The year 2017 was a rough one for me. But I have a story that cheered me up, and I think it will cheer you up a bit too. A couple of weeks ago I received a Christmas card and letter from one of my Burgess cousins which contained some news about his family, including the fact that he had a couple of grandchildren that I didn’t know about. After reading it I logged into my Ancestry.com account to add the new information to my online family tree.
While I was working on it I saw some notifications regarding new records the website had discovered about Donald Burgess, the grandfather I had in common with my cousin. I clicked on them and learned that our grandfather had been married to a woman named Nelle before he married our grandmother Agnes. This revelation was shocking to me because I’d never heard anything about it, and to my knowledge, neither had anybody else in our family.
I began digging around on the website and found more information. My grandfather had married Nelle in Michigan in March of 1925, but the public records also showed that Nelle had subsequently married another man there in January of 1926, so my grandfather and Nelle were together for just a few months. They additionally showed that Nelle gave birth to a son named Richard sometime in 1926. I wondered if my father had an uncle he’d never known about. But further research showed that Richard was Nelle’s only child, and he was born 11 months after she had married her second husband. I also discovered that Richard was still alive and I was able to find his current living address in Michigan, with the help of Whitepages.com.
I sent Richard a letter last week asking him if he could tell me anything about my grandfather Donald, and why his mom and my grandfather split up. Richard is 90 years old so I was a little worried that my letter might cause a fatal shock if he wasn’t aware of his mom’s first marriage. But I wanted to know if my grandfather had been a bad guy, instead of the good guy I’d always thought him to be.
Yesterday I received an incoming phone call on my mobile phone from an unknown number in Michigan. I usually don’t answer unidentified numbers but this time I did and it was Richard responding to my letter. His mind was very sharp and he was eager to help me in any way he could. He told me that he didn’t know anything about my grandfather, other than his name. But he said that whenever my grandfather’s name came up in the presence of his grandmother, she’d tell his mom that she should have stayed with my grandfather because “he was a nice guy” – unlike his father.
I then asked Richard about his father and he told me that he had never met him. He explained that his father had abandoned him and his mom when he was a baby, and that his mom had raised him on her own. He said that he only talked to his father once, when his father called him after he became an adult to ask him if he could meet his wife and see his children. He responded by telling his father to get screwed and that he didn’t want anything to do with him. Richard told me this in a practiced, businesslike manner, but I could tell there was deeply buried pain.
“So, you don’t know anything about your father?” I asked. No, he responded, other than his name, of course. But after some more prodding he recalled that he knew the first name of his dad’s father, and the town where his grandfather had raised his family.
We concluded our conversation by speculating about why my grandfather and his mother had split up. I told him that my grandfather had moved back to his hometown in Indiana in 1926 for a new job, and that by 1927 he had moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for another job. I suggested that maybe they split up because his mother didn’t want to leave Michigan. He agreed that sounded like a strong possibility. I was glad that I could still consider my grandfather to be a good guy. I was 15 when he died and I have many fond memories of him, like when he snuck me my first taste of a cold beer.
I thanked Richard for calling me and he promised to let me know if he ever learned anything more about my grandfather. But after we said goodbye I couldn’t let go of his story. I wanted to know more about his dad. I logged back into Ancestry.com and began looking among the public records for his grandfather. He was relatively easy to find because he had unique name and had lived in a small town. As soon as I added Richard’s grandfather into my online family tree the website began notifying me of more records about him. They included accessible family trees for his family which had been built by the website’s other users. I clicked on one of them and it included photos of his family members. I clicked on an icon of the photo of his grandfather and my browser loaded a scanned version of a high quality black and white close-up. The reality sank in that Richard had never known his grandfather, or seen this photo of him. And I wondered if his grandfather had ever know that Richard existed. (There was no mention of Richard in his family’s online trees.) Tears began to well up in my eyes. I kept digging in the family trees and came across another good photo of all of the family’s five children, taken when they were young adults, including Richard’s father. Further research revealed that they had all passed. I realized that the photo could be the only thing Richard might ever have about his father, or the two aunts and two uncles he never knew.
