tv 1865 Person of the Year William Cooper on Jefferson Davis CSPAN April 3, 2015 2:21am-3:03am EDT
at noon eastern. sieve war museum invited five historians to present arguments for their nominees. next william cooper nominates confederate president jefferson davis. he says the refusal by davis to prolong the war by adopting guerilla warfare tactics saved them. this is just under 40 minutes. he's boyd professor of
history in louisiana state university. he served on the board of trustees and on the national advisory board of the american civil war center. he's a two time recipient of the jefferson davis award for the best book published on the era of the civil war. he thus had a long and close relationship with both of the institutions that are now the american civil war museum. despite being a native south carolinan who spent his life in louisiana we'll call him an
honorary richlander. if you looked down you would have seen a granite marker. this walk honors william j. cooper junior. all of us on the staff get asked all the time, what book should i read. given the fact there's only about 80,000 of them out there the choice is easy. i'll tell you one book you should read and it's on sale outside is bill's new book now we have war upon us. it gives insight to the several months before the opening of the
civil war. it's a great addition to anyone's bookshelf. it's my pleasure to introduce mr. william j. cooper junior. [ applause ] >> i'm certainly pleased to be here. i need to start with a couple of disclaimers. i'm really grateful for wade's play my book, i didn't pay him. also, i did not pay for the walk that's got my name on it. i didn't have to do that thankfully. we've just heard about the real importance of freed men and a
beautiful talk. i'm going to try to persuade you that jefferson davis is the man you should look to the person you should look to in 1865. he made robert e. lee look like well close to divine. think about a defeated politician. that's what i've got a defeated politician. all the evidence i have to persuade you i've gotten.
don't want you walking out the door trying to get lunch when i'm still trying to persuade you. seriously, i do believe that jefferson davis meant serious consideration for this kind of honor. i really do. i'm not saying that simply because i spent so much time with him. i've spent more time with jefferson davis than everybody in this room combined has spent with him. i know his faults. starting this idea with the fundamental truth. there would have been no confederate states of america
without racial slavery. yes, succession in 1861 was a complex set of events and no, abolition of slavery was not for abraham lincoln and his republican party. the confederate states of america confirmed the embrace of slavery in the constitution. congress may make no law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves. by 1865, jefferson davis was moving against the provision.
but, in this winter, this dark winter that began in january he moved forthrightly against slavery in an effort to save his country. for him, independence independence of the con fed states of america was all that mattered. you see so often put it in public addresses he made in the fall of 1864, he said we face the simple situation. we face independence, freedom on one side, slavery on the other side. slavery meant defeat by union forces. he moved in two directions that
would first i want to touch upon this briefly. he moved in a diplomatic front. you might think diplomacy and cop confederacy don't go together. in 1865 he appointed a special diplomatic diplomatic. the goal, promise the french and the british and he would move against slavery if they would recognize the confederacy. the person, he sent had to get incognito and take a ship through new york city to get to europe. he got there too late. he was told it was much too later, too late. he didn't get to europe until february of 1865.
davis then addressed the issue of having authorities to impress slaves to work et cetera et cetera. federal authorities go to slave owners and demand the slaves come work on confederate. davis said the confederacy should stop didn't think it was working that well. so far so good. he said i'm not talking about slave soldiers. he said we haven't gotten there yet. if we get there, i'll be back to you. then he said, what you must consider is even for these slaves that the government buys and uses in a civilian fashion, faithful service we must consider emancipation. this is in december of 1864.
