Operation Pedro Pan

president dwight eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower (Wikipedia)

U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower approved the implementation of a secret, multifaceted plan by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on March 17, 1960, to covertly remove Cuban leader Fidel Castro from power. Castro had assumed power in early 1959 after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, and was determined to do whatever it took to end Cuba’s neocolonial relationship with the U.S. Castro’s agrarian reforms, his nationalization of American-owned businesses in Cuba, and his economic agreements with the Soviet Union had convinced Eisenhower that he was a dangerous communist.

The Eisenhower administration’s decision to treat Castro as a Cold War adversary resulted in a steady deterioration in the relationship between Cuba and the U.S. during the remainder of 1960. Things came to a head on October 19 when the U.S. imposed a trade embargo against Cuba, and the next day the U.S. Ambassador to Cuba, Philip Bonsal, was recalled.

About a week later Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh, the director of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of Miami, got a call from the State Department asking him to go to Washington, D.C. There he was asked to participate in a clandestine operation to smuggle Cuban children into the U.S. He agreed and was eventually given unprecedented authority to issue “visa waivers” that were smuggled into Cuba and allowed any unaccompanied Cuban child between the ages of 6 to 16 to ostensibly study in the U.S. The U.S. government did not, however, create a special visa program for the children’s parents.

Continue reading “Operation Pedro Pan”

Many Confederate Monuments Aren’t Historical, But Political

arizona confederate flagOpponents of the removal of Confederate monuments like to ask where it will stop, and claim the removal of any Confederate monument from public property is a threat to all of America’s historical monuments. But there’s a significant difference between Confederate monuments and flags that are used to commemorate history and those used to honor the Confederate cause.

Arizona’s Jefferson Davis Highway Monument

The Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway is a good example of something that’s not a historical monument, but a political statement in support of the Confederacy. Jefferson Davis wasn’t a Confederate soldier, but the president of the Confederacy – the political leader of a violent rebellion. After the South lost the Civil War he didn’t give up and was a proponent of the myth of the Lost Cause, a continuing propaganda campaign that claims the old South had a superior culture and the Civil War wasn’t about slavery but about states’ rights. In other words, the causes for which the North and South fought were morally equivalent – the South just happened to have lost the war. Furthermore, Davis was an unrepentant white supremacist until he died in 1889.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) began promoting the idea of a national Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway in 1913. They were organized in 1894 to ostensibly honor the memory of Confederate veterans, and have successfully promoted the Lost Cause and succeeded in erecting numerous Confederate monuments and memorials across the country. The Jefferson Davis Highway project was their response to the dedication of the Lincoln Highway, an attempt to suggest that Davis’ historical status should be similar to Lincoln’s.

The UDC succeeded in getting individual stretches of U.S. highway dedicated to Davis, and after the federal government began regulating the nation’s highways in 1926, the they asked that a single route be officially designated across the entire country. But their request was denied because highway officials found that their Jefferson Davis Highway was in reality just a “a collection of routes.” But the UDC didn’t give up and for many years continued to get various stretches of highway across the country dedicated to Davis on a piecemeal basis.

Jefferson Davis Highway monument, AZ
(Jeff Burgess)

In 1943, for example, the UDC succeeded in getting a Jefferson Davis Highway monument erected along a highway near Duncan, Arizona, near the state line with New Mexico. Then in 1961, as part of their participation in Arizona’s Civil War Centennial commemoration, they succeeded in getting the state’s portion of U.S. 80 designated as the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway. The monument, however, wasn’t located along U.S. 80, so the UDC got it moved it to its present location along U.S. 60 east of Apache Junction, which was part of U.S. 80 back then.

The Memorial to Arizona Confederate Troops

The Jefferson Davis Highway monument wasn’t the only Confederate monument the UDC erected in Arizona. On January 8, 1961, Arizona’s Governor Paul Fannin announced the official opening of the state’s Civil War Centennial commemoration, including a plan to erect a Civil War memorial at the state capital.  Fannin was a conservative Republican and an ardent supporter of Arizona’s Senator Barry Goldwater, who opposed Federal enforcement of school desegregation in the South. During his 1960 election campaign Fannin called civil rights protest marches and sit-ins “un- American.” So it isn’t surprising that the UDC was able to hijack Arizona’s Civil War Centennial commemoration. In fact, they took advantage of the Civil War centennial to build several new memorials to the Confederacy across the nation.

On the same day that Gov. Fannin made his announcement, for example, the UDC succeeded in having the Confederate flag fly over the state capitol building. Later that year, as previously mentioned, the UDC got Arizona’s stretch of U.S. 80 designated as the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway.

