30 Mar 2022


Jefferson Davis: Wartime Leader

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The American history is filled with numerous figures many of whom are identified as war heroes, leaders and philanthropists in the quest to achieve a stable nation where its members are able to receive the full extent of their rights. These individuals were actively involved in the political situation of the American community. One of these individuals is Jefferson Davis who was identified as an American politician during the mid 19th Century. The politician served in an electoral seat as the US Representative and Senator for the state of Mississippi. He also served as the President for the Confederate States of America and as the 23rd US Secretary of War. In the American history he is identified as an important figure despite the fact that he failed to receive significant recognition from foreign countries and the potential failure as the Confederate leader. The following paper focuses on the life of Jefferson Davis seeking to identify him as a wartime leader during the era of the American Civil War.


The paternal grandparents of Jefferson Davis immigrated into North America separately and only met after his grandfather has settled in the colony of Georgia. He married a widow who had two children from the previous marriage and with her they got a son, Samuel Emory Davis who would go on to serve in the Continental Army along with both of his half brothers. It was after the American Revolutionary War that Samuel would get married to Jane Cook in 1783. It was after ten years of marriage that they relocated to live in Fairview at the border of Todd and Christian counties. They would get ten children Joseph was the first while Jefferson was the last. He was named Jefferson after the famous Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the US and a leader greatly admired by his father. 1 This was probably the first sign that he would greatly be involved in the political activities of the country.

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Three of his brothers would serve in the war of 1812 after which Davis would begin his education in a small town near the family’s cotton plantation. It was Joseph the eldest brother who would encourage him to keep on with his education. He was able to study all the way to college before his father’s death in 1824. It was at this point that Joseph would really take up the role of a father figure as he even organized for Jefferson to attend a military academy. 2 It is here that he was arrested for an Eggnog Riot in the Christmas of 1826 but would later graduate in 1828. After only three months of marrying his first wife, Sarah Knox Taylor she died and left him severely ill in 1835. He would honor her death as he remained without a wife until 1844. It was during this time that he focused on developing his land and wealth as he improved his knowledge in politics and government. 

His passion for politics and government grew as he engaged in discussions with his elder brother Joseph. In 1840 he would begin attending political meetings such as the Democratic Party meeting where he was chosen as a delegate and other Democratic meetings in later years. By 1844 his love for politics was quite deep as he attempted to become the state House Representative on a Democratic ticket from the Warren County Vicksburg district where he lost the election. In the same year he was selected as one of the six electors in the 1844 presidential election where he would advocate for the James Polk a democratic candidate. At this point, the writing was on the wall Jefferson Davis would be involved in politics and government. 3 It is no wonder that his second wife would be the granddaughter of New Jersey Governor Richard Howell. Together they bore six children but only two were able to survive adulthood.

Wartime Colonel

After his marriage to Varina Banks Howell, he would begin being persuaded to become the House of Representative for Woodville which he was able to wind shortly after the death of his mother. It is in 1846 that the war between Mexico and America began. Davis had wanted to become a part of it and thus resigned from his political seat. He would raise a volunteer regiment that he would lead under his former father–in-law. He would seek to arm his troop members with M1841 Mississippi rifles. These were identified as the special weapons and only special designated infantries would be provided with this fire power. The smoothbore muskets were the ordinary weapons given to all the soldiers participating in the war. 

General Winfield Scott had objected to the provision of the advanced arsenal as they had not been effectively tested. Nonetheless, Jefferson Davis was a man who had brushed shoulders with the most powerful individuals in the country. This is including the current president James K. Polk who had made a promise to provide him with the weapons he desired. Therefore, when he called in his favor, the President obliged without hesitation. This would begin the longstanding conflict between Davis and General Scott as his regiment became the first to be fully armed with the Mississippi rifles which would later become their colloquial title. 4 He was able to demonstrate his bravery in the Battles of Monterrey and Buena Vista. It was at the latter that he was shot in the foot before being carried off by one of his troops. His former father-in-law and commander of the regiment praised him greatly. President Polk offered to commission him as a brigadier general and command of a military brigade but he would decline on political grounds.

