Jefferson C. Davis

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Jefferson Columbus Davis
Jefferson C. Davis.jpg
Major General Jefferson C. Davis
Nickname(s) "Jef"
Born (1828-03-02)March 2, 1828
Clark County, Indiana
Died November 30, 1879(1879-11-30) (aged 51)
Chicago, Illinois
Place of burial Crown Hill Cemetery
Allegiance  United States of America
Union
Service/branch  United States Army
Union Army
Years of service 1846-1879
Rank Union army maj gen rank insignia.jpg Brevet Major General 1864-1865
Union army col rank insignia.jpg Colonel 1865-1879
Commands held

XIV Corps

August 1864 - August 1865

Department of Alaska

1867 - 1870

Department of the Columbia

January 1873 – September 1874
Battles/wars

Mexican-American War

American Civil War

American Indian Wars

Jefferson Columbus Davis (March 2, 1828 – November 30, 1879) was an officer in the United States Army who served in the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, and the Modoc War. He was the first commander of the Department of Alaska, from 1867 to 1870. Although successful in a number of Civil War battles, he is best remembered for two attributes: the similarity of his name to that of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his murder of a superior officer during an argument in the Civil War.

Early life[edit]

Marker denoting Davis' birth near Memphis, Indiana

Davis was born in Clark County, Indiana near present-day Memphis, Indiana. He was born to William Davis, Jr. (1800-1879) and Mary Drummond-Davis (1801-1881), the oldest of their eight children. His father was a farmer. His parents came from Kentucky, and like many of the time including President Abraham Lincoln's family, moved to Indiana.[1]

Early Military Career[edit]

When Jefferson Davis was 19 years old, in June 1846, he joined the 3rd Indiana Volunteers. He enlisted as a soldier during the Mexican-American War. Through the war, he received promotions through the rank of sergeant. He received a commission as a second lieutenant, in the First U. S. Artillery, in June 1848. He received this promotion for bravery at Buena Vista. He joined the 1st Artillery in October 1848 at Fort McHenry, outside of Baltimore Maryland. Later he moved south to Fort Washington, Maryland, just outside of Washington D.C., and again to the coast of Mississippi. He was promoted again to first lieutenant in February 1852, being transferred to Florida in 1853 and on to Fortress Monroe in Virginia. In 1857, he was stationed again in Fort McHenry moving to Florida in 1858. In the summer of 1858, he received a transfer to Fort Moultrie, South Carolina. Fort Moultrie was located near Fort Sumter and Charleston, South Carolina. He would remain in South Carolina until Fort Sumter was evacuated at the beginning of the Civil War, in 1861.[2]

Civil War[edit]

When the war began, Davis was leading the garrison at Fort Sumter when it was bombarded by Confederate forces in April 1861.[a] The following month he was promoted to captain and given the task of raising a regiment in Indiana. Additionally, he was given responsibility over the commissary and supply. He requested assignment as a regimental commander, growing bored of his garrison duties. After the death of General Lyon and the loss at Wilson's Creek,[b] his request was gratefully accepted. His experience as a regular in the federal army made him a rare commodity, and was given command of the 22nd Indiana Infantry receiving a promotion to Colonel.

Missouri[edit]

By the end of August, Davis received orders to succeed Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant as commander of forces in northwest Missouri. His headquarters was situated in Jefferson City, Missouri with approximately 16,000 confederate troops in the near vicinity. General Fremont had great concerns that the confederate troops commanded by Generals McCullough and Sterling Price would set their eyes on St. Louis as a potential target. Davis' command grew quickly, starting at 12,000 at the beginning of September expanding to 18,000 to 20,000 by the end of the month. Initially, Davis spent time building fortifications to fend off possible attack on the capitol city. Once his defensive plan was completed, he planned an offensive campaign, however, materiel was refused to Davis. This potentially had the negative effects of losing the Battle of Lexington.[3][c]

In December 1861, he took command of the 3rd Division, Army of the Southwest. He pursued Confederate troops through southern Missouri, as they retreated toward and into Arkansas. In March 1862, his Division attacked the Confederates at the Battle of Pea Ridge.[d] Davis distinguished service at Pea Ridge was rewarded in May 1862; Davis received a field promotion commensurate with his command of a Division Commander, brevetted to Brigadier General.[4]