I didn’t tell Richard about my online discoveries, but I downloaded the photo files and printed them off, along with copies of the obituaries for his grandparents. I couldn’t find an obituary for Richard’s father, but I learned that he eventually married another woman. They didn’t have any children but the marriage lasted so I printed a copy of his step-mother’s obituary too. This morning I sent them to Richard by Priority Mail. They’re supposed to get there this Saturday, the 23rd. On Sunday the 24th it will be his 91st birthday, and Monday is Christmas Day.
On Christmas Day, 12/25/17, I received an email from Richard wherein he thanked me and said that he “greatly appreciated” the information I sent him about his father. His email had an attachment that was a scanned photo of his mother Nelle. It had been taken when she was the young woman my grandfather had known.
Many people have stumbled upon the Jefferson Davis monument sitting in the public right of way along U.S. 60 east of Apache Junction and wondered why it was there. While it’s true that the Confederacy claimed southern Arizona as a Confederate Territory in the early part of the Civil War, Union forces from California drove all Confederate troops out of the state in early 1862.
The words carved into the stone marker are:
HIGHWAY No. 70
ERECTED 1943 BY
DAUGHTERS OF THE CONFEDERACY
This inscription implies that this stretch of highway was dedicated as a Jefferson Davis memorial highway. Working from that assumption, several Arizona residents recently petitioned the Arizona State Board on Geographic and Historic Names (ASBGHN) to remove this designation because they thought it was inappropriate, as Jefferson Davis was the President of the Confederacy, and an unrepentant white supremacist.
The ASBGHN met publicly on September 25, 2017, to consider these proposals, which including one to rename it the Rose Mofford Memorial Highway. During the board’s meeting, however, their staff person made a presentation which showed the situation was much more complicated.
Their research found that the monument was originally dedicated in 1943 along a highway at the Arizona-New Mexico state line near Duncan, Arizona. It was part of a longstanding project by the neo-Confederate group United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) to get a cross-country highway dedicated to Jefferson Davis, as a response to the dedication of the Lincoln Highway in 1913. The national president of the UDC attended the ceremony, and the Duncan High School band, accompanied by its majorettes, led the procession. The crowd sang the official Jefferson Davis highway song, and local Mormon church leader J. Vernon McGrath gave the invocation, followed by an address from Arizona Governor Sidney Osborn read by the secretary of state. The UDC’s president then presented the monument to the state. The Arizona Highways Department, the predecessor to today’s Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT), built the foundation for the monument and placed the stone marker on it. (This was before the success of the African-American Civil Rights Movement.)
Then in 1961, as part of their participation in Arizona’s Civil War centennial celebrations, the UDC got approval from the Arizona Highways Commission, the predecessor to today’s Arizona State Transportation Board, to have Arizona’s stretch of U.S. 80 designated as the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway. The Jefferson Davis monument’s original location wasn’t along U.S. 80, so the UDC got it moved it to its present location along U.S. 60, which was part of U.S. 80 back then. The official name of the spot where it sits, however, is the Superstition Mountain Monument, because this is the name that ADOT entered into the official U.S. Board on Geographic Names database in 1984. (There apparently was some reluctance among state officials to officially record a public monument dedicated to Jefferson Davis.)
Subsequently, in 1989 U.S. 80 was decommissioned. The portion of old U.S. 80 from Benson through Douglas and then on to the state’s border with New Mexico was renamed State Route 80. The name Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway, however, still appears on some maps for the stretch of S.R. 80 between Benson and Tombstone, although it appears that its official designation as the Jefferson Davis highway died when U.S. 80 became defunct.
