Jefferson Davis to Confederate Nation: Really, It’s Not So Bad … April 4, 1865

On April 4, 1865, Jefferson Davis was on the road out of Richmond, heading toward Danville, Virginia. There he would establish a place for the Confederate government to continue to operate. However, he knew it was important to address his people (or what remained of them) in order to try to prop up their spirits. This is what he said:

To the People of the Confederate States of America.

Danville, Va., April 4, 1865.

The General in Chief of our Army has found it necessary to make such movements of the troops as to uncover the capital and thus involve the withdrawal of the Government from the city of Richmond.

It would be unwise, even were it possible, to conceal the great moral as well as material injury to our cause that must result from the occupation of Richmond by the enemy. It is equally unwise and unworthy of us, as patriots engaged in a most sacred cause, to allow our energies to falter, our spirits to grow faint, or our efforts to become relaxed under reverses, however calamitous. While it has been to us a source of national pride that for four years of unequaled warfare we have been able, in close proximity to the center of the enemy’s power, to maintain the seat of our chosen Government free from the pollution of his presence; while the memories of the heroic dead who have freely given their lives to its defense must ever remain enshrined in our hearts; while the preservation of the capital, which is usually regarded as the evidency to mankind of separate national existence, was an object very dear to us, it is also true, and should not be forgotten, that the loss which we have suffered is not without compensation. For many months the largest and finest army of the Confederacy, under the command of a leader whose presence inspires equal confidence in the troops and the people, has been greatly trammeled by the necessity of keeping constant watch over the approaches to the capital, and has thus been forced to forego more than one opportunity for promising enterprise. The hopes and confidence of the enemy have been constantly excited by the belief that their possession of Richmond would be the signal for our submission to their rule, and relieve them from the burden of war, as their failing resources admonish them it must be abandoned if not speedily brought to a successful close. It is for us, my countrymen, to show by our bearing under reverses how wretched has been the self-deception of those who have believed us less able to endure misfortune with fortitude than to encounter danger with courage. We have now entered upon a new phase of a struggle the memory of which is to endure for all ages and to shed an increasing luster upon our country.

Relieved from the necessity of guarding cities and particular points, important but not vital to our defense, with an army free to move from point to point and strike in detail the detachments and garrisons of the enemy, operating on the interior of our own country, where supplies are more accessible, and where the foe will be far removed from his own base and cut off from all succor in case of reverse, nothing is now needed to render our triumph certain but the exhibition of our own unquenchable resolve. Let us but will it, and we are free; and who, in the light of the past, dare doubt your purpose in the future?

Animated by the confidence in your spirit and fortitude, which never yet has failed me, I announce to you, fellow-countrymen, that it is my purpose to maintain your cause with my whole heart and soul; that I will never consent to abandon to the enemy one foot of the soil of any one of the States of the Confederacy; that Virginia, noble State, whose ancient renown has been eclipsed by her still more glorious recent history, whose bosom has been bared to receive the main shock of this war, whose sons and daughters have exhibited heroism so sublime as to render her illustrious in all times to come – that Virginia, with the help of her people, and by the blessing of Providence, shall be held and defended, and no peace ever be made with the infamous invaders of her homes by the sacrifice of any of her rights or territory. If by stress of numbers we should ever be compelled to a temporary withdrawal from her limits, or those of any other border State, again and again will we return, until the baffled and exhausted enemy shall abandon in despair his endless and impossible task of making slaves of a people resolved to be free.

Let us not, then, despond, my countrymen; but, relying on the never-failing mercies and protecting care of our God, let us meet the foe with fresh defiance, with unconquered and unconquerable hearts.

Jeff’n Davis.

Appomattox was five days away.


31 thoughts on “Jefferson Davis to Confederate Nation: Really, It’s Not So Bad … April 4, 1865

  1. James F. Epperson April 5, 2015 / 1:56 pm

    Davis’s ability to not see the obvious is simply breath-taking. He can perhaps be forgiven for not seeing the inevitable in November or December of 1864, but at this point in time he has to be engaging in serious self-delusion.