At the Siege of Corinth, he commanded the 4th Division, Army of the Mississippi.[e]

The Blemish in Davis' Career[edit]

In the late summer of 1862, Davis became ill, probably caused by exhaustion. He wrote to his commander, General Rosecrans, requesting a few weeks leave. Davis states, "After twenty one months of arduous service... I find myself compelled by physical weakness and exhaustion to ask... for a few weeks respite from duty..."[5] On August 12, 1862, the Army of Mississippi issued General Rosecrans response in Special Order No. 208, authorizing General Davis 20 days of convalescence.[6] Davis would head for home in Indiana to rest and recuperate.

While on leave, the state of affairs in Kentucky became quite precarious. The Army of the Ohio, commanded by Brigadier General Don Carlos Buell, was taking aim on Chattanooga, Tennessee. Three-hundred miles of rail-lines lay between Louisville and Chattanooga and confederate forces was making constant work tearing up the tracks. These railroads provided the needed supplies to Union troops on the move. Consequently, Buell was forced to split his forces, and send General William "Bull" Nelson back north to Kentucky to take charge of the area. When Nelson arrived in Louisville, he found Major General Horatio G. Wright had been sent by the President to take control, putting Buell second in command.[7]

In late August, two Confederate armies under command of Major General Edmund Kirby Smith and General Braxton Bragg moved into Kentucky and Tennessee on the offensive to drive Union forces from Kentucky. Smith's Army of East Tennessee had approximately 19,000 men and Bragg's Army of Tennessee had approximately 35,000. On August 23, 1862, confederate cavalry met and defeated union troops at the Battle of Big Hill. This was only a prelude to the bigger battle ahead; on August 29, 1862, portions of Smith's army met an equal portion Nelson's force numbering between 6,000 and 7,000.[8] The two day Battle of Richmond ending on August 30 was an overwhelming Confederate victory in all aspects; Union casualties numbered over 5,000 compared to the 750 Confederate, and considerable ground was lost including the cities of Richmond, Frankfort and the state capital of Lexington.[9] Further loss at the battle was the capture of Brigadier General Mahlon D. Manson and the wounding of General Nelson, injured in the neck, who was forced to retreated back to Louisville to prepare for the presumed assault.[10] The Confederates were now in a position to aim northward, taking the fight to the enemy.

General Davis was quite aware of the circumstances in the neighboring state to the south; Smith was able to strike at Cincinnati, Ohio, and Bragg and or Smith at Louisville. Davis, still on convalescence, reported to General Wright, who's headquarters was in Cincinnati, offering his services. Wright ordered Davis to report to Nelson. In Louisville, Davis was put in charge of organizing and arming the citizens of Louisville, preparing for its defense.[11]

Nelson was quite an imposing figure over Davis. William Nelson got his nickname, "Bull," in no small part to his stature. Nelson was 300 pounds and six foot two inches, described as being "in the prime of life, in perfect health." Davis was quite small in comparison, measuring five foot nine, and reportedly only 125 pounds.[12]

Two days later, on September 22, two days after Davis initial orders from Nelson, he was summoned to the Galt House, where Nelson had made his headquarters. Nelson inquired how the recruitment was going and how many men had been mustered. Davis replied that he did not know. As Nelson asked his questions, only receiving short answers that Davis was unaware of any specifics, Nelson became enraged and expelled Davis from Louisville. General James B. Fry, described as a close friend of Davis', was present for the events. Fry would later write an account of the events surrounding the death of Nelson.[13] Fry states:

Davis arose and remarked, in a cool, deliberate manner: "General Nelson, I am a regular soldier, and I demand the treatment due to me as a general officer." Davis then stepped across to the door of the Medical Director's room, both doors being open... and said: "Dr Irwin, I wish you to be a witness to this conversation." At the same time Nelson said: "Yes, doctor, I want you to remember this." Davis then said to Nelson: "I demand from you the courtesy due to my rank." Nelson replied: "I will treat you as you deserve. You have disappointed me; you have been unfaithful to the trust which I reposed in you, and I shall relieve you at once. You are relieved from duty here and you will proceed to Cincinnati and report to General Wright." Davis said: "You have no authority to order me." Nelson turned toward the Adjutant-General and said: "Captain, if General Davis does not leave the city by nine o'clock tonight, give instructions to the Provost-Marshal to see that he shall be put across the Ohio River."[14]

