Mourning for our Chieftain: The Funeral Procession of Jefferson Davis

From the end of the war until his death in 1889, Jefferson Davis was the living personification of the Lost Cause to his fellow Southerners. The

Jefferson Davis at his home Beauvoir, on the Mississippi Gulf Coast - Library of Congress

Jefferson Davis at his home Beauvoir, on the Mississippi Gulf Coast – Library of Congress

Confederacy’s only chief executive never sought a pardon, believing to the end of his days that he had done nothing wrong. When he died in New Orleans in 1889, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children throughout the states of the former Confederacy mourned his passing.

Davis’ body was placed in the vault of the Army of Northern Virginia at Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans, but it was never meant to be a permanent resting place; Varina Davis would make the decision as to the final resting place of her husband. It took a few years, but eventually Varina chose Richmond, Virginia, the Confederacy’s former capital, as the final resting place for Jefferson Davis.

On May 27, 1893, Davis’ body was removed from the vault in Metairie Cemetery, and the next day it was placed on the train that would take him to Richmond. During the course of the trip, the train made a stop at Beauvoir, Davis’ post-war home on the Mississippi Gulf coast, and the body also lay in state at the capitols of Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina. All along the way, thousands of Southerners met the train to pay their last respects to Davis. On May 31, 1893, the train reached Richmond, and Jefferson Davis was taken to Hollywood Cemetery, where his body was interred.

Jefferson Davis had been accompanied to Richmond by a delegation of notable citizens, including a contingent of Mississippians. One of the Mississippians who made the trip was Patrick Henry, who had served as an officer in the 6th Mississippi Infantry during the Civil War. In the years after the conflict Henry had become a very successful politician, serving in the Mississippi State Legislature and in the United States Congress. He was also a delegate to the 1890 Mississippi Constitutional Convention.

As fate would have it, Henry was the last survivor of the members of the Mississippi delegation that accompanied Jefferson Davis’ body to Richmond. In 1927, Henry wrote the following letter to newspaper editor Edgar S. Wilson, giving his account of the trip. The original letter is located in the Patrick Henry Papers, Z/0215.000/S, Box 1, Folder 2, Mississippi Department of Archives and History:

Brandon – 10/19/27

Hon. Edgar S. Wilson, Jackson, Miss.

My Dear Friend,

Mindful of my promise to send you the personnel of the Escort to the body of President Jefferson Davis, from New Orleans, to Richmond, Va., I

Patrick Henry of Brandon, Mississippi - www.findagrave.com

Patrick Henry of Brandon, Mississippi – http://www.findagrave.com

had you the list, all gone to their reward, save the writer, Viz:

Gen. Stephen D. Lee, Commanding Escort, Gen. W.S. Fergerson, Col. J.L. Power, Capt. R.J. Harding, Capt. J.R. McIntosh, Col. J.R. Binford, Col. E.T. Sykes, Judge Newman Casey, Col. J.H. Jones, Lt. Gov’r., and Maj. Pat Henry. I write names and rank, as per my picture.

We had a wonderful trip, many stops en route, often the rail road yards were strewn with flowers, and hosts of people lining up on either side of the track, many in tears, all seemingly mourning for our chieftain, who even then had been registered among the immortals. We rested the casket in the Capitols at Montgomery, Raleigh, and Richmond, where great crowds of sorrowing people met us. It was placed in Hollywood Cemetery beside the body of his beloved, and beautiful daughter, lovingly known as the “Daughter of the Confederacy,” Miss Winnie Davis.

There was aboard the train a reporter for a Boston paper, who seemed deeply impressed with the general grief manifested by the people along our route. We passed a one legged ex-soldier plowing in his field, on the road side, and altho’ it was raining lightly, he stopped his mule, faced the funeral car, hat off, and head bowed, remaining uncovered with head bowed till the train passed. He had done his bit, it seemed to impress the reporter, and he turned to me, and said “What manner of man is this that brings forth such evidences of devotion, from an entire people. All seem to have sustained a personal loss.”

I told him he was the leader of a proud people, who yielded to numbers, but whose principles still lived, and he was the vicarious suffer[erer], for the so so called sins of his people. Why, he says, “I never witnessed anything like this, from the whole people, regardless of station or rank; think of that old fellow stopping his plow, and standing with bowed head, hat off, even in the rain.” He said, “I attended the funeral of General Grant, but witnesses [witnessed] nothing like this, no grief, or tears, there seemed to be a sort of machinery effect that is wanting here.”

We liked the reporter for his seeming interest, and suggested the same to him, and told him, when we reached Richmond, we would take him down to the James River, and baptize him in the waters of Democracy, but never saw him, after reaching the city, but it was his loss.

Ed, I recount this just for you, the memory of it came welling up, as I wrote, so you will excuse me. With great respect, and affection, I am your friend of the olden time.

Patrick Henry died three years after he wrote this letter, on May 18, 1930, and was buried in the Brandon City Cemetery in Rankin County, Mississippi. Henry’s obituary was carried in papers throughout the state; the Daily Herald of Biloxi published it on May 18, 1930. The tribute noted, “Death closed the colorful career of Major Pat Henry Sunday morning, and with it brought to a close a life devoted to the welfare of Mississippi.” The paper also noted, “Among the honorary pallbearers were the seven remaining members of the United Confederate Veterans camp here.

 

The Grave of Jefferson Davis in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia - www.virtualtourist.com

The Grave of Jefferson Davis in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia – http://www.virtualtourist.com

 

While Jefferson Davis never sought a pardon, and never apologized for his part in the rebellion against the United States, he did, in the twilight of his life, urge the Southern people to put aside any lingering animosity left over from the Civil War. In a speech he gave at Mississippi City in 1888, he told the audience:

“Mr. Chairmen and Fellow Citizens: “Ah, pardon me, the laws of the United States no longer permit me to designate you as fellow citizens, but I am thankful that I may address you you as friends. I feel no regret that I stand before you this afternoon a man without a country, for my ambition lies buried in the grave of the Confederacy. There has been consigned not only my ambition, but the dogmas upon which that Government was based. The faces I see before me are those of young men; had I not known this I would not have appeared before you. Men in whose hands the destinies of the South land lie, for love of her I break my silence, to let it bury its dead, its hopes and aspirations ; before you lies the future – a future full of golden promise; a future of expanding national glory, before which all of the world shall stand amazed. Let me beseech you to lay aside all rancor, all bitter sectional feeling, and to make your places in the ranks of those who will bring about a consummation devoutly to be wished – a reunited country”

 

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One thought on “Mourning for our Chieftain: The Funeral Procession of Jefferson Davis

  1. Thanks for another excellent look into history.

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