Jefferson Finis Davis (June 3, 1808 – December 6, 1889) was an American politician who served as President of the Confederate States of America for its entire history from 1861 to 1865 during the American Civil War. Davis believed that corruption had destroyed the old Union and that the Confederacy had to be pure to survive. During his presidency, Davis was never able to find a strategy that would defeat the larger, more industrially developed Union. Davis's insistence on independence even in the face of crushing defeat prolonged the war, and while not exactly disgraced, he was displaced in Southern affection after the war by the leading general, Robert E. Lee. After Davis was captured in 1865, he was held in a federal prison for two years for treason and had his US citizenship taken away. He was given it back in 1978, well after his death.
A West Point graduate, Davis prided himself on the military skills he gained in the Mexican-American War as a colonel of a volunteer regiment, and as U.S. Secretary of War under Franklin Pierce.---------------------The year 1846 saw the beginning of the Mexican-American War. He resigned his House seat in June, and raised a volunteer regiment, the Mississippi Rifles, becoming its colonel. On July 21, 1846 they sailed from New Orleans for the Texas coast. Davis armed the regiment with percussion rifles and trained the regiment in their use, making it particularly effective in combat.
In September of the same year, he participated in the successful siege of Monterrey, Mexico. He fought bravely at the Battle of Buena Vista on February 22, 1847, and was shot in the foot, being carried to safety by Robert H. Chilton. In recognition of Davis's bravery and initiative, commanding general Zachary Taylor is reputed to have said, "My daughter, sir, was a better judge of men than I was."-------------------
President James K. Polk offered him a Federal commission as a brigadier general and command of a brigade of militia. He declined the appointment, arguing that the United States Constitution gives the power of appointing militia officers to the states, and not to the Federal government.-------------Because of his war service, the Governor of Mississippi appointed Davis to fill out the Senate term of the late Jesse Speight. He took his seat 5 December 1847, and was elected to serve the remainder of his term in January 1848. In addition, the Smithsonian Institution appointed him a regent at the end of December 1847.The Senate made Davis chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs. When his term expired, he was elected to the same seat (by the Mississippi legislature, as the Constitution mandated at the time). He had not served a year when he resigned (in September 1851) to run for the Governorship of Mississippi on the issue of the Compromise of 1850, which Davis opposed. This election bid was unsuccessful, as he was defeated by fellow senator Henry Stuart Foote by 999 votes.
Left without political office, Davis continued his political activity. He took part in a convention on states' rights, held at Jackson, Mississippi in January 1852. In the weeks leading up to the presidential election of 1852, he campaigned in numerous Southern states for Democratic candidates Franklin Pierce and William R. King.-------------------Pierce won the election and, in 1853, made Davis his Secretary of War. In this capacity, Davis gave to Congress four annual reports (in December of each year), as well as an elaborate one (submitted on February 22, 1855) on various routes for the proposed Transcontinental Railroad. The Pierce Administration ended in 1857. The President lost the Democratic nomination, which went instead to James Buchanan. Davis' term was to end with Pierce's, so he ran successfully for the Senate, and re-entered it on March 4, 1857.---------------------His renewed service in the Senate was interrupted by an illness that threatened him with the loss of his left eye. Still nominally serving in the Senate, Davis spent the summer of 1858 in Portland, Maine. On the Fourth of July, he delivered an anti-secessionist speech on board a ship near Boston. He again urged the preservation of the Union on October 11 in Faneuil Hall, Boston, and returned to the Senate soon after.
On February 2, 1860, as secessionist clamor in the South grew ever louder, Davis submitted six resolutions in an attempt to consolidate opinion regarding states' rights, including the right to maintain slavery in the South, and to further his own position on the issue. Abraham Lincoln won the presidency that November. Matters came to a head, and South Carolina seceded from the Union.
Though an opponent of secession in principle, Davis upheld it in practice on January 10, 1861. On January 21, 1861, he announced the secession of Mississippi, delivered a farewell address, and resigned from the Senate.-------------Four days after his resignation, Davis was commissioned a Major General of Mississippi troops. On February 9, 1861, a Constitutional convention at Montgomery, Alabama named him provisional President of the Confederate States of America and he was inaugurated on February 18. In meetings of his own Mississippi legislature, Davis had argued against secession; but when a majority of the delegates opposed him, he gave in.-------------In conformity with a resolution of the Confederate Congress, Davis immediately appointed a Peace Commission to resolve the Confederacy's differences with the Union. In March 1861, before the bombardment of Fort Sumter, the Commission was to travel to Washington, D.C., to offer to pay for any Federal property on Southern soil, as well as the Southern portion of the national debt, but it was not authorized to discuss terms for reunion. He appointed General P.G.T. Beauregard to command Confederate troops in the vicinity of Charleston, South Carolina. He approved the Cabinet decision to bombard Fort Sumter, which started the Civil War. When Virginia switched from neutrality and joined the Confederacy, he moved his government to Richmond, Virginia, in May 1861. Davis and his family took up his residence there at the White House of the Confederacy in late May.-----------------Davis was elected to a six-year term as President of the Confederacy on November 6, 1861. He had never served a full term in any elective office, and that would turn out to be the case on this occasion as well. He was inaugurated on February 22, 1862. In June, 1862, he assigned General Robert E. Lee to replace the wounded Joseph E. Johnston in command of the Army of Northern Virginia, the main Confederate army in the Eastern Theater. That December, he made a tour of Confederate armies in the west of the country. Davis largely made the main strategic decisions on his own, or approved those suggested by Lee. He had a very small circle of military advisers.
In August 1863, Davis declined General Lee's offer of resignation after his defeat at the Battle of Gettysburg. As Confederate military fortunes turned for the worse in 1864, he visited Georgia with the intent of raising morale.
Davis has received criticism over his conduct of the military affairs of the Confederacy. Until late in the war, he resisted efforts to appoint a general-in-chief, essentially handling those duties himself; on January 31, 1865, Lee assumed this role, but it was far too late. Davis insisted on a strategy of trying to defend all Southern territory with ostensibly equal effort, which diluted the limited resources of the South and made it vulnerable to coordinated strategic thrusts by the Union into the vital Western Theater, such as the capture of New Orleans. He made other controversial strategic choices, such as allowing Lee to invade the North on two occasions while the Western armies were under very heavy pressure. Davis has been faulted for poor coordination and management of his generals. This includes his reluctance to relieve his personal friend, Braxton Bragg, defeated in important battles and distrusted by his subordinates; he relieved the cautious but capable Joseph E. Johnston and replaced him with the reckless John Bell Hood, resulting in the loss of Atlanta and the eventual loss of an army.
On April 3, 1865, with Union troops under Ulysses S. Grant poised to capture Richmond, Davis escaped for Danville, Virginia, together with the Confederate Cabinet, leaving on the Richmond and Danville Railroad. He issued his last official proclamation as President of the Confederacy, and then went south to Greensboro, North Carolina.
President Jefferson Davis met with his Confederate Cabinet for the last time on May 5, 1865 in Washington, Georgia, and the Confederate Government was officially dissolved. The meeting took place at the Heard house, the Georgia Branch Bank Building, with fourteen officials present. On May 10, he was captured at Irwinville, Georgia. After being captured, he was held as a prisoner for two years in Fort Monroe, Virginia.