Monday, July 21, 2014

"I Cannot Speak of My Dead So Soon"

After his release from imprisonment in 1867, President Jefferson Davis journeyed to Canada where he met several Confederate leaders in exile at today's Niagara-on-the-Lake, directly across the river from Old Fort Niagara.  Available from the Niagara Historical Society [Canadian] is Nicholas Rescher's excellent "Niagara-on-the-Lake as a Confederate Refuge."

Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman

North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission

"Unsurpassed Valor, Courage and Devotion to Liberty"

"The Official Website of the North Carolina WBTS Sesquicentennial"

"I Cannot Speak of My Dead So Soon"

"After Mr. Davis became somewhat stronger he travelled to Niagara and Toronto, to visit Mr. James M. Mason, and a number of other Confederates who had not yet returned home, and with cheerful intercourse among friends he slowly improved.

His friends desired to know something of his life in prison, but he was always disinclined to speak of injuries inflicted upon himself, and had a nervous horror of appearing to be a victim.

He felt the pressing need there was, while the events were fresh in his mind, to write a history of the Confederacy, and I thought my desire to assist him would overcome any patriotic memory.  Mr. Davis sent for his  letter and message books, which had been secretly taken from their place of concealment, sent to Canada in the trunk of our sister, and deposited in the Bank of Montreal.  We looked them over to mark, for copying, such of the contents as would be of use, and I was to copy and arrange them by dates. We came very soon upon this telegram:

"Danville, April 9, 1865.

"General R.E. Lee: You will realize the reluctance I feel to leave the soil of Virginia, and appreciate my anxiety to win success north of the Roanoke . . . I hope soon to hear from you at this point, where offices have been opened to keep up the current business, until more definite knowledge would enable us to form more definite plans.  May God sustain and guide you.

"Jefferson Davis"

All the anguish of that last great struggle came over us, we saw our gaunt, half-clothed, and half-starved men stand vibrating with courage to their finger-tips, their thin ranks a wall of fire about their homes; we saw them mowed down by a countless host of enemies, overcome, broken in health and fortune, moving along the highways to their desolated homes, sustained only by the memory of having vindicated their honor.

{Mr. Davis] walked up and down distractedly, and then said, "Let us put them down for awhile, I cannot speak of my dead so soon."

(Jefferson Davis, A Memoir by His Wife, Varina, Volume II, N&A Company, 1990, (original 1890), pp. 797-799)