On November 6, 1861, Jefferson Davis, who had been elected president of the Provisional Government of the Confederacy on February 9, 1861—as a compromise between moderates and radicals—was confirmed by the voters for a full six-year term. By the time of his inauguration as full president on February 22, 1862, the confederate capital, which had originally been in Montgomery, Alabama, had been moved to Richmond, Virginia, in part to defend the strategically important Tredegar Ironworks.
A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Davis was a celebrated veteran of the Mexican War. He served as secretary of war under Franklin Pierce and as a longtime U.S. senator from Mississippi. His first wife, Sarah Knox, was the daughter of president Zachary Taylor. Although a strong advocate of states’ rights, Davis tried to temper the antagonism between North and South in the tense days leading up to the war, opposing secession even after South Carolina left the Union in December 1860. However, when Mississippi seceded in January 1861, the slave-holding planter cast his lot with the Confederacy.
Immediately after his February 18, 1861, inauguration as provisional president, Davis sent a peace commission to Washington. Abraham Lincoln, committed to preserving the Union at any cost, refused to see the emissaries of the Confederacy. In early April, Lincoln dispatched armed ships to resupply the federal garrison at Ft. Sumter under the command of Major Robert Anderson. In response, Davis ordered the April 12 bombardment of the fort. The attack marked the beginning of the Civil War.
- Today in History highlights many important dates in Civil War history from the first major engagement of the Civil War at Manassas, Virginia, to Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Search Today in History to access these features. Don’t miss the Today in History page describing Jefferson Davis’ capture at the end of the Civil War on May 10, 1865.
- See photographs of significant places in the life of Jefferson Davis including his boyhood home, his plantation Beauvoir, the casement where he was imprisoned for two years at Ft. Monroe, Virginia, and his tomb at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia, all of which are included in the collection Detroit Publishing Company.
- View the Time Line of the Civil War an essay in the collection of Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints. This useful tool provides an overview of events leading up to the start of the conflict and chronicles the major battles and events of the war. See also Photographs of Women During the Civil War to find images of women who, individually or as members of organizations, engaged in activities in support of the Union or the Confederate war effort.
- Explore the Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America, 1861-1865. These documents were printed in a seven-volume set between 1904 and 1905 as Senate Document No. 234 of the 58th Congress, 2nd session. Search the collection A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875 on Jefferson Davis to read documents pertaining to Davis’ presidency of the Confederacy.
- The Confederate States of America Records relate to the formation of the government of the Confederacy and the conduct of its internal, external, and military affairs. The activities of the departments of state, justice, treasury, navy, war, and the post office are represented, along with material relating to the president, congress, and constitution.