lost 584 dead and wounded, and when roll was called the next morning for G Company, one man answered, and he had been knocked unconscious by a shell burst the day before. This roll was called by a sergeant who lay on a stretcher with a severe leg wound.
       
The 24th Michigan, a gallant Federal regiment which was in front of the North Carolinians on the first day, lost 362 of its 496 men.
       
More than 3,000 horses were killed at Gettysburg, and one artillery battalion, the 9th Massachusetts, lost 80 of its 88 animals in the Trostle farmyard.
       
A brigade from Vermont lost 1,645 Of its 2,100 men during a week of fighting in the Wilderness.
       
The Irish Brigade, Union, had a total muster Of 7,000 during the war, and returned to New York in '65 with 1,000. One company was down to seven men. The 69th New York of this brigade lost 16 of 19 officers, and had 75 per cent casualties among enlisted men.
       
In the Irish Brigade, Confederate, from Louisiana, Company A dwindled from 90 men to 3 men and an officer in March, '65. Company B went from 100 men to 2.
       
Experts have pointed out that the famed Light Brigade at Balaklava lost only 36.7 per cent of its men, and that at least 63 Union regiments lost as much as 50 per cent in single battles. At Gettysburg 23 Federal regiments suffered losses of more than half their strength, including the well-known Iron Brigade (886 of 1,538 engaged).       

Gen. Robert E. Lee

Many terrible casualty tolls were incurred in single engagements, like that of the Polish Regiment of Louisiana at Frayser's Farm during the Seven Days, where the outfit was cut to pieces and had to be consolidated with the 20th Louisiana. In this action one company of the Poles lost 33 of 42 men.
       
One authority reports that Of 3,530 Indians who fought for the Union, 1,018 were killed, a phenomenally high rate. Of 178,975 Negro Union troops, this expert says, over 36,000 died.
       
Some regimental losses in battle:

Regiment Battle Strength Per Cent
1st Texas, CSA Antietam 226 82.3
1st Minnesota, US Gettysburg 262 82
21st Georgia, CSA Manassas 242 76
141st Pennsylvania, US Gettysburg 198 75.7
101st New York, US Manassas 168 73.8
6th Mississippi, CSA Shiloh 425 70.5
25th Massachusetts, US Cold Harbor 310 70
36th Wisconsin, US Bethesda Church 240 69
20th Massachusetts, US Fredericksburg 238 68.4
8th Tennessee, CSA Stone's River 444 68.7
10th Tennessee, CSA Chickamauga 328 68
8th Vermont, US Cedar Creek 156 67.9
Palmetto Sharpshooters, CSA Frayser's Farm 215 67.7
81st Pennsylvania, US Fredericksburg 261 67.4

Scores of other regiments on both sides registered losses in single engagements of above 50 per cent.
       
Confederate losses by states, in dead and wounded only, and with many records missing (especially those of Alabama):

North Carolina
20,602
Virginia
6,947
Mississippi
6,807
South Carolina
4,760
Arkansas
3,782
Georgia
3,702
Tennessee
3,425
Louisiana
3,059
Texas
1,260
Florida
1,047
Alabama
724

(Statisticians recognize these as fragmentary, from a report of 1866; they serve as a rough guide to relative losses by states).

I n addition to its dead and wounded from battle and disease, the Union listed:

Deaths in Prison
24, 866
Drowning
4,944
Accidental deaths
4,144
Murdered
520
Suicides
391
Sunstroke
313
Military executions
267
Killed after capture
104
Executed by enemy
64
Unclassified
14,155

 

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Noah@SemperFidelisNoah.com

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