Civil War Leaders


Jefferson Davis

{ June 3, 1807 - December 6, 1889 }

1807 June 3
Born in Christian County (now Todd) on a site that has since become a part of Fairview, Kentucky, the son of Samuel Emory and Jane Cook Davis. The spot is commemorated with a large monument. For more information about Davis' birth year, see Frequently Asked Questions

Family moves to the Bayou Teche country of Louisiana and shortly thereafter to Wilkinson County, Mississippi; settles in Woodville and builds Rosemont

Attends St. Thomas College near Springfield, Kentucky

Member of the junior class at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky

Cadet at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York; graduates 23d in a class of 33

1825 August
Arrested and court-marshaled for July 31 visit to Benny Havens' pub; sentence remitted

1826 December 25
Arrested and confined to quarters at the beginning of the "Eggnog Riot"; released in February 1827

As second lieutenant, serves in what is now Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Arkansas

1834 May 10
Promoted to first lieutenant of Dragoons

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Serves in Arkansas and Oklahoma (Indian) Territories

1835 June 17
Marries Sarah Knox Taylor (daughter of Zachary Taylor) near Louisville, Kentucky; leaves with bride for Mississippi (see also Davis' letter to Sarah, Dec. 12, 1834)

1835 September 15
Sarah Knox Taylor Davis dies at Locust Grove plantation near Bayou Sara, Louisiana; Davis seriously ill

Establishes Brierfield plantation on land adjacent to brother Joseph's Hurricane plantation on Davis Bend, 20 miles down the Mississippi River from Vicksburg; travels; becomes involved in local and state politics

1843 December 19
Meets Varina Banks Howell

1845 February 26
Marries 18-year-old Varina Banks Howell at The Briars, the home of her parents in Natchez, Mississippi

1845 November 4
Elected to the House of Representatives

1845 December 8
Takes oath to uphold the Constitution (cited by his lawyers in 1868 while trying to get treason charges dismissed); seated in the House of Representatives

1846 May 11
Votes in favor of bill declaring that a state of war exists between the United States and Mexico

1846 June 18
Elected colonel of the 1st Mississippi Regiment

1846 September 24-25
Helps negotiate capitulation of Monterrey (battle and surrender are described in Davis' letter to Joseph E. Davis, Sept. 25, 1846)

1847 February 23
Wounded while leading the 1st Mississippi during its first engagement in the Battle of Buena Vista (see also Zachary Taylor's report, in which Davis and the regiment are praised)

1847 June 20
Declines appointment as brigadier general

1848 January 11
Elected U.S. senator by Mississippi legislature (his appointment by the governor had only been for one month)

Serves in Senate; visits Mississippi between sessions

1850 January 29
Speaks against Henry Clay's compromise resolutions on the day they are presented (will speak often against them in 1850-51)

1850 February 12
Reelected to Senate; speaks on extension of slavery into the territories

1850 February 15
Meets with Narciso Lopez: declines command of Cuban expeditionary force; recommends Robert E. Lee

1850 August 13
Votes against admission of California

1850 August 23
Votes for fugitive slave bill

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1850 September 16
Votes against bill to abolish slave trade in the District of Columbia

1851 September 17
Accepts nomination as gubernatorial candidate

1853 March 5
Arrives in Washington; meets with Franklin Pierce

1853 March 7
Takes oath of office as secretary of war

1853 June 1-15
Serves as acting secretary of the navy

1854 January-May
Leads administration efforts in support of the Kansas-Nebraska Act

1856 January 16
Elected senator by Mississippi legislature

1857 March 4
Resigns as secretary of war; takes oath as senator

1860 February 29
Speaks in Senate on slavery and secession

1860 November 10
Upon learning of Lincoln's election, writes candid letter to Robert Barnwell Rhett, Jr., concerning secession