But even though there may no longer be a Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway in Arizona, the monument remains along U.S. 60 across from the Peralta Road turnoff. The ownership of the monument isn’t clear. It was donated to the state during its 1943 dedication, but ADOT is reluctant to acknowledge state ownership. The Arizona Division of the UDC was disbanded about 2002, but a local organization called the Dixie Chapter of the UDC exists, although it appears to be solely dedicated to placing wreath on veterans’ graves on Memorial Day, and it’s unclear if it’s affiliated with the national UDC. A 1998 encroachment permit issued by ADOT to the neo-Confederate group Sons of Confederate Veterans, Colonel Sherod Hunter Camp 1525, indicates that they are the monument’s owners.
The ownership of the monument, however, isn’t as important as the public’s opportunity to request that it be relocated to a museum or private property. ADOT’s encroachment permit regulations (A.A.C. R17-3-502) include a list of the things that qualify for a permit. The list includes, “For such uses as the Director specifies.” In other words, anything that ADOT is willing to approve. There are no provisions in ADOT’s regulations, unfortunately, to allow the public to protest the approval of an encroachment permit, or to petition for the removal of an existing monument.
The Arizona State Transportation Board, however, has jurisdiction over all issues related to Arizona’s highways, as per state law in A.R.S. § 28-304.B.3. So it appears that the only way the Jefferson Davis monument can be removed from the public property along U.S 60 is for state residents to persuade the board that it shouldn’t be there, or convince the legislature to pass a bill to have it removed.
On October 13, 2017, the Arizona Department of Transportation issued a letter wherein they stated that their official position is that a Jefferson Davis Highway no longer existed anywhere in Arizona, and that the Jefferson Davis monument along U.S. 60 is privately owned. The letter failed to identify the monument’s owner.
On October 20, 2017, the Arizona State Transportation Board met and ignored requests from the public that they order the Jefferson Davis monument to be removed from the U.S. 60 right-of-way.
On October 23, 2017, and again on November 6, ADOT’s Executive Officer Floyd Roehrich, Jr. responded to inquiries from the public by explaining that the ASTB would not become involved in this issue, and that the responsibility for the monument lies solely with ADOT’s Director John Halikowski. He added that ADOT believes the monument should be relocated to private property because it keeps getting vandalized, and neo-Confederate groups conduct ceremonies there which could create problems because it’s in the highway’s right-of-way. They are trying to identify which local group owns the monument. After the owners are identified, they will initially ask them to move it themselves. But if they don’t have the money for that, then ADOT will move it. They hope to have a decision and take action on it by the end of the year.
Sometime during the weekend of November 18/19, 2017, the monument was vandalized again. This time somebody permanently damaged it by shooting at it. The local police are investigating the crime.
On June 4, 2018, the Southern Poverty Law Center released a report showing that more than 1,700 monuments, place names and other symbols honoring the Confederacy remain in public spaces.
As of October 28, 2018, the Jefferson Davis Highway Monument was still in place along U.S. 60, and the Arizona Department of Transportation was not responding to requests for information about its status. The monument appeared to have sustained additional damage.
Communities across the U.S have recently started removing public monuments dedicated to the Confederacy because white supremacists have adopted them as favored symbols. There’s also a growing recognition that most Confederate monuments weren’t erected to honor the sacrifices made by Confederate soldiers, but were built as part of a longstanding historical revisionist campaign, called the Lost Cause, to rewrite history in order to portray the Confederacy in a favorable manner.
There are a lot of different types of Confederate monuments scattered across the country. Those located on Civil War battlefields or graveyards, for example, are mostly historical, and they should not be removed. But there are many that glorify the Confederacy, like the monuments dedicated to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and they don’t deserve to be maintained.
Davis, like many other Confederate politicians and soldiers, served his country honorably before the Civil War. He was born in 1808 in Kentucky and graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1828 and then was stationed on the frontier at Fort Crawford, in modern day Wisconsin. He resigned from the army in 1835 and eventually settled down to run a plantation in Mississippi with many slaves.