Memorial to Arizona Confederate Troops, Phoenix, AZ
Memorial to Arizona Confederate Troops (Jeff Burgess)

But their biggest achievement in Arizona was having the new Civil War monument at the state capital dedicated solely to Confederate troops. Its construction began in front of the State Senate building in 1961, but it wasn’t dedicated until February 14, 1962, as part of the state’s 50th birthday celebration. It wasn’t enough, however, for the UDC to dedicate a Confederate memorial on the anniversary of Arizona becoming a U.S. state. They also used the occasion to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Confederacy’s official declaration of the short-lived Confederate Territory of Arizona  on the same day in 1862. Arizona’s Secretary of State Wesley Bolin spoke at the dedication ceremony. After Bolin died in 1978 the legislature created Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza and most of the monuments at the capital, including the Confederate troop memorial, were relocated there.

The plaque fastened to the Confederate memorial reads:


This seems innocuous enough for it to be considered a historical monument, and not a political statement, as there were men from territorial Arizona that enlisted and fought in the Confederate army. But there’s also an inscription on the base in front of the memorial that reads, “A NATION THAT FORGETS ITS PAST HAS NO FUTURE.”

A speech given by Grace McLean Moses at the UDC’s 1962 national convention sheds some light on this phrase’s purpose and meaning. She described the Confederate soldier as being “touched by the divine hand of Providence” and “a knight in shining armor.” After the Civil War he “sought to pass on to future generations the ideals, manners and code of conduct for which the South has been justly renowned.” Then she warned that our nation stood at a crossroads of history and “we find America lacking in those qualities which made her great and without which she cannot hope to endure.”

Those qualities, she explained, were the ones that glorified the Confederate soldier: “Let us stand fast, in a world of change and unrest, for those high ideals for which they gave so much. Only then shall we truly honor them. It has been written that ‘a nation that forgets its past can have no future.’ It is our labor of love to make the memory of the Confederate soldier eternal.”

The speech was a thinly veiled criticism of the growing African-American civil rights movement and the Federal government’s enforcement of desegregation in the South. The fact that her speech included the same phrase that’s inscribed on the Arizona Confederate monument shows that it was part of a nationwide political strategy. The UDC, in fact, intentionally exploited the opposition to the civil rights movement in order to increase its membership during this time.

Confederate Gen. Francis Bartow marker, 1936
Confederate Gen. Bartow marker erected in 1936 by the WPA & UDC on the First Bull Run Battlefield, VA. (Jeff Burgess)

The UDC is not just a bunch of “nice old ladies.” Since their beginning, they have been a national political organization that has vigorously promoted the revisionist history of the Lost Cause in a myriad of ways. By 1914 they had nearly 100,000 members and on Jefferson Davis’s birthday they unveiled a controversial Confederate memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. In the 1920s the Grand Army of the Republic, the organization of Union veterans, complained that the UDC had succeeded in getting public school American history books altered to remove any suggestion the Union cause in the Civil War was morally superior. During the Great Depression the UDC succeeded in getting the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to use public money to construct numerous Confederate monuments throughout the South. They have also been accused of manipulating the narratives that were collected from elderly former slaves by the WPA’s Federal Writers’ Project.

Furthermore, the UDC publicly supported the Ku Klux Klan as late as 1936, claiming the KKK had saved the South from Reconstruction after the Civil War. And, as discussed above, the UDC opposed racial desegregation in the South in the 1950s and 60s. The activities held during their annual statewide meeting in Phoenix in 1939 provide an example of what they’ve been about. The entertainment portion of their meeting included the singing of the song “That’s Why Darkies Were Born.” The song’s lyrics are:

Someone had to pick the cotton,
Someone had to pick the corn,
Someone had to slave and be able to sing,
That’s why darkies were born.

The UDC’s most visible achievement over the years has been to erect hundreds of Confederate monuments on public property. A 2016 survey by the Southern Poverty Law Center found there are 1,503 public Confederate memorials across the U.S., even after those on Civil War battlefields and in museums and cemeteries are excluded. Most of them were erected during the Jim Crow area, and more recently, in opposition to the African-American Civil Rights Movement.

The Efforts to Remove Arizona’s Confederate Monuments

The execution-style murders of nine black people by white supremacist and Confederate sympathizer Dylann Roof at the historical Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, on June 17, 2015, prompted Arizona State Representative Reginald Bolding Jr., D-Laveen, to call for the removal of the Jefferson Davis Highway monument from public property. Bolding was the only black member of Arizona’s legislature.

“In light of everything that has happened…we can’t go through our daily lives honoring symbols of hate, symbols of separation and symbols of segregation right now,” said Bolding, surrounded by like-minded activists at the state capital in Phoenix.

