J.D.R. Hawkins

One bullet can make a man a hero… or a casualty.

Archive for the tag “Philadelphia”

Women of the Confederacy (Pt. 13)

Today is the final day of Confederate Heritage/History Month, as well as Women’s History Month. Likewise, this post is the last one in my series about Confederate Women. The last installation of this series is about the most famous Confederate woman of all, President Jefferson Davis’ wife.

Varina Davis

Varina Howell Davis 

     The namesake of my UDC chapter is one of the most famous women of the Confederacy. Yet, she didn’t wish to be. 

     Varina Banks Howell was born on May 7, 1826 at her family’s plantation, the Briars, near Natchez, Mississippi. She was one of eight surviving children. Her parents were a unique pair, in that her father was a Yankee from New Jersey, and her mother, a Southern Belle, was the daughter of a wealthy planter. Because of that, the First Lady of the Confederacy was an irony, referring to herself as a “half-breed.” Varina’s father managed to provide for his family, but prosperity was intermittent, as he squandered his wife’s inheritance and made poor investment decisions. 

     Varina was not considered attractive by nineteenth century standards: she was tall, thin, and had an olive complexion. She was very well educated, however, and learned to play the piano beautifully. She was able to attend Madame Greenland’s School in Philadelphia, but the money soon ran out, so she returned home to complete her education with a private tutor. She established the reputation of being highly intelligent but outspoken, which was frowned upon in Victorian society.  

     Seven years later, when Varina was seventeen, she was invited to spend the Christmas season with an old family friend, “Uncle Joe” Davis, at his plantation, the Hurricane. While there, she met his much younger brother, Jefferson. It was the first time she had met any of Joseph’s extended family, and although Jefferson was immediately smitten with her, Varina was reluctant. She wrote to her mother: 

He impresses me as a remarkable kind of man, but of uncertain temper, and has a way of taking for granted that everybody agrees with him when he expresses an opinion, which offends me; yet he is most agreeable and has a peculiarly sweet voice and a winning manner of asserting himself. The fact is, he is the kind of person I should expect to rescue one from a mad dog at any risk, but to insist upon a stoical indifference to the fright afterward. 

     After Varina returned home, Jefferson asked her parents’ permission to court her, but Varina’s mother objected. She was concerned that Jefferson was far too old for her daughter (eighteen years her senior), that he was still in love with his deceased wife, Sarah Knox Taylor (daughter of President Zachary Taylor), that he was too devoted to his relatives (his older brother, Joseph, raised him after their father died and financially supported him), and that his political views were different (he was a member of the new Democratic Party, but Varina’s family were Whigs). She eventually gave in, and the two were engaged. An enormous wedding was scheduled to take place at the Hurricane, but just before the event happened, the wedding was cancelled. Varina fell ill, and out of concern, Jefferson frequented her home. The two managed to reconcile, and were wed on February 26, 1845 at the Briars with only a small group of the bride’s family in attendance. Their honeymoon was spent visiting Jefferson’s aged mother and the grave of his deceased wife. 

     The newlyweds set up housekeeping in a two-room cottage on the Brierfield plantation, which was adjacent to the Hurricane. Trouble soon appeared in the form of Jefferson’s widowed sister and her seven children, who moved in without Varina’s approval or consent. Her own family’s financial reliance on them was also an embarrassment to her. Addition problems arose when Jefferson left to campaign for Congress and serve in the Mexican War, leaving Varina to deal with domineering Joseph herself.  

Jefferson was elected to the Senate, so he and Varina moved to Washington, where she thrived. She adored the city and was intrigued by politics. As her husband rose in his political career, she rose in Washington elite society, becoming one of the city’s youngest and most popular hostesses. But when the Civil War broke out, Jefferson resigned his Senate seat, and the two returned to the South. It wasn’t long before Jefferson learned that he had been selected as the new president of the Confederacy. This dismayed Varina deeply, for she knew that her husband didn’t want the job, and that the South would most likely lose the war. However, she dutifully supported him. 

     During the first two years as First Lady, she held extravagant parties. Her friend, Mary Boykin Chesnut, enjoyed and admired her, but others weren’t so supportive. Varina received criticism for being over-extravagant, for not being extravagant enough, for playing favorites, for meddling in politics where she didn’t belong, and for influencing her husband’s decisions. Despite the reticule, she supported the troops by knitting clothing for them, donating rugs for blankets, making shoes from scraps, and visiting wounded Yankee and Confederate soldiers in the hospitals, but she resisted her husband’s insistence to become a volunteer nurse.  