He got involved in local Democratic Party politics and was was elected by Mississippi voters to the U.S House of Representatives in 1845. But he resigned from Congress when the Mexican-American War broke out in 1846. He raised and commanded a volunteer regiment from Mississippi and led his unit in the important American victories at the 1846 Battle of Monterrey and the 1847 Battle of Buena Vista, where he was wounded in the foot.
The governor of Mississippi recognized Davis’s war service by appointing him to the state’s vacant U.S. Senate seat in late 1847 and he subsequently won elections to stay in that office. But he resigned the Senate in 1851 to run for the governorship of Mississippi as a candidate opposed to the Compromise of 1850, which he thought was unfair to the slave states. He lost by a narrow margin but remained active in politics and in 1853 newly elected President Franklin Pierce, a fellow Democrat, appointed Davis to be the U.S. Secretary of War.
In 1853, during his tenure as the secretary of war, Davis helped persuade Pierce to make the Gadsden Purchase from Mexico to acquire the land needed to build a southern transcontinental railroad. (Something many Southerners wanted.) He also helped to modernize the U.S. Army.
After Pierce lost his presidential reelection campaign, Mississippi voters once again elected Davis to the U.S. Senate. When he assumed office in 1857 the issue of slavery was tearing the country apart, largely as a result of the Supreme Court’s controversial Dred Scott decision.
Many Southern leaders, including Davis, were vocal proponent of states’ rights. They believed that each state was sovereign, and that the national government derived all of its authority from the states, so every state had the right to unilaterally secede from the U.S. Their affection for states’ rights was generated by a desire to preserve the economic institution slavery, so they were alarmed when Republican anti-slavery candidate Abraham Lincoln was elected U.S. president in the fall of 1860. Lincoln didn’t propose to abolish slavery in the South, only to prohibit it from being allowed in any new states. But Southern leaders believed that slavery had to expand in order to survive, so why should they until they were injured before they seceded?
Davis cautioned Southerners against seceding over the issue of slavery because he didn’t think the North would allow it, and he doubted the South could defeat the North in a war. But then his home state of Mississippi seceded in January 0f 1861. The Mississippi state government issued A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union which stated:
Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.
After Mississippi seceded, Davis resigned his seat in the U.S. Senate and returned to Mississippi, ending his loyalty to the United States. He offered his services to the state’s governor, but his political opinions were so well known across the South that at the Confederacy’s constitutional convention in Montgomery, Alabama, in February, 1861, he was enthusiastically elected president of the Confederate States of America.
The U.S. Civil War started when Confederate forces, with Davis’s approval, started bombarding the Union garrison of Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, on April 12 because they refused to surrender their fort. Subsequently, on April 15 U.S. President Abraham issued a proclamation calling for 75,000 troops to put down the insurrection.
Davis responded on April 29 with a speech to the Confederate congress wherein he said the Confederacy was ready for a fight. The long speech included a defense of slavery:
In moral and social condition they had been elevated from brutal savages into docile, intelligent, and civilized agricultural laborers, and supplied not only with bodily comforts but with careful religious instruction. Under the supervision of a superior race their labor had been so directed as not only to allow a gradual and marked amelioration of their own condition, but to convert hundreds of thousands of square miles of the wilderness into cultivated lands covered with a prosperous people;
Davis presumed that European countries would take the Confederacy’s side in the war because they’d want to protect their access to the South’s cotton, and he sent emissaries to Europe to solicit their help. But despite the success of the Union’s naval blockade at stopping most Southern cotton exports, no foreign government officially recognized the Confederacy.
In July of 1862 Congress passed the Militia Act, which allowed African-Americans to join the Union army – and thousands did. Then that September President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all of the slaves in the Confederate states effective January 1, 1863. Davis responded by issuing a proclamation of his own in December. It declared that the Union officers commanding black troops were to be considered criminals and executed if captured. As for the black troops, Davis ordered that, “all negro slaves captured in arms be at once delivered over to the executive authorities of the respective States to which they belong to be dealt with according to the laws of said States.” In other words, put into slavery or executed.