it caused too much dislocation and too much unrest in the civilian population. davis didn't publicly propose slave soldiers as early as these talked about it publicly but davis privately supported it. he pushed congress to do it. in mid-march congress did pass a law authorizing slave soldiers. it was tight. the law didn't pass in a rush. it passed by three votes in the house of representatives. in the first try in the senate it failed by one vote. it only passed because this legislature of this state of virginia was meeting in the same building. the legislature instructed
virginia, both of them had voted against slave soldiers and voted for slave soldiers. it couldn't. the confederate constitution had forbidden it. they did say in trying to open a path for emancipation, the legislation said this both the state and the slave owner would have to agree for the enlistment of the slave. slave owner and the state to agree open the pathway. they made sure they were emancipated because the requirement was the slave owner
had to agree the enlistment of his slaves and the slave would be granted the freedom upon honorable service. the law was passed much too late to have any affect. this would have been unthinkable. the confederate states were designed to protect property rights. what davis did is pushing for emancipation of slaves for
something much more. much more dramatic and much bold. he set out his idea in a letter he wrote to the governor of virginia. at the end of march 1865, this is after the congress had passed the legislation. this new freedman would have the right to go back to his home and live there as a free person. this would be trampling upon property rights because davis was saying the slave owner would have to take this former slave back now to a free person to live there on the farmer
plantation. this former slave now freedman, this pirnerson had a wife or family would still be enslaved. you may say this is fascinating. had he thought it through? probably not. the boldness of the man. you say we want to preserve our independence, we have to take desperate bold steps. i'm willing to lead you to do that. i'm willing to break all kinds of bounds and leap out of all kinds of boxes to do this to make sure that we get our independence and we confederates, we don't want slaves. that's number one.
he acted directly to steer his country from even more horrendous political and social con fill grags. he did this by refusing to adopt guerilla warfare. davis did, in fact advocate for warfare. he was very distressed when it didn't come about. nowhere close. i think in the next few minutes i hope i can convince you of that. i hope i can convince you of the importance of the stand he took. the winner of 1865 jefferson davis knew his military
situation was dire. the defeat of general hood in the army of tennessee out in the state of tennessee in december of 1865 and the battles of franklin nashville destroyed that somehow the army would triumph and drive north toward kentucky relieve pressure and force a turn in confederate military fortuneses military fortunes. we don't have evidence on exactly what davis was thinking and exactly what went through his mind. we do know that he conferred with lee often. lee came from petersburg to richmond. we do know that davis road out toward the james river and smokepoke with lee. historical record does not reveal the tales of those
conversations. there's also a letter that benjamin and davis cabinet an perhaps davis's closest political advisor at this time wrote a letter after the war in which he said that winner of 65 and everything pressing upon us and things looking so terrible in every direction and we were struggling the find some way, some way to find out way forward. we know what's going through his mind. jefferson davis was not a stupid man. he wasn't thinking fanciful things at all. we do know in the end that he and lee agreed that lee would hold at petersburg until he couldn't hold any longer. lee would inform davis of his needing to evacuate petersburg and the plan was, i won't go through this that lee would go
through north carolina and hopefully they can turn on sherman and turn back on grant. the commander in chief would be somewhere nearby because he would have left richmond the same time lee left petersburg or before. he expected to meet lee. that was his hope when he left richmond. when he got to danville he issued a proclamation. this proclamation has been used by those who say that davis wanted guerilla warfare when he talked about not having to defend particular points and such. notice what davis said.
davis said we have an advantage now. we don't have to defend a fixed point of richmond. we can fight a war maneuver. he says our army, our army can maneuver. he fully expected lee's army to get to it. when word gets to him that lee has surrendered that's a heavy blow. he leaves danville. there he meets with the leaders of the army, general joseph johnston. the two men both hated davis with a vengeance and davis distrusted both of them.
