May 11, 2010

Calm martyr of a noble cause

Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, was captured on May 11, 1865. The Civil War was ending. Davis was imprisoned for several years and many Southerners considered him a martyr. One was poet Mary Walker Meriwether Bell (1830-1872).

Bell, who kept a detailed diary throughout the war, was Kentucky-born and the wife of a Confederate enlistee who earned the rank of Commander in the First Kentucky Cavalry. Legend has it that when Union soldiers came to her house, Bell fended them off with a Bowie knife. In a scuffle, she was able to grab the pistol of a ranking officer and prepared to fire before being seized.

Her poem, "Jefferson Davis," praises him and the cause for which he stood by comparing him to military leaders and heroes throughout history:

Calm martyr of a noble cause,
  Upon thy form in vain
The Dungeon shuts its cankered jaws,
  And clasps its cankered chain;
For thy free spirit walks abroad,
  And every pulse is stirred
With the old deathless glory thrill,
  Whene'er thy name is heard.

The same that lit each Grecian eye,
  Whene'er it rested on
The wild pass of Thermopylae —
  The plain of Marathon;
And made the Roman's ancient blood
  Bound fiercely as he told,
"How well Horatio kept the brige,
  In the brave days of old."

The same that makes the Switzer's heart
  With silent rapture swell,
When in each Alpine height he sees
  A monument to Tell:
The same that kindles Irish veins
  When Emmet's name is told;
What Bruce to Caledonia is,
  Kosciusko to the Pole —

Art thou to us! — thy deathless fame,
  With Washington entwined,
Forever in each Southern heart
  Is hallowed and enshrined; —
And though the tyrant give thy form
  To shameful death — 'twere vain;
It would but shed a splendor round
  The gibbet and the chain.

Only less sacred in our eyes,
  Thus blest and purified,
Than the dear cross on which our Lord
  Was shamed and crucified,
Would the vile gallows tree become,
  And through all ages shine,
Linked with the glory of thy name,
  A relic and a shrine!


  1. The diary of Mary Boykin Miller Chestnut makes an interesting companion piece to this poem.

  2. Kate, thanks for that! A similar sentiment was mentioned on the blog's Facebook page.

  3. Davis was not calm, he was a coward, running away in his wife's dress, as his children were screaming for help. Help which Davis refused, he was fleeing for his own safety.

    Don't believe me? Read his wife's 18 page letter about it. She describes his three layers of female clothing, from top of his head, to his ankles.

    She also writes that "I SAID IT WAS MY MOTHER" and tries to take the blame for his disguise, if not his cowardice.

    As for his cause, Davis himself was very clear about it, just before the CIvil War. SPread slavery for GOD into Kansas, or there will be war. See Southern Ultimatums, which were proud head lines in Southern papers, which called the Ultimatums issued by Davis, "THE TRUE ISSUE". What was the true issue?

    TO spread slavery for GOd into Kansas. Don't believe me? Read Davis own speeches, the ones they "forget" to show you. Also, read Southern documents, and the CSA constitution itself, which mandates the spread of slavery.

    Davis even said the spread of slavery -- Lincoln's resistance to the spread -- was "the intolerable grievance" that mandated war, the war he and CSA promised.

    Davis did not see war -- he thought Lincoln would fold. Davis promised to drink "all the blood" spilled below the Mason Dixon line. Other times Northerns had backed down from the Taliban like warriors and bullies in the South. Southern leaders were men who had women whipped, sold children, and even burned men to death who dared to fight back against slave owners. They scared people in the North. Except Lincoln.

    So Davis thought his promises of war would work -- it had worked before. It would not work again.

    Davis himself was a personal coward. His cause was vile.

  4. Seeker, you seem to be taking this 1865 poem from the point of view of the wife of a Confederate officer quite personally. I can't help but think it's important to see how real people experienced (or perceived) real events in "real time," so to speak, and preferably without our 21st century judgment. Most importantly, this site highlights literature, not history.