General Davis made his way to Cincinnati and reported to General Wright within a few days. Within the same week, General Buell returned to Louisville and took command from General Nelson. At this point, Wright felt that with Buell in command at Louisville, there was no need to keep Davis from Louisville where his leadership was desperately needed. Wright sent Davis back to Louisville.[15]

Davis arrived in Louisville in the afternoon on Sunday, September 28, and reported to the Galt House early the next morning at breakfast time. The Galt House continued to serve as the command's headquarters for both Buell and Nelson. This, like most mornings, was the meeting place for many of the most prominent military and civil leaders. When Davis arrived, and looked around the room, he saw many a familiar face, and joined Oliver P. Morton, Indiana's Governor.

A short time later, General Nelson entered the hotel and went to the front desk. Davis approached Nelson, asking for an apology for the offense Nelson had previously made. Nelson dismissed Davis, saying, "Go away you damned puppy, I don't want anything to do with you!" Davis took in his hand a registration card, and while he confronted Nelson, took his anger out on the card, first gripping it, then wadding it up into a small ball. He took the small ball and flipped it into Nelson's face, like a child would flip a marble. Nelson stepped forward and slapped Davis with the back of his hand in the face.[f] Nelson then looked at the Governor and asked, "Did you come here, sir, to see me insulted?"[g] Morton said, "No sir." At which point, Nelson turned and left for his room.

This set the events in motion. General Davis asked a friend from the Mexican-American War if he had a pistol, which he did not. He then asked another friend, Thomas W. Gibson, from whom he did get a pistol. Straight away, Davis went down the corridor towards Nelson's office, where he was now standing. He aimed the pistol at Nelson, and fired. The bullet hit Nelson in the chest, tearing a small hole in the heart, mortally wounding the large man. Nelson still had the strength to make his way to the hotel stairs, and climb a floor before he collapsed. By this time a crowd was starting to gather around him, who carried Nelson to a nearby room, laying him on the floor. The hotel proprietor, Silas F. Miller, came rushing into the room to find Nelson lying on the floor. Nelson asked of Miller, "Send for a clergyman; I wish to be baptized. I have been basely murdered." Reverend J. Talbot was called, who responded, as well as a doctor. Several people came to see General Nelson, including Reverend Talbot, Surgeon Murry, General Crittenden and General Fry. The shooting had occurred at 8:00 am, and by 8:30 he was dead.[16][h]

Davis did not leave the vicinity of General Nelson. He did not run, or evade capture. He was simply taken into military custody by Fry and confined to an upper room in the Galt House. Davis attested to Fry what had happened. Fry writes that while Davis was improperly treated for a man of his rank, Davis never pursued any legal recourse, which there was available to him. Fry attests that Davis was quite forthcoming, even including the fact that it was he who flipped a paper-wad in the face of Nelson. Davis wanted to confront Nelson publicly. He wanted Nelson's disrespect witnessed. What Davis had not accounted for was Nelson's physical assault. Everything spiraled out of control.[17][i]

Many in close confidence with General Nelson wanted to see quick justice with regards to General Davis. There was even a few, including General William Terrill, wanted to see Davis hung on the spot. Even General Buell would weigh in, say that Davis' conduct was inexcusable. Fry states that Buell regarded the actions as "a gross violation of military discipline." Buell went on to telegraph General Henry Halleck, General in Chief of all Armies. The telegraph read (in part):

General H.W. Halleck:

Brigadier-General Davis is under arrest at Louisville for the killing of General Nelson. His trial by a court-marshal or military commission should take place immediately, but I can't spare officers from the army now in motion to compose a court. It can perhaps better be done from Washington...