1861 January 23
Elected major general, Mississippi militia

1861 February 9
Elected president of the Confederate States

1861 February 18
Inaugurated as president of the Confederacy; sworn in on front portico of the Alabama capitol

1861 March 1
Varina Davis and children arrive at Montgomery, settle in First White House of the Confederacy

1861 March 11
Congress ratifies Confederate Constitution

1861 April 12
P. G. T. Beauregard fires on Fort Sumter, in Charleston, South Carolina

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1861 July 21
Battle of First Manassas (Bull Run), Virginia; Davis takes train to Manassas, arriving after the battle; tours grounds, addresses troops, and telegraphs news to Richmond; Joseph E. Davis and family arrive in Richmond for visit

1861 October 3
Reviews troops; leaves for Richmond; Varina Davis and children have carriage accident

1862 January 21
Attends funeral of John Tyler

1862 April 6-7
Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee, where Davis's close friend Albert Sidney Johnston is killed

1862 June 26-July 1
Present near battlefields during Seven Days' campaign

1863 January 1
Emancipation Proclamation goes into effect; Galveston, Texas, retaken by Confederates

1863 October-November
Inspects Braxton Bragg's army near Chattanooga, then makes tour with numerous public appearances through Alabama, eastern Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina, returning to Richmond on November 7

1863 November 19
Lincoln delivers Gettysburg Address; Davis writes on Trans-Mississippi strategy

1864 January 20
Family discovers fire, apparently intentionally set, in basement of the White House

1864 April 30
Son Joseph Evan Davis killed by fall from White House balcony

1864 July 17
Replaces Joseph E. Johnston with John Bell Hood in command of the Army of Tennessee outside of Atlanta, Georgia

1865 March 4-5
Meets with Lee in Richmond; discusses possibility of having to evacuate the capital (last known wartime meeting with Lee)

1865 April 10
News reaches Danville of Lee's surrender (April 9); departs during evening for Greensboro, North Carolina

1865 April 26
Davis and cabinet leave Charlotte; Johnston finalizes surrender of his army

1865 May 4
Meets with remaining cabinet members in Washington, Georgia; decides to temporarily dissolve Confederate government; leaves town in mid-morning

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1865 May 10
Captured in early morning near Irwinville, Georgia

1865 May 19
Clyde, carrying Davis, anchors off of Fortress Monroe, Virginia

1865 May 22
Imprisoned at Fortress Monroe

1865 May 23
Manacled; irons removed less than a week later because of public outcry and Davis' ill health

1865 June
First indictment for treason handed down in U.S. Circuit Court, District of Virginia (records have been lost); another indictment brought later in the year in the District of Columbia

1866 April 26
Andrew Johnson grants Varina Davis permission to visit her husband

1866 May 8
Indicted for treason by grand jury for the U.S. Circuit Court, District of Virginia 1866 June 11 U.S. Circuit Court Judge John C. Underwood refuses to set bail since Davis technically a military prisoner

1867 May 8
Franklin Pierce visits; order issued by authority of the president that Davis be turned over to U.S. marshals

1867 May 10
Burton Harrison arrives at Fortress Monroe with the writ of habeas corpus

1867 May 13
Appears in court before Judge John C. Underwood; bail set at $100,000; bond posted by Horace Greeley, abolitionist Gerrit Smith, a representative of Cornelius Vanderbilt, and ten Richmond businessmen; to "deafening applause," freed after two years of confinement; meets Greeley for the first time mid-late May

1867 November 25
Visits with Robert E. Lee for the first time since March 1865 (Lee wrote his wife on the 26th that Davis "looks astonishingly well and is quite cheerful")

1867 November 26
The United States v. Jefferson Davis convenes in Richmond; with Chase unable to be present, government granted postponement to March; Davis released on his own recognizance (his last appearance in court on this matter); long talk with Lee at the courthouse (last time he would see Lee); new grand jury drawn (Lee would testify before it the next day in the evening, receives news of the death of Margaret K. Howell, Varina's mother (Nov. 24)