    • Andy Hall April 5, 2015 / 2:24 pm

      Senior Confederate officers in the Trans-Mississippi were still making the rounds of regiments in the field in late April, after both the fall of Richmond and Lee’s surrender were known, extolling the troops to remain in their formations and carry on the fight. In some cases they were shouted down by the men. It’s often the most senior leaders who are oblivious to what is plain to everyone else.

  2. neukomment April 5, 2015 / 2:20 pm

    To paraphrase a quote from Gettysburg; “Mr. President (so called)! You no longer have a country!”

  3. Christopher Shelley April 5, 2015 / 2:44 pm

    Relieved from the necessity of guarding cities and particular points…

    I’ve always thought this remark was the greatest example of “spin” in the entire war.

  4. Bob Nelson April 5, 2015 / 3:14 pm

    I have read this before. Not only am I amazed that at this late date he could still be so upbeat but that messages all through January-March 1865 were of a similar tenor, not only from Davis but others as well. “If we all pull together, we can still triumph.” Do you thinks there was a point, Brooks or others, when Davis et al had to admit to themselves that the war was lost? These were not stupid men. They must have seen the handwriting on the wall, but when?

  5. Jarvis April 5, 2015 / 3:20 pm

    This was perhaps Jefferson Davis in his finest hour; resolved, determined, defiant, rectitudinous, inspirational, resourceful and courageous. Davis was never better than at this moment.

    • Jimmy Dick April 5, 2015 / 4:26 pm

      You left out ignorant, obstinate, deluded, and willing to continue to let other men die for his right to own slaves.

        • Jimmy Dick April 5, 2015 / 6:52 pm

          Another alias? Not surprised in the least.

      • neukomment April 6, 2015 / 6:09 pm

        …and oath breaker along with Lee and a host of thier other demigods….

    • John Foskett April 6, 2015 / 7:45 am

      Yeah, he was all of those things. That’s why he ingloriously bolted from Richmond on April 3, 1865, got his a-s in gear, and kept running.

      • Jarvis April 6, 2015 / 11:30 am

        Very much like Thomas Jefferson ingloriously skeedaddled from Monticello when the British were hot on his trail.

        • John Foskett April 7, 2015 / 4:06 pm

          I think you’re on to something here. Jefferson knew – and acknowledged – that he was participating in an illegal rebellion, for which the price would be high. So he blew out of town. Looks like your guy Davis came to the same (correct) conclusion about what he was doing. None of this, of course, explains the load of verbal night soil Jeff was feeding the citizenry as he bolted to safety and his army was unraveling.

    • hankc9174 April 7, 2015 / 8:18 pm

      you are correct…he was never better ๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. Kristoffer April 5, 2015 / 9:47 pm

    I’m surprised you didn’t post a picture of Baghdad Bob. ๐Ÿ˜Ž

  7. bob carey April 6, 2015 / 3:49 am

    The beginning of the lost cause memory of the conflict. Is Davis writing to his people or for history’s judgment of him and his ilk?

  8. taxsanity April 6, 2015 / 4:25 am

    This is nothing — when you understand his cowardice upon running from Richmond, but how he stayed long enough to steal the gold, including gold collected for medical supplies for the wounded.

    See his wife’s letter.

  9. Jarvis April 6, 2015 / 8:40 am

    The resilience and heroics Davis displayed throughout the war were inherent in his nature, and of the same kind he displayed as a soldier fighting in Mexico. Davis was an extraordinary man, and the fact that he would continue to demonstrate courageous leadership at the crisis hour is nothing less than one would expect of man of such high character. If George Washington had acquiesced in the face of the overwhelming odds against him at the crucial moment, the French would not have been able to defeat the British and American Independence would have been lost. Davis demonstrated similar resolve. His address to his people was even superior and more inspiring to the Funeral Oration of Pericles.

    • John Foskett April 6, 2015 / 3:52 pm

      You obviously have concluded that Lee was a coward of low character and exemplified the opposite of “courageous leadership”. I disagree.

