Inauguration of President Davis
Edward Alfred Pollard

The alarm with which the heart of the South was smitten in the beginning of 1862, came with sudden and terrible effect. It was a series of disasters, the force of which the newspapers could not break by their stories of "blessings in disguise" and the happy losses of barren positions; a blow to the hopes of the South which could not be muffled by equivocal dispatches from the War Department. The truth could no longer be avoided by official circumlocution. Even the few persons in the South who had foreseen and calculated the preparations of the enemy were taken by surprise; they had expected demonstrations only in the next spring or summer; they had scarcely imagined that in mid-winter, when the season proclaimed truce, the enemy would dare to have given a command of advance, sweeping across what was almost half a continent.

First came the fall of New Orleans, an event which staggered all the hopes of European recognition. Mr. Slidell wrote from Paris privately to Mr. Davis: "If New Orleans had not fallen, our recognition could not have been much longer delayed." The disaster at Fishing Creek broke the Confederate line in Kentucky. Then followed the capture of Forts Henry and Donelson, the evacuation of Bowling Green and Columbus, and the surrender of Nashville; the entire line of defence in the West was swept away, and the next array of the Confederates was formed on the lagoons of Mississippi. Roanoke Island was captured with the army on it, and after a handfull of loss on the part of the enemy. It was silly of newspapers to speak of these losses as those only of mud forts and barren places; war is an affair of lines - a problem in geometry; and it was obvious to men of calculation and reflection, that with two sections of defence broken down, the enemy had got not only a new breadth of territory, but positions of the greatest value - and it is curious that the Confederates never recaptured anything, and that an important post once lost, was lost for ever. Meanwhile the army of McClellan hung like an ominous cloud on the horizon.

There was a general alarm and demoralization of the people west of the Alleghanies. It is not generally known that after the retreat of the Western army from Nashville, the Congressional delegation of Tennessee called on President Davis, and asked him to transfer the command of General Albert Sidney Johnston to some other person. It was a cruel mistake; for the protestants did not then know - as Mr. Davis was conveniently dumb - that the wide distribution of troops in the trans-Alleghany ordered by the President, had left Johnston with only 11,000 effective men to oppose Buell's column of 40,000 troops, while Grant's army of 60,000 had nothing to prevent them from ascending the Cumberland, leaving to the Confederate commander no alternative but to evacuate Nashville, or sacrifice his army.

In the midst of these disasters, Jefferson Davis was inaugurated President of the Confederate States, to continue in office for six years! A worse day than the 22nd of February, 1862, could not have been selected for a ceremony so important. Mr. Davis delivered his inaugural speech at the statue of Washington, in the public square. It was the weakest and most unsatisfactory speech he ever made; and the crowd - if four or five hundred persons might be called such - listened gloomily to the imperfect tones of his voice. He dared not draw a presage from the skies of this day. At his first inauguration at Montgomery, he had spoken under smiling skies: and there he had said, with his rare aptitude to draw from circumstances: - "It may be that as this morning opened with clouds, rain and mist, we shall have to encounter inconveniences at the beginning; but as the sun rose and lifted the mist, it dispersed the clouds and left us to the pure sunshine of heaven." But the day of the second and more important inauguration was clothed with sable. There was a mean, hateful rain; the patterings on the hundred umbrellas held over the crowd drowned the voice of the speaker; people, sullen, damp, and drenched, did not care to stretch their ears to catch the voice of the President, and only pitied his bare head in the damp atmosphere. Not a single cheer broke the current of his speech; not a movement of the crowd betokened its emotion. It was a piteous address. The President stretched his arms towards the dark sky, and cried: - "To Thee, O God! I trustingly commit myself, and prayerfully invoke Thy blessing on my country and its cause." There was nothing of practical human comfort in his speech; he was forced to admit the disasters that had occurred, although "the final result in our favor was not doubtful;" he had not a word to kindle inspiration, not a reproof with which to flog the failing heart of the South; he had only this wretched nonsense to offer: - "The period is near at hand, when our foes must sink under the immense load of debt they have incurred!" The slouched and gloomy crowd heard him sullenly; and no sooner had he concluded, than from brutal curiosity, or from a desire to save themselves from the weather, they rushed to the halls of Congress to see the next dull feature of the programme.


Life of Jefferson Davis With a Secret History of the Confederacy by Edward A. Pollard, pages 195-197
National Publishing Company, Philadelphia, 1869