he considered both of them selfish men. he asked them about carrying on the war. they both said they didn't think there was any possibility. they both thought the only reasonable and decent alternative was to sue for peace. it was a hard blow for davis to take. he also got notification that lee surrendered. he knew that but he got the formal documented. he got lee's message and you could see tears in his eyes. he didn't tell them to disband their forces and let's become
guerillas. oh know. until that time he could tell himself he had a army that might could do something. now, he had no army anywhere close. the closest significant confederate force was at the river. he wanted to get to where there was confederate resistance, where there was organized confederate resistance, where there was an army. one of his stops along the way was in charlotte. from charlotte, he wrote a letter to his wife who he had sent on ahead of him. i want to quote from this letter now. davis ever thought about guerilla? i think he had thought about it. because after all davis placed a lot of emphasis on the
confederate connection to the american revolution. and davis always believed that the confederacy could somehow survived like the fledgling united states survived the overpowering great britain. and the reason why the united states survived was the guerilla fighting in the southern states and davis knew about that. he certainly could have contemplated that. and if he had called for guerilla warfare, there's no doubt that a number of people would be happy on like. here's what he wrote to my wife. i think my judgment is disturbed by any cloud of opinion. i have prayed to our heavenly father. and he went on to tell her that
if all people would rise up en masse, then there might be something to be done. well, that's not going to happen. and so he said the result of anything else would be in one word you'll pull out of his letter to say was carnage. his closest aide said that he heard the president say guerillas become bringingens and any government is better than that. so there was no call for confederates to take to the woods, to take to the crossroads, to never give up. some of those cartoons when i was a young boy of the old confederate saying surrender, hell, never anything like that from davis, never at all. he believed that to continue any kind of quasi military operation
would make the social, political devastation of the south much much worse. and on top of that, you've got the freedmen. what is going to happen with them? and suppose you've got all these african-americans, and before the civil war, even in the civil war, one thung that white south desperately feared was race war that would ravage and destroy the land. davis, any kind of guerilla warfare would surely entail some some kind of racial confrontation which would make things even more horrific. he said no, i won't do that. we fought a noble fight. i will try to get to where we can continue to carrying on this noble fight. and that was his hope until he was captured. on may the 10th, outside of a
small village in southwest georgia. a bold vision to emancipate slaves as soldiers and to reform southern society, the determination not to pitch the south into guerilla warfare and all of his horrors. now number three, davis's stature as a prisoner. davis was captured on may 10th, as i said by union cavalry. he journeyed, his fate he did not know. but he did know that president andrew johnson had put a reward of $100,000 in gold, that's 1865 money. that's not 2015 money. you'd have to multiply that by something like 30 to get close to what it would be in our
money. $100,000 in gold on his head because of his, what they believed his alleged complicit in lincoln's assassination. when davis was captured he knew his south was reeling, defeat destruction, death stalked the land that he loved and that he had striven to serve as well as he could. now there is no evidence that davis was cherished like robert e. lee. i make no such claim, yet, it's just at the same time just as obvious that most southerners considered him a man who had been devoted to his kaurks andcause and a man who had given all to his cause, even defeat. even defeat did not lead to his denigration
denigration. confederate defeat was not blamed on him. it would be later by those two famous men johnston and beauregard. but in 1865 southerners did not blame jefferson davis for their defeat. but his imprisonment initiated a change in the way the white south viewed him. southerners did not believe that they deserved any kind of punishment. they believe that they had acted in secession in a legal and constitutional manner, that they had not forced any war on anybody. that military conflict had been forced upon them. and the jefferson davis, the only difference between them and jefferson davis was that he had been chosen to be their political and several leader. thus, he didn't deserve any punishment any more than he did. and if the union were to punish davis, they should be punished. and they rejected that.
davis, back at ft. monroe, davis went from southwest georgia to ft. monroe by train and by boat. and at ft. monroe he was incarcerated. in the summer and fall of 1865, his incarceration was pretty tough. he was jailed in a case mate cell that had iron bars. in his little cell, there was constant light. there was a guard sitting there24there2 there 24 hours a day. there was no privacy for anything, even for what they called acts of nature. he was not allowed to speak to anyone except his captors. he was shackled but for less than a week. but still the other conditions that i described lasted from his initial incarceration into the fall of 1865.
