Volume 7 of The Papers of Jefferson Davis offers a unique view of 1861, the first year of the Confederacy, Davis’ presidency, and the Civil War.
On January 21 Davis made his affecting farewell speech before a hushed Senate, then left for Mississippi. His uncertainty over a military or political course vanished when he received news of his unanimous election as president of the Confederate States of America. Inaugurated at Montgomery, Alabama, on February 18, Davis quickly set to work to forge a government, in a race with events to select a cabinet, establish departments, and plan for the common defense.
Hopes for a peaceful separation from the North ended with the firing on Fort Sumter; subsequent documents reveal a president absorbed by the problems of waging a war that soon stretched from the Atlantic Coast to the Gulf of Mexico. Victory at Manassas produced euphoria among southerners but plunged the president into the first of several unfortunate controversies with his generals, this one over the failure to pursue the enemy and capitalize on success.
Throughout 1861 the Confederate commissioners in Europe reported to Davis on their expectations of recognition, convinced that the demand for cotton would induce Great Britain and France to break the North’s blockade of southern ports and help supply arms for the defense of the fledgling nation.
Volume 7 provides a rare opportunity to assess anew Davis’ strengths and weaknesses as executive, to reexamine his relationship with generals, governors, congressmen, cabinet officers, the press, and the public. Davis ended the year as he begun, aware of the difficulties of the course the South had adopted and confident that its cause would ultimately triumph. Containing illustrations, maps, and more than 2,500 documents drawn from numerous printed sources and more than seventy repositories and private collections, Volume 7 covers a year of paramount importance in our country’s history.
The books in the Papers of Jefferson Daivs series were made possible with assistance from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.
Lynda Lasswell Crist has edited The Papers of Jefferson Davis since 1979.
Mary Seaton Dix edited The Papers of Jefferson Davis from 1968 until July, 1995.
Found an Error? Tell us about it.