D.C. Buell,

Major-General.[18]

It would be Major General Horatio G. Wright who would come to his aid securing his release and return him back to duty. He avoided conviction for the murder because there was a need for experienced field commanders in the Union Army. Fry states in his journal of Wright's comments, "...Davis appealed to me, and I notified him that he should no longer consider himself in arrest... I was satisfied that Davis acted purely on the defensive in the unfortunate affair, and I presumed that Buell held very similar views, as he took no action in the matter after placing him in arrest."[19]

Davis was released from custody on October 13, 1862. Military regulations required charges to be formally made against the accused within 45 days of the arrest.[20] The charges never came, in no small part due to the actions occurring all around the occasion, as Buell was to begin a new campaign in Kentucky within five days of the murder. In all, there was no trial. No significant confinement, as it would appear that Davis was staying at the Galt House without guard, based partly on Wright's statement. No fine, no punishment whatsoever; Davis simply walked away, returning to duty as if nothing had ever happened.[19]

The Western Campaign[edit]

Gen. Davis in the staff of Gen. William T. Sherman

Davis was a capable commander, but because of the murder of General Nelson, he never received a full promotion higher than brigadier general of volunteers. He did, however, receive a brevet promotion to major general of volunteers on August 8, 1864 (for his service at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain), and was appointed commanding officer of the XIV Corps during the Atlanta Campaign, a post he retained until the end of the war.[21] He received a brevet promotion to brigadier general in the regular army on March 20, 1865.

During the March to the Sea, his actions during the Ebenezer Creek passing and his ruthlessness toward the freed slaves, that causes his legacy to be clouded in continued controversy. As Sherman's army proceeded toward Savannah, Georgia, on December 9, 1864, Davis ordered a pontoon bridge removed before the African-American refugees following his corps could cross the creek. Several hundred were captured by the Confederate cavalry or drowned in the creek, attempting to escape.[22]

Postbellum career[edit]

Department of Alaska[edit]

After the Civil War, Davis continued service with the army, becoming colonel of the 23rd Infantry Regiment in July 1866. He was the first commander of the Department of Alaska, establishing a fort at Sitka on October 29, 1867.[23] from March 18, 1868, to June 1, 1870. During this time he ordered Russian residents of Sitka, Alaska to leave their homes, as he maintained that they were needed for Americans.[citation needed]

Post-Alaska[edit]

Davis gained fame when he assumed field command of the U.S. forces in California and Oregon during the Modoc War of 1872-1873, after General Edward Canby and Rev. Eleazer Thomas had been assassinated during peace talks. His presence in the field restored the confidence of the soldiers after their recent setbacks against the Modoc.[24] Davis' campaign resulted in the Battle of Dry Lake (May 10, 1873) and the eventual surrender of notable leaders such as Hooker Jim and Captain Jack.[citation needed]

During the 1877 St. Louis general strike, Davis arrived in St. Louis, commanding 300 men and two Gatling guns, to crush the strikers who controlled the city (the St. Louis Commune) for several days.[25]