Civil War Leader

It was after the Mexican-American War that Jefferson Davis would return to politics. The present Governor of Mississippi, Brown appointed him to take up the vacant post of Senator Jesse Speight who had recently passed away. This was a show of honor for the great service Jefferson had provided in the quest to America’s victory against Mexico. Davis stepped in to the electoral seat for a single month before he was elected to serve the remaining years of the term by state legislature. Before his election to the Senatorial seat, he was made a regent in the Smithsonian Institution serving in the Military and Library Committee. 5 Clearly, the entire American community had identified his exemplary capabilities as a military leader and skills in strategizing a regiment to a battle success. He was evidently an important man in the political and militia sector in the community. Praise was heaped on him as he was offered immediate payment to become the leader for Cuban military. He categorically declined as he identified that it was not in his duties to become a military leader. The American government had identified his prowess in military techniques as he was voted chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs. It was at the end of 1849 that he was elected for a full six-year term as Senator for Mississippi. 6 However, he resigned shortly with a bid to become the governor of the state but lost the election by 999 votes. This left Davis without office but it did not stop his political activity.

He was actively involved in the campaigns for the Presidential election of 1852 as he supported democratic candidates Franklin Pierce and William R. King. The former would go on to win the election and a year after the election he would appoint Davis as the Secretary of War. He was actively involved in the creation of the Pacific Railroad Surveys where he proposed the purchase of Mexican land much of which is today’s Southern Arizona. This would be used in the building of the Transcontinental Railroad that would make it an easier route for the railroad. The Pierce administration had fully backed Davis in his quest to build the Transcontinental Railroad. 7 Pierce also identified that the size of the army was not sufficient for country and sought for various ways in which to increase the army to better serve its military needs. This was possible through the increase in salaries an action that had not taken place in more than 25 year. 

The congress identified with the issues that were raised by Jefferson Davis and in this way increased the army from 11,000 to 15,000. As the secretary of War, Davis was also able to convince the general use of the Mississippi rifles. These were the more advanced and highly technical weapons that were available to the military ensuring that the United States military was more lethal and capable of overcoming its enemies during a battle. 8 The military strategies that he incorporated during his time as the Secretary of War would make the soldiers to become more motivated in their objective duties. 9 He would closely undertake his tasks so as to ensure that the goals and vision that he had would be effectively pursued and achieved. This included the construction duties such as expansion of the US Capitol and the Washington Aqueduct that he had closely managed. His term as Secretary of War would end when Franklin Pierce lost the Democratic nomination to James Buchanan and pursued the Senate seat that he won in 1857.

The tensions were rising between the Northern and Southern over the various issues like slavery. The Dred Scott case in 1857 brought about the Missouri Compromise that African Americans did not have any constitutional right as citizens. The Northern states were outraged as were the Southern states. There were significant talks that secession from the Union. While in his Senate seat, Davis had advocated the continued practice of slavery in the different states. As a result, when the secession crisis finally occurred he resigned from his post as Senator and after communicating with the Governor of Mississippi in 1861 he was chosen as the president of the Confederate. Davis was seen to be an effective leader in his presidential duties in terms of military strategy but was quite poor in his domestic politics. This was the main reason that led to his downfall as opposed to the leader of the North, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was able to inspire the people of the north and was able to make accurate of wise judgments. 

Rather than stand up with intellectuals and talented individuals in the society, Jefferson Davis would side with incompetents like Braxton Bragg and ignored Joseph E. Johnston. 10 The North had strength in numbers as 21 million people resided there as opposed to the 9 million who were in the south. The people of the south were seen to require a short but effective war against the troops of the South. Despite the defection of the Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Arkansas, from the Northern Union these were not enough numbers to enable Jefferson Davis to effectively win the war. 11 Jefferson moved his administration to Richmond Virginia but faced a major problem in providing his military with an effective arsenal to win the war. In order to win the war, the Davis army had to defend the East Coast of Rio Grande which extended from the Mason-Dixon Line to the Gulf of Mexico. This was a near impossible task to achieve as he did not have the appropriate numbers required to win the war. 