     Jefferson and Varina lost one of their children in the spring of 1864 when he fell from a second-story window of the White House of the Confederacy. A few weeks later, Varina gave birth to a daughter, and nicknamed her Winnie, who later became known as the “Daughter of the Confederacy.” Varina also rescued a young slave boy named Jim Limber, and took him in as her own. In early 1865, Jefferson ordered her to flee Richmond with their children. She financed the trip by selling everything they owned, which came to $8,000 in gold. The family was reunited in Georgia, but Jefferson was soon captured and sent to Fort Monroe prison, where he remained for two years. In the meantime, Varina was prohibited from leaving Georgia. Jim Limber was taken from her, never to be heard of again. After a freed slave threatened one of her children with a gun, Varina sent them to Canada with her mother, and petitioned relentlessly for Jefferson’s release. Finally, he was freed, but he was sickly and frail. 

     The family traveled to Canada and Europe for several years. Jefferson was never convicted of war crimes, but was never able to make a go of any financial endeavors, either. High strung Varina suffered from a nervous breakdown in 1876. While she recovered in Europe and their children studied abroad, Jefferson returned home. He established an insurance company in Memphis, but the business went belly up. He sought the companionship of the wife of a fellow inmate, but the press leaked the news, and Varina, of course, was enraged. Somehow, the two managed to reconcile again, probably because they lost two of their sons (bringing the total to four lost sons). 

     An old friend, Sarah Dorsey, invited Jefferson to live with her at her beachfront home, Beauvoir, in Biloxi. He accepted, thinking that the sea air would do his ailments good, and Varina later joined him. Before Mrs. Dorsey died, she bequeathed Beauvoir to them. Jefferson proceeded to write his memoirs. He died in 1889 while visiting a friend in New Orleans. Varina sold his memoirs the following year, but the book was a failure. She remained at Beauvoir for another year before she sold it to the state of Mississippi for $10,000 to be used as a Confederate veterans’ home, stipulating that it be preserved as “a perpetual memorial sacred to the memory of Jefferson Davis” and the Confederate cause. 

     Once again, Varina received criticism when she moved to New York City to accept a job as a journalist for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York Herald, and took her daughter, Winnie, with her. She befriended Julia Dent Grant, the widow of President and Union General Ulysses S. Grant. Southerners were shocked and offended by her moving to New York and becoming friends with the wife of a dreaded enemy. Not only that, Varina attended a reception and socialized with Booker T. Washington, treating him, to the Southerner’s dismay, like he was an equal. She declined offers to return to the South, and even turned down a residence offered to her in Richmond. On many occasions, she attended both Union and Confederate veterans’ reunions. She was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. 

     Varina’s heart was broken when Winnie passed away in 1898. Following a bout with double pneumonia, she too died on October 16, 1906 in her apartment overlooking Central Park. She was eighty years old, and was survived by only one of her six children (a daughter), and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Following a funeral procession through the streets of New York City, her body was returned to Richmond and laid to rest beside Jefferson and Winnie in Hollywood Cemetery. 

     One of Varina’s last remaining prized possessions, her diamond and emerald wedding ring, was housed in the museum at Beauvoir, but when Hurricane Katrina hit, the ring was lost. Amazingly, it was discovered on the grounds a few months later, and returned to its rightful place at Beauvoir. 

Advertisements

Colorado Desperadoes (Part 1) – The Infamous Doc Holliday

Image

Although he never fought in the Civil War, John Henry “Doc” Holliday was a product of that war. His father fought for the Confederacy. His cousin by marriage was Margaret Mitchell, who wrote “Gone with the Wind.”

Doc was born on August 14, 1851 in Griffin, Georgia. The family moved to Valdosta, Georgia in 1864. In 1866, when Doc was 15, his mother died of tuberculosis. He became fluent in Latin, Greek, and French, and obtained a degree in dentistry in Philadelphia. He didn’t practice dentistry for long, though.  He was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and only given a few months to live.

Thinking that a dryer climate would slow his deteriorating condition, Doc moved to Dallas in 1873 and took up gambling because it was more profitable. From there, he moved to Denver. Hearing about the discovery of gold, he traveled to Cheyenne, and then to Deadwood. By 1877, Doc had become accomplished with a gun. He met Wyatt Earp in Texas, along with “Big Nose” Kate, who became his lifelong companion. In 1878, he defended Earp in a saloon fight, which took place in Dodge City, Kansas.