but this did not remain a secret within the walls of ft. monroe. his treatment got out in the newspapers. his wife pushed hard to publicize the situation in an attempt to help him. southerners responded to what they saw. general lee, general lee said i cannot tell you how i have suffered and still suffer on account of mr. davis. others spoke of him as their representative man. in prison davis maintained his dignity. one witnessed him walk through the gates as a prisoner. said the man walked through tall and erect as a man who knew that his fate would have been different if his side had
prevailed. davis did not rail to his captors. he maintained his dignity. he did not apologize for his personal actions or for that of the south. he stood there as a man proud of what he and his people had tried for. he did not become a martyr for the south as early as 1865. that would come a little bit later after his release in 1867. dwip beginning really in 1866. but in 1865 he was looked upon as somebody who would stand up proudly for his people and to take what came to him with dignity. in conclusion davis began 1865 as the president of nation, in an executive mansion, having
faced a dire situation, he was still hopeful. that is the quotations will read out to you aboutman in lee's army. we look back now and say how in god's name could anybody hope about the confederacy but they were. they didn't realize that the end was right there, like we do. he entered that year as a prisoner, not knowing his fate. yet, his actions to save his cause, his actions to prevent even more horrific destruction and his acceptance with dignity defeat and proud of his cause in prison endeared him to his fellow southerners. yes, he does deserve to be man of the year. thank you. [ applause ]
[ applause ] i'll try if you've got anything to ask me. [ laughter ] anything at all? >> speak to the rumor that when davis was captured in georgia that he was wearing women's clothes? >> sure. a lie! he was not in women's clothes. he was in what was called a caftan, think of sort of a big poncho rain coat thing like rain coats today, both men and women wore them. he had a cloak on like this. now he did have a shawl around his shoulders. his wife threw a shawl around his shoulders like a scarf that we would wear. not in women's clothe the. the the federals made a big deal.
in fact his captured garments were kept by the war department for decades and nobody was allowed to touch them because they didn't want them to know he wasn't in women's clothes. clearly he was not in women's clothes. other things i've said you might take issue with. but that's a factual matter. you can't take issue with that. >> at what point did horace greeley intervene on behalf of davis? because if i understand correctly, i mean, he had a significant role and i think a financial role in eventually getting the freedom but -- >> horace fwreely. >> mic, mic. >> he put up money for jefferson davis's bail, when he was bailed
out of the prison at ft. monroe in 1867. three northerners stood for jefferson davis' bail and put up the money and that's what horace fwreely was one of those people. now horace greeley was a major american figure, id tor of the new york tribune the most widely read republican newspaper at that time. >> who got the reward for his capture? >> i can't answer that question. i just don't know. i assume if it ever was given to anybody, it would be given to the two cavalry units that were there, but i do not know. anyone else? yes? >> did the federal government finally quit trying to prosecute him? >> well yes. >> you know they brought him up here, about mean times i think. >> no he only came to richmond
once, when bail was given. the federal government had a great deal of difficulty. i could go on and on but i won't, in deciding what to do about prosecuting davis. there were those who wanted to prosecute him for treason. in fact, there was an early indictment drawn against him for treason in norfolk, but this indictment, to my, to the best of my knowledge, is, was literally lost. i mean nobody's ever seen it. but the attorneys general advising president johnson and their various lawyers were afraid to try davis because they feared that he might be acquitted. the constitution says when you're tried for treason you have to be tried where you committed treason. and his abode was in the city. you have to be tried here. some of federal lawyers said no let's try him in pennsylvania or new york. they said no, that's upconstitutional, you can't do that.
they feared if they tried hip here, if he was a republican, it would only take one person on that jury to vote to acquit davis, then the whole union, legal defense of the war it would go by the board. and so they were reluctant to bring him to trial. and he never came to trial. and finally, in '67, they he was able to establish bail but charges weren't dropped this will the spring of '69 just before johnson left the white house. he dropped all charges against davis. he was in p jail for two years and for two years he was under the threat of prosecution. anything else? well, thank you very much. i appreciate it. [ applause ] you've been watching american history tv in prime
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he's written 20 books, including sins of the father and the first family detail. and on american history tv on c-span 3 saturday at 8:00 eastern. east carolina university's charles calhoun on the obstacles faced by ulysses s. grant. and at 6:00 patrick schroeder takes us on a tour of appomattox courthouse the site of the of confederate surrender. each year time magazine selects a single person who had the most influence on events during the prior 12 months. if the same question were posed in the year 1865 who would "time "time" have selected for their