In January 1864 Davis received a petition signed by several Confederate army officers that called for a law allowing the emancipation and enlistment of slaves into the Confederate army to help solve their serious manpower shortage. Davis declined to show it to the Confederate Congress and told the officers to drop the matter.
But Davis grew desperate as the Civil War progressed it and became obvious that the South was facing defeat. In March of 1865 he supported the passage of legislation that allowed the Confederate Army to enlist free black men and slaves that were granted their freedom by their masters so they could go fight for the Confederacy. Almost nothing came from it, despite Southern newspaper propaganda that thousands of blacks were enlisting.
On April 3, 1865, Davis and his government were forced to flee the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, to avoid capture by Union troops. Subsequently, on April 9 Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his 28,000 man Army of Northern Virginia, without Davis’s approval, after they had been surrounded by Union forces at Appomattox Court House in Virginia.
Then on April 14 Confederate terrorist John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln in the back of the head at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. Lincoln died from his wound the following day. Davis received a telegram informing him of Lincoln’s assassination on April 19 while he was on the run in North Carolina. He is reported to have feared the vengeance of the North when he said, “I fear it will be disastrous for our people.”
On April 20 Robert E. Lee wrote a letter to Davis explaining why he’d been forced to surrender his army. Lee also recommended against resorting to a guerrilla war to continue the fight against the Union, as the South no longer had any chance of achieving independence. “To save useless effusion of blood, I would recommend measures be taken for suspension of hostilities and the restoration of peace,” Lee wrote.
Davis, however, refused to give up. The Confederacy’s largest remaining army, commanded by General Joseph E. Johnston, was encamped nearby. Johnston had realized further resistance was futile after learning of Lee’s surrender. He knew the Union troops that had defeated Lee would now be turned against him, and he was already being pursued by a large Union army under the command of General William Tecumseh Sherman. Johnston met with Sherman at Bennet Place, near Durham, North Carolina on April 17. The following day they signed surrender papers that included some political concessions that Davis had insisted upon. But on April 24 U.S. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant arrived and informed Sherman the agreement had been rejected in Washington, D.C., because the political concessions were unacceptable. Upon learning of the rejection, Davis instructed Johnston to disband his infantry and escape with his mounted troops to continue the fight. But Johnston ignored him and on April 26 he agreed to a revised surrender agreement that was solely focused on military issues, ending the war for more than 89,000 Confederate soldiers. This led to the eventual surrender of the remaining Confederates armies across the South. Davis considered Johnston’s surrender to be a traitorous act and kicked him out of what little remained of the Confederate army on May 2.
Davis was till on the run when Union soldiers finally captured him in Irwinville, Georgia, on May 10. He was imprisoned and indicted for treason. But he still didn’t give up. He welcomed his impending trial because he thought it would allow him to prove in court that states had the right to secede. But his trial kept getting delayed so Davis was bailed out of prison after two years by prominent Northerners who believed that, just like anyone else, he deserved a speedy trial. Davis remained under indictment, however, until Lincoln’s successor, Southern Democratic President Andrew Johnson, pardoned all former Confederates on Christmas Day 1868.
Republican Ulysses S. Grant assumed office in 1870 and made Reconstruction in the South a priority. Davis lived in the South during the Reconstruction Era, which lasted until 1877. He didn’t publicly comment on the situation, but he privately complained that Republican control of the former Confederate states was unjust, especially because of the Union Army’s enforcement of civil rights for blacks, as he believed that white people were superior. He ended his public silence in 1881 with the publication of his book The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. He said he wrote it for the purpose of “setting the righteous motives of the South before the world.” It was a defense of the old Southern way of life, and it made him very popular at Lost Cause events across the South. He made public statements in support of national unity, but he never admitted that anything he believed in was wrong, and he never expressed any remorse for his part in starting the Civil War before he died in 1889.