In 1880, Doc travelled to Tombstone, Arizona to meet up with the Earp’s. It wasn’t long before trouble found him. Wyatt had been dealing with problems caused by the “Cowboys,” and the situation escalated. In October 1881, the conflict exploded in what became known as the Gunfight at the OK Corral. The situation in Tombstone grew worse. Virgil Earp was seriously wounded, and Morgan Earp was killed. The Earp’s left town, but later, the body of Frank Stilwell, who was one of the Cowboys, was discovered near the railroad tracks, riddled with buckshot. The Earp’s returned to Tombstone to meet up with Texas Jack Vermillion. From there, the posse rode out on what became known as the Earp Vendetta Ride, and killed other members of the Cowboys, including “Indian Charlie” Cruz and “Curly Bill” Brocius. Because there was a warrant out for Doc in the killing of Stilwell, he decided to return to Colorado.

Doc was arrested for murder in Denver on May 15, 1882 under an Arizona warrant. Wyatt asked his friend, Bat Masterson, who was Chief of Police in Trinidad, Colorado, to get Doc released. Masterson convinced Colorado’s Governor Pitkin to refuse Arizona’s extradition. Doc was released in Pueblo two weeks later. He and Wyatt briefly met up in June 1882 in Gunnison. On July 14, one of the notorious Cowboys, Johnny Ringo, was found dead. His death appeared to be a suicide, but controversy surrounds it. Speculation arose that Wyatt and Doc returned to Arizona to do Johnny Ringo in, but it has never been proven.

After traveling to Salida, Doc went to Leadville for a short time. His health was rapidly deteriorating, worsened by severe alcohol and laudanum use. Told that the hot springs would improve his condition, he went to Glenwood Springs. The sulfuric fumes did just the opposite, however, and it wasn’t long before his health failed. He spent his last few days in the Hotel Glenwood. His final words reflected the irony of his situation, because he always thought he would be the victim of an assassin’s bullet. Looking down at his bootless feet, he said, “Damn, this is funny.” He died on November 8, 1887. He was 36 years old.

Doc was buried in Linwood Cemetery, on a mountaintop overlooking Glenwood Springs. Speculation exists as to whether he is actually buried there, since the ground might have been frozen. He was either buried in an unmarked grave to prevent grave robbers from desecrating the corpse, or in Potter’s Field, which was a section of the cemetery set aside for blacks and paupers. He was penniless at the time of his death, so this is a possibility. The records showing exactly where his body was located within the cemetery were lost.

According to research, he only killed three people in his lifetime. However, it is possible that he never actually killed anyone. He was involved in several altercations, and let his reputation grow as a murderer. Virgil Earp told a reporter from the Arizona Daily Star in March 1882, that “There was something very peculiar about Doc. He was gentlemanly, a good dentist, a friendly man, and yet outside of us boys I don’t think he had a friend in the Territory. Tales were told that he had murdered men in different parts of the country; that he had robbed and committed all manner of crimes, and yet when persons were asked how they knew it, they could only admit that it was hearsay, and that nothing of the kind could really be traced up to Doc’s account.” The violence experienced during the Civil War was carried on through the settling of the Wild West, and Doc Holliday was one result of that time.

Wonders Never Cease

It took 148 years, but the state of Mississippi finally ratified the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, making it illegal to own slaves. The question is, why did it take so long? There are many examples where old laws have never been purged from the books. Some examples are that it is illegal in Missouri to drive with an uncaged bear, in Philadelphia, you are not allowed to put pretzels in a bag (based on an Act from 1760), in Colorado, a cat cannot be outside at night unless it has a taillight (what?), and in Kentucky, a person must take a bath once a year or face prosecution.

The 13th Amendment was written into law in 1865, immediately following the end of the War Between the States. However, many southern states, Mississippi included, refused to ratify the law. Those states that refused were forced into Reconstruction. It didn’t take long for Alabama, Georgia, and most other states to ratify the amendment, but for some reason, Mississippi held out.

Fast forward to 1995, when it was discovered that the law STILL hadn’t been ratified. Remarkably, Mississippi lawmakers didn’t officially abolish slavery until that year. However, the state failed to notify the U. S. Archivist, so it was never official.

The oversight might have never been discovered if it weren’t for Dr. Ranjan Batra, who is an associate professor at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. When Dr. Batra saw the movie “Lincoln,” he grew curious about what happened once the states voted on ratification. It was then that he learned of the clerical error, and the correct paperwork was filed on February 7. Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann admitted that “It was long overdue.” Ya think?

Post Navigation