    • SF Walker April 7, 2015 / 1:37 am

      Your statement about George Washington and the French is more accurate the other way around. It was because of the Comte de Grasse’s victory over the British fleet in the Battle of the Chesapeake that Cornwallis’s army was trapped on the Yorktown Peninsula to begin with. Plus, Washington had no siege artillery to speak of in this campaign; the Comte de Rochambeau’s French army had to provide all of it. The fact is, we needed the French to win that war more than they needed us.

      • Jimmy Dick April 7, 2015 / 1:21 pm

        There is no question that the French aid and alliance made the critical difference in winning the Revolution so that the results turned out the way they did. No French aid in 1777 meant no victory in the Saratoga campaign which would have delayed or even prevented the French from entering the alliance. The British would have cut off New England from the other colonies, but I do not think that would have been a solid barrier. One thing for certain is that the British would have had their full army in the colonies and not sent half of it to the West Indies which would have definitely altered the sequence of events that did take place later.

        Although there is some dispute at to what Washington’s plans were in 1781, the French played an integral part in them. Did Washington and Rochambeau work together in sending De Grasse the letter to go to the Chesapeake or did Rochambeau act on his own? In any event, it was the French commander sending a letter to the French admiral that resulted in the naval actions.

        Quick note: Let us not forget that Washington’s army at Yorktown was almost a quarter black as stated by multiple French officers. Unlike the CSA in the Civil War, the United States allowed blacks to fight. The black men in Washington’s army were armed and fighting for independence among other reasons. The blacks the CSA employed were not armed, not soldiers, and therefore not fighting at all.

        • SF Walker April 10, 2015 / 4:38 pm

          I believe Alfred Thayer Mahan, in his book “The Influence of Sea Power upon History,” stated that it was a private letter from de Rochambeau to de Grasse that made the Chesapeake and Virginia the stage of the final battles–New York was the other option under consideration by Washington and de Rochambeau.

          It certainly helped that the American Revolution occurred as the Royal Navy was suffering from a period of decline. During that time, some 60,000 British sailors had either deserted or died from disease, while France and Spain together had more ships-of-the-line than the British did. This was probably also a factor in Britain’s decision not to pursue the war in America after Yorktown.

          I remember reading somewhere that the British army never had more than about 55,000 Regulars in North America during the Revolution at any one time, while the Americans mustered a total of around 250,000 militia and Continental line troops during the war. Were the blacks in Washington’s army serving in militia regiments or with the Continentals, or both?

          • Jimmy Dick April 10, 2015 / 9:09 pm

            More recent scholarship has debated that letter and seems to be leaning more towards the letter was sent with Washington’s knowledge and consent. That will differ depending on who you talk to and what sources you use. Rochambeau definitely sent the letter to De Grasse. That is not being questioned.

            The biggest size of the Continental Army was around 35,000 at one time, but that was in multiple commands and not in one consolidated force. The number was always fluid due to enlistments and desertions. The number of militia will probably never be known for certain but was definitely over 100,000 men. How many men actually served is a huge number because so many came and went over time. The Paymaster General of the Continental Army, Col. John Pierce had a list in 1787 with 231,771 Continental Army troops and 145,000 militia for a total of 376,771 enlistments, not individuals. The militia is an estimate as well. You probably used the same source or it was used because when the enlistments are taken into consideration 250,000 is the round figure.

            As for the British Navy, I am using Jonathan Dull’s work. He explored the larger field of the naval conflict and had some interesting observations. First, the British, French, and Spanish navies were in an arms race by mid-1777. The French fleet was in full outfitting mode that year preparing for potential war in 1778. The British were under no illusions and had penetrated the American diplomatic mission thoroughly. See “On His Majesty’s Secret Service” at The Journal of the American Revolution The article will also be featured in the upcoming hardcover annual.

