The Sunday Question: What if Jefferson Davis Had Died in 1864?

The Dahlgren Raid remains one of the most interesting incidents of the Civil War, in large part because people still debate whether Ulric Dahlgren was on a mission to capture or kill Jefferson Davis.  We always talk about what if Lincoln had lived … but what if Dahlgren and his men had penetrated the Richmond defenses and gotten to the Confederate White House, encountered Davis, and in the resulting effort to capture him, killed him?  How would history have changed?

7 thoughts on “The Sunday Question: What if Jefferson Davis Had Died in 1864?

  1. Ray O'Hara May 27, 2011 / 2:35 pm

    How much power and prestige did Davis have left in 1864.
    Davis’s only real use was herding the cats that made up the Confederate States. So I think they’d have survived and he would have probably been better as a martyr than he was a President.

    Robert E Lee was the Confederacy at that point in the war. It was Lee whom the people all put their faith and trust in, even the Western troops drew comfort from knowing he was on their side and had their backs. So great was Lee’s prestige that when he surrendered the Southern people accepted it without a sense of shame or further incident, “Grant’s terms” were generous but it was Lee acceptance that was the spoonful of sugar.

    became the peoples date for the end of the war

  2. Ray O'Hara May 29, 2011 / 4:39 am

    By 1864 R.E.Lee was the Confederacy in the hearts and minds of the Southern people and Davis had gotten well down the road to irrelevency, Getting killed might have been the best thing for the CSA as he would have been valuable as a martyr. For the day to day paper administrative work of the Govt they had the talented Secretary of all trades Judah Benjamin.
    So in the event that Dahlgren got him I don’t see the CSA suffering and maybe even getting a slight boost with a “Avenge Jeff Davis” and further proof of the perfidiousness of Yankees.

  3. Richard McCormick May 29, 2011 / 8:18 am

    I understand the point about Lee’s power and influence in 1864, but he was still cooperating with Davis and respecting him as a leader.

    If Davis had died, what would Lee have done? Technically, I assume Alexander Stephens would have assumed Davis’ job, but would Lee have taken unofficial charge (much like Stanton did when Lincoln died) or would he have tried to see what Stephens did?

    Many (most?) of the Confederate people and leaders would have looked to Lee. He was obviously a strong man and leader and his response to Davis’ death would have carried a lot of influence. I guess I just do not know what that response would have been

  4. TF Smith May 29, 2011 / 9:41 am

    If Davis is dead or captured and Stephens takes the CSA presidency, given Stephens’ lack of military experience (in contrast to Davis), is it likley he wuld call Lee back to Richmond to function as GiC?

    If so, does Longstreet take over the ANV?

  5. James F. Epperson May 31, 2011 / 3:17 pm

    I suspect Stephens would have been more open to some kind of negotiated end of the war.

    • TF Smith May 31, 2011 / 9:58 pm

      But would that negotiated end have included surrender, reunion, and abolition?

      My guess is no.

  6. rev. dyson November 22, 2011 / 12:25 pm

    If for any reaseon president davis was no longer in the office of president of the confederacy, vice presidebt stephens would become the 2nd president. As it says in the confederate constitution. As for general lee he would remain in the army of northern virginia. Granted there would be no vp because the confederacy did not have an jfk-lbj matter where the president would appoint a vp. There wouldnt be an peace offering but a change of commander in chiefs. Only question would be with a a president stephens is, how long would the confederacy fought and what would stephens views on a new nation would be?

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