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1868 March 26
With Davis not present, more complete indictment, based on testimony of Lee, Seddon, Letcher, and others, handed down in Richmond; trial delayed until May (subsequently continued to June, October, then November)

1866 March 27
After learning that trial delayed until at least May 4, leaves New York for Canada; arrives in Lennoxville the following evening; sees notice of new indictment in newspaper soon after arrival

1867 August 4
Arrives in Liverpool; spends rest of the year touring England and Wales

1869 February 15
Indictment dismissed (nolle prosequi), as are those against thirty-seven other Confederates

1869 September 25
After receiving offer of a position with an insurance company, sails from Southampton for Baltimore to explore that and other business opportunities

1869 November 23
Elected president of Carolina Life Insurance Company at a salary of $12,000 a year; plans to move the home office to Baltimore

1874 July 3
Files suit to regain control of Brierfield from the heirs of Joseph E. Davis (Jefferson Davis v. J. H. D. Bowmar et al.)

Declines appointment as senator from Mississippi and presidency of what is now Texas A&M University; begins relationship with Mississippi Valley Association (a British firm seeking to promote emigration to the South and to encourage direct trade between New Orleans and European ports), and starts promoting it in his travels; speaks in Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri; makes numerous visits to Vicksburg because of lawsuit; reaches informal agreement with W. T. Walthall to begin marketing proposal for Davis' memoirs; withdraws Jeff Jr. from Virginia Military Institute, and in fall travels with him to inspect mines in Colorado

1876 January 1
Daughter Margaret marries Joel Addison Hayes at St. Lazarus Episcopal Church in Memphis (she will be the only Davis offspring to marry and to have children)

1878 May
Courts render final judgment in Davis v. Bowmar that Brierfield is his property

1880 May 5
Appleton's receives manuscript for the first volume of The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government

1881 June 3
The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government published on his birthday (because of the terms of his contract and relatively slow sales, it is unlikely that Davis made much, if any, money from the book)

Lives at Beauvoir with Varina; travels occasionally and speaks across the South; enjoys time with grandchildren, although Margaret and Addison Hayes move to Colorado Springs in 1885; gives many interviews, covering both Civil War topics and the current political situation; agrees in 1888 to begin work on another book

1889 October
Completes manuscript of A Short History of the Confederate States of America (published in 1890); also writes several brief magazine articles during the year

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1889 November
Over Varina's objections, travels to Brierfield via New Orleans; ill by the time boat reaches Brierfield on the 6th, so taken on to Vicksburg; goes to Brierfield the next day

1889 November 12
Taken to New Orleans on a steamboat; Varina meets the vessel while traveling upriver on another boat and joins the entourage; lodges with longtime friend Jacob U. Payne, a cotton merchant, at his home in the Garden District at the corner of First and Camp

1889 December 5
Utters last words, reported by Varina Davis, to whom they were spoken, to have been "Pray excuse me, I cannot take it" (in reference to medicine being offered him)

1889 December 6
Dies at the Payne home at 12:45 a.m.; cause of death most likely pneumonia

1889 December 7-11
A reported 70,000+ people view body at New Orleans City Hall

1889 December 11
Before an estimated 200,000 people, body taken to Metairie Cemetery and laid to rest in a vault

Belford Company publishes Varina Davis' two-volume Jefferson Davis, A Memoir

Varina Davis moves to New York City to pursue a literary career; she dies October 16, 1906

1893 May 27
Davis' body removed from vault in Metairie Cemetery

1893 May 28
Funeral train leaves New Orleans with body; Margaret and Addison Hayes on board along with Winnie Davis; makes stop at Beauvoir before continuing eastward

1893 May 31
Train reaches Richmond at 3 a.m.; Varina Davis meets her daughters there; 75,000 people witness procession to Hollywood Cemetery, beginning at 3 p.m.; to a 21-gun salute, Davis' body is re-interred

1978 October 17
Joint resolution passed by Congress and signed by Jimmy Carter restores Davis' citizenship, effective December 25, 1868

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