Letter: Jeff Davis in Petticoats?

Published:December 7, 2009 by Brendan Wolfe

"Jefferson Davis as an Unprotected Female!" Harper's Weekly, May 27, 1865

A reader objects to our image caption describing Northern depictions of the capture of Confederate president Jefferson Davis at the end of the Civil War. After Davis was finally tracked down by Union cavalry in Georgia and hauled back to Fort Monroe in Virginia, many Northern newspapers reported that he had been disguised in women’s clothing. Historians have suggested that this is a myth, but our caption does not pass judgment either way, making the reader’s “Sorry” unnecessary, perhaps. That the reader operates a blog titled Confederate Crybabies, the most recent post of which compares Confederates to the Taliban, may give you a decent sense of where he’s coming from. Here’s the letter:

Sorry, the clothes Davis wore when he was captured were very much his wive’s clothes.

In fact, his wife wrote about it, in a letter in her own hand, that surfaced 50 years later.

Remember—this comes from his WIFE’S letter—which she urged be kept secret. The letter is available here.

She claims it was HER idea—and that she pleaded with him to dress that way (I doubt it—no one told Davis what to do, he was a control freak).

He was in a “dressing gown” she claims, NOT in ordinary clothes at all. And she put a shawl over his head just before he ran. She said she told the soldiers it was her mother.

So there is NO question he was dresssed enough like a woman that she tried to pass him off as a woman. She says so.

He didn’t have a hat—she said—he lost it. He didnt wear normal clothes that day—she said so. Was it her actual dress? She says dressing GOWN—something he wore in summer when he was sick.

Then she says—in effect—well so what if he was dressed as a woman, because he did it for the South! Then she begs the reader of the letter not to make the letter known, or it would embarrass Davis.

You can discount the soldier’s own reports that he was dressed as a woman—and ignore the actual dress that was on dispaly for 20 years in the War Department.

But you can’t deny Mrs Davis own 20 page letter to her friends about this. She is trying to minimize his guilt in it—but she actually confirms the substance of the Union soldier’s report.

The Confederate apologist have never been able to change their own speel about his capture, even after his wife’s own explicit letter came out in 1908. In fact, almost no Davis biographies even mention her letter, which is by far the most important eye witness account of the capture.

Mark Douglas

IMAGE: Jefferson Davis as an Unprotected Female! Originally published by Harper’s Weekly, May 27, 1865. Davis was captured in Irwinville, Georgia, on May 10.