Davis died in Chicago, Illinois. He is buried in Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, Indiana.[26]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Fort Sumter is preserved today as Fort Sumter National Monument, protected by the National Park Service. The park is located in Charleston Bay, South Carolina near Charleston, South Carolina.
  2. ^ Battle of Wilson's Creek is preserved today within Wilson's Creek National Battlefield, protected by the National Park Service. The park is located near Republic, Missouri.
  3. ^ * Battle of Lexington State Historic Site preserves the battlefield at Lexington, Missouri. The area is administered and protected by the Division of State Parks of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. * Another point of interest in the area is a cannon ball that hit and remains in a column of the Lafayette County Court House.
  4. ^ The Battle of Pea Ridge is preserved today as Pea Ridge National Military Park, protected by the National Park Service. The park is located in northwest Arkansas near Garfield, Arkansas.
  5. ^ Shiloh National Military Park preserves the Corinth battlefield. The area is administered and protected by the National Park Service. The park is located in northern Mississippi in Corinth, Mississippi.
  6. ^ Some accounts say that General Nelson slapped General Davis twice with the back of his hand.
  7. ^ Some accounts say "Did you come here to insult me, too?"
  8. ^ The events of late September 1862 has as many accounts of the events as there are witnesses to them.
  9. ^ The events of late September 1862 has as many accounts of the events as there are witnesses to them.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Sones, Bruce V., Major (2000). Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis: Civil War General. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. p. 1. 
  2. ^ Powell, William H., Major, and Edward Shippen (1892). Officers of the Army and Navy (Regular): Who Served in the Civil War. Philadelphia: L. R. Hamersly & Co. p. 119. 
  3. ^ Sones, Bruce V., Major (2000). Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis: Civil War General. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. pp. 31–32. 
  4. ^ "Colonel Davis - Pea Ridge National Military Park". National Park Service. May 28, 2014. Retrieved June 11, 2014. 
  5. ^ Sones, Bruce V., Major (2000). Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis: Civil War General. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. p. 45. 
  6. ^ Kennett, R.G., Lieutenant Colonel, Chief of Staff, Headquarters, Army of the Mississippi (August 12, 1862). "Special order no. 208, Chief of Staff Lieutenant Colonel [R].G. Kennett, headquarters, army of the Mississippi" (PDF and JPG). Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society. M0080_Box1_Folder4_1862-08-12_001. Retrieved June 12, 2014. 
  7. ^ Fry, James B., General (1885). Killed by a Brother Soldier: A Chapter in the History of the War. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. p. 3. 
  8. ^ "About the Battle of Richmond". The Battle of Richmond Association. 2012. Retrieved June 12, 2014. 
  9. ^ "The Battle of Richmond". The Civil War Trust. Retrieved June 12, 2014. 
  10. ^ Sones, Bruce V., Major (2000). Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis: Civil War General. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. p. 51. 
  11. ^ Fry, James B., General (1885). Killed by a Brother Soldier: A Chapter in the History of the War. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. p. 4. 
  12. ^ Fry, James B., General (1885). Killed by a Brother Soldier: A Chapter in the History of the War. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. p. 5. 
  13. ^ Sones, Bruce V., Major (2000). Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis: Civil War General. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. pp. 53–54. 
  14. ^ Fry, James B., General (1885). Killed by a Brother Soldier: A Chapter in the History of the War. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. pp. 4–5. 
  15. ^ Sones, Bruce V., Major (2000). Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis: Civil War General. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. p. 55. 
  16. ^ Fry, James B., General (1885). Killed by a Brother Soldier: A Chapter in the History of the War. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. pp. 5–6. 
  17. ^ Fry, James B., General (1885). Killed by a Brother Soldier: A Chapter in the History of the War. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. p. 7. 
  18. ^ Scott, Robert N., Lieutenant Colonel, Third U.S. Army (1886). The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies: Series I, Volume XVI, Part II. Washington: Government Printing Office. pp. 566–567. 
  19. ^ a b Fry, James B., General (1885). Killed by a Brother Soldier: A Chapter in the History of the War. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. pp. 8–9. 
  20. ^ Prokopowicz, Gerald (2001). All for the Regiment: The Army of the Ohio, 1861-1862. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. p. 234. ISBN 0-8078-2626-X. 
  21. ^ Eicher, John H., and David J. Eicher (2001). Civil War High Commands. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. p. 202. ISBN 0-8047-3641-3. 
  22. ^ Hughes, Nathaniel Cheairs, Jr., and Gordon D. Whitney (2002). Jefferson Davis in Blue: The Life of Sherman's Relentless Warrior. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. pp. 307–317. ISBN 0-8071-2777-9. 
  23. ^ "This Day in History". JuneauEmpire.com (Juneau, Alaska). Juneau Empire. October 29, 2004. Retrieved June 10, 2014. 
  24. ^ Thompson, William, Colonel (1912). "Reminiscences of a Pioneer". Retrieved June 10, 2014. 
  25. ^ Foner, Philip S. (1977). The Great Labor Uprising of 1877. New York: Pathfinder. p. 170. ISBN 978-0873488280. 
  26. ^ "Prominent People Buried in Crown Hill". Crown Hill Funeral Home and Cemetery. Retrieved June 10, 2014. 

For Further Reading[edit]

  • Levstik, Frank R. "Jefferson Columbus Davis." In Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History, edited by David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000. ISBN 0-393-04758-X.

External links[edit]

National Park Service[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Prince Dmitri Maksutov as
Governor of Russian Alaska
Military Commander of Alaska
1868–1870
Succeeded by
Brevet Lt. Col. George K. Brady