On this day in 1861, Jefferson Davis was elected president of the Confederate States of America. He ran without opposition, and the election simply confirmed the decision that had been made by the Confederate Congress earlier in the year. See if you can answer these questions about Jefferson Davis...
Why Was Davis Chosen as President of the Confederacy?
Davis had a great deal of military and political experience. He had been serving as a U.S. Senator from Mississippi at the time Mississippi seceded. After that, he resigned his appointment as senator January 21, 1861. He was a West Point graduate, had served in the Blackhawk War and was with the First Dragoons before entering politics. After he attended the Democratic National Convention, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1845.
Davis traded his political career for the military in 1846 when he led a group of Mississippi riflemen in the Mexican War, distinguishing himself. He reentered the political arena in 1857, serving in the U.S. Senate and as Secretary of War.
What Future President’s Daughter Did Davis Marry? He married Sarah Knox Taylor, nicknamed “Knoxie.” She was the second child of General Zachary Taylor, who was an officer in the U.S. Army and was later elected President of the United States. At the time he met Sarah Taylor, Davis was serving as a lieutenant under General Taylor. Taylor was opposed to the marriage because he didn’t want his daughter to be a military wife, deeming it too difficult. Davis resigned his military commission in order to marry Taylor and returned to Mississippi to develop the plantation next door to his brother’s. Davis and Taylor were married in 1835; however, the marriage was short-lived. She died of malaria a few months later. Davis remained a widow for about eight years before remarrying.
Under What President Did Davis Serve as Secretary of War? Franklin Pierce named Davis as his Secretary of War in 1853. During his tenure, Davis advocated for the construction of the transcontinental railroad. He was also a supporter of the Gadsden Purchase, which brought the southern parts of New Mexico and Arizona into the United States and redefined its border. He worked to strengthen coastal defenses and the U.S. Army. In addition, he was the supervisor for the expansion of the U.S. Capitol.
When Was Davis Captured by Union Forces?
Soldiers from the 4th Michigan Cavalry under Union General James Wilson captured and arrested Davis on May 10, 1865, close to Irwinville, Georgia. He was reportedly wearing a black shawl belonging to his wife when he was captured, however, his wife maintained that she had lent it to him because he was ill. Davis was held as a prisoner at Fort Monroe in Virginia and charged with treason although he was never tried for the offense.
He was initially held in shackles, but public opinion against it resulted in the shackles being removed one day after the story appeared in a Philadelphia newspaper. The charge of treason was dropped, and Davis was granted amnesty by President Andrew Johnson in December 1868.The case by the government was dropped a few months later.