            The British were outfitting their fleet as well. While the Spanish and French would have a numerical advantage, it would only be for a short time and be of a lesser caliber than the British. The huge British merchant fleet was the secret of the British fleet. That was their training grounds for the men they needed to sail the ships into battle. The French had a merchant fleet as did the Spanish, but to man the fleet they would deplete their merchant ships and seriously hurt their economies. The British could easily man their fleet and still have plenty of shipping left over.

            I never saw Dull reference the 60,000 man desertions. In fact, he had the opposite happening as the British manned their ships. The British did quite well with their navy in the war. They broke two sieges at Gibraltar, blockaded the American coast pretty effectively while capturing or sinking most of the ships of the Continental Navy. While they did get beat at the Capes, they defeated De Grasse decisively the following year and captured him in the process.

            As for the blacks, most were Continentals as few would have been in southern militia units although some were. The exact number is open to dispute. You know how soldiers guess at things. This article covers it a bit, but is more about the role of black soldiers in the Revolution itself. Since they were in Virginia, I would also expect that blacks were doing the work blacks did then as well. In other words I would bet that slaves were also working on various things as well. Could they have been included in the count? Who knows? Then again, for all I know local slave owners might have wanted their slaves kept away from the site so they didn’t get any ideas from seeing armed black soldiers.

          • John Foskett April 11, 2015 / 7:46 am

            David Syrett has written an interesting study which argues that the “failure” of the Royal Navy in the AWI really was tied to the lack of a coherent policy governing its operations in European waters. He lays much at the feet of lord North for divvying out responsibilities for various theaters in the cabinet rather than developing a central strategy.

  10. Jarvis April 6, 2015 / 11:27 am

    I am delighted to join the discussion. So you are most welcome.

  11. Bob Nelson April 6, 2015 / 2:12 pm

    The stories of “Confederate gold” and “dressed as a woman” have been around for 150 years without proof positive on either side. Here’s one, however, that cannot be dismissed.

    On April 12, 1865, Davis met with Joe Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard in Greensborough, North Carolina. Davis thought the armies could be brought back to strength and fight on. The next day they, John Breckenridge (who arrived with news of Lee’s surrender) and several cabinet members met again. Davis still wanted to fight on. All of the others except Judah Benjamin disagreed. In the end, Davis penned a message to Sherman requesting a suspension of hostilities to “permit civil authorities to enter into the needful arrangements to terminate the existing war.”

    The highest ranking civil authority was obviously Davis. I guess he just didn’t think it was his responsibility to “enter into the needful arrangements” to stop the fighting. So shortly after he wrote the message to Sherman, he left and continued his “great skedaddle” to the southwest. IMO, that is neither heroic, inspirational or courageous. I see a pathetic man who, being unwilling to admit the war was lost, simply ran away. That sure doesn’t jive with my idea of “his finest hour.”

  12. Jarvis April 6, 2015 / 2:56 pm

    Interesting take. First I agree regarding the matter of the disguise. That smear has also been alleged against Lincoln when he sneaked into Washington. Whether or not Lincoln wore a dress is debatable, but in any case, it was hardly his finest hour. As for Davis, he is good company on the skedaddle. James Madison skedaddled out of town leaving the Brits to burn the White House and Thomas Jefferson skedaddled like crazy when the Brits came to Monticello. Douglas Macarthur skedaddled out of the Philippines, leaving Wainwright to languish as a Japanese POW. Plenty of skedaddling going on in war.

    • Brooks D. Simpson April 7, 2015 / 2:44 pm

      I’d like to see the claim that Lincoln wore a dress. Only when we see that claim made can we determine whether it’s debatable.

      • John Foskett April 7, 2015 / 3:57 pm

        You’re barely cloaking your point.

  13. SF Walker April 7, 2015 / 1:28 am

    I’ve read this before as well. I wonder if Jeff Davis actually believed any of it? Even an egomaniac like Napoleon Bonaparte knew, after Leipzig and Waterloo, when the jig was up. And he had the personal courage to abdicate and face the music–on both occasions.

    If Davis and the Rebel government really did believe this, then it could rightly be said that they were prepared to sit back and dispassionately watch the last Confederate soldier die before surrendering one iota of their influence, their status, or their power.

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