Lincoln was able to call upon volunteers from the North up to 75,000 people to engage in war in a bid to stop the people of the South from continued rebellion. 12 The United States had in the past utilized a small army was previously identified by Davis while in the post of Secretary of War. 13 There was a general fear that a large army force would overthrow the government and the country would end up in a dictatorship as seen by Napoleon in the past. The action of small armies was seen to be a major struggle for the Northern Union that would identify numerous military academy graduates seeking to defect to join the Southern army. However, the employed strategy where Davis would be more defensive than offensive gave the untrained northern army a significant edge as seen in 1865 when they surrounded leading to the defeat of the Southern Confederate.


The legacy of Jefferson Davis was tainted despite significant positive achievement. He was seen as a strategist in the military front as he was able to galvanize a large army that could effectively protect the southern states from the action of the northern Union. As a soldier he was also seen as a brave man particularly in the Mexican-American war where he was able to demonstrate his skills and abilities to approach battles. This was able to galvanize his quest into the political scene as he took up numerous roles in the government particularly the Senate seat in the state of Mississippi. 14 His activities like the building of the Transcontinental Railroad enabled him to effectively mobilize the troops during his reign as the Confederate President. However, he was seen as lacking the effective people management skills. This is where he could not pick the most appropriate supporters for his mission to effectively separate from the northern Union. He ignored highly talented individuals and replaced them with less qualified and incompetent persons. This was the major downfall to his reign. His inability to connect with the public ensured that they did not have the required morale to defeat Lincoln’s army.


Allen, T. B. (2009) Mr. Lincoln’s High-tech War: How the North Used the Telegraphs, Railroads, Surveillance Balloons, Ironclads, High-powered Weapons, and More to Win the Civil War. Washington: National Geographic Society.

Ayers, E. L. & Rubin, A. S. (2000) Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. 

Cohen, E. A. (2012).  Supreme command: Soldiers, statesmen and leadership in wartime . New York: Simon and Schuster.

Dawson, J. G. (2009) “Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy’s “Offensive-Defensive” Strategy in the US Civil War”, The Journal of Military History , 73, 2: 591-607.

Gannon, B. A. (2014). Mississippi Valley Campaign. In A. Sheehan-Dan, A Companion to the US Civil War , New York: John Wiley & Sons. 41-55. 

Marks, M. K. (2014). Jefferson Davis. Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia .

1 Marsha Kass Marks, 2014. Jefferson Davis. Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia .

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Joseph G. Dawson, 2009. “Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy’s “Offensive-Defensive” Strategy in the US Civil War”, The Journal of Military History , 73, 2: 591-607. 

5 Edward L. Ayers, & Anne S. Rubin, 2000. Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

6 Marks, 2014. Jefferson Davis.

7 Ayers, & Rubin, Valley of the Shadow, 124.

8 Barbara A. Gannon, 2014. Mississippi Valley Campaign. In A. Sheehan-Dan, A Companion to the US Civil War , New York: John Wiley & Sons. 41-55.

9 Ayers & Rubin, Valley of the Shadow, 124. 

10 Ibid 156.

11 Ibid 165.

12 Thomas B. Allen, 2009. Mr. Lincoln’s High-tech War: How the North Used the Telegraphs, Railroads, Surveillance Balloons, Ironclads, High-powered Weapons, and More to Win the Civil War. Washington: National Geographic Society.

13 Eliot A. Cohen, 2012.  Supreme command: Soldiers, statesmen and leadership in wartime . New York: Simon and Schuster.

14 Ibid 35.

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