Arizona’s Republican Governor Doug Ducey subsequently said that he would ask for a governmental review of the marker because he’d rather see the state’s highways named after Arizonans. But Phoenix’s Arizona Republic newspaper reported on May 28, 2017, that Gov. Ducey never asked the Arizona State Board on Geographic and Historic Names (ASBGHN) to consider removing the monument or renaming the highway.

In August of 2017 three proposals to remove the name Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway from the stretch of U.S. 60 east of Apache Junction were received from the public by the ASBGHN. The board held a public meeting to discuss these proposals on September 25, 2017. The board’s staff presented research which indicated there probably wasn’t a Jefferson Davis highway anywhere in Arizona anymore, and that the status of the Jefferson Davis monument on U.S. 60 is the responsibility of the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT), as it’s located in the public right-of-way.

On October 4 the group Progress Now Arizona delivered petitions with more than 1,000 signatures to Gov. Ducey’s office demanding he advocate for the removal of Confederate monuments on state property and for the changing of the name of the Jefferson Davis Highway.  They also delivered 100 letters of support from Arizona NAACP chapters, religious leaders, and multiple history and ethics professors from NAU, ASU and the U of A.

Then on October 13 the Arizona Department of Transportation issued a letter wherein they stated that their official position is that a Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway no longer existed anywhere in Arizona, and that, in their opinion, the Jefferson Davis monument along U.S. 60 is privately owned. Subsequently, on October 23 an ADOT spokesperson said that the agency’s director believes the monument should be relocated to private property because it keeps getting vandalized, and Confederate groups, like the Sons of Confederate Veterans, periodically gather around it to conduct ceremonies that could create safety problems because the monument’s in the public right-of-way. Nothing has happened since then, except that the monument was vandalized again in November.

As for the Confederate soldier memorial at the state capital, on June 5, 2017, several of Arizona’s black leaders called for the removal of all six of Arizona’s Confederate monuments, including the three located at veterans’ cemeteries. A spokesman for Gov. Ducey responded that their complaint about the Confederate soldier memorial on the Wesley Bolin plaza was misdirected at him because the Legislative Governmental Mall Commission is in charge of the plaza’s monuments, even though the governor appoints two of the commission’s members.

When Gov. Ducey was asked about the issue on August 14, 2017, he said, “We fought the Civil War and the United States won the Civil War. We freed the slaves and we followed up with civil rights after that.”

The Memorial to Arizona Confederate Troops was vandalized with paint on August 17. “I think it’s absolutely irresponsible and non-productive. It does absolutely nothing to promote the cause of removing symbols of hate in the state when individuals take matters into their hands and vandalize state property,” said Rep. Bolding in response to the vandalism.

The on August 19 Tucson’s Arizona Daily Star newspaper reported that Ducey claimed he has no legal role in deciding the future of the memorial. The Legislative Governmental Mall Commission’s chairman Kevin DeMenna explained that’s because the commission doesn’t have the legal authority to remove the monument from the plaza, so it would require the Republican-controlled legislature to pass a bill to authorize it. Arizona House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, and Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, agreed. Rep. Mesnard added that it would be good to have a public conversation about each Confederate monument on state property when the legislature reconvened in January 2018, but it never happened.

At the February 14, 2018, meeting of the Legislative Governmental Mall Commission State Representative Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, a non-voting advisory member of the commission, asked chairman Kevin DeMenna, to consider putting a discussion about the mall’s Confederate soldier memorial on a future commission agenda. She explained that many Arizona voters had told her they don’t like the memorial because they believe it honors the Confederate cause, and that a public discussion about it could be useful. Chairman DeMenna was noncommittal and soon gaveled the meeting to an abrupt close. The topic was not included in the commission’s subsequent meeting agenda.

Which Confederate Monuments Should Be Removed?

The real problem with removing Confederate monuments from public property is deciding which ones should remain because they are truly historical, and which ones should be removed because they glorify the Confederate cause. A statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in a public park, for example, might be a historical monument if it’s located on a battlefield where Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia fought, or in the former Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia.  But if it’s located elsewhere, it could be considered a political statement. The Memorial to Arizona’s Confederate Troops also falls into this gray zone. At first glance, it appears to be a simple monument to the Confederate troops from Arizona, but its history and the inscription in front of it indicate that it’s a political statement.

Americans have the right to make these sorts of decisions about the public monuments displayed in their communities. The complaint that removing a Confederate monument from public property amounts to erasing history is nonsense. In fact, when the monument glorifies the Confederacy, its removal actually serves to reinstate history by refuting the myth of the Lost Cause.


On April 5, 2018, Gov. Ducey signed Senate Bill 1179, which authorized a monument to Arizona’s black Buffalo Soldiers on the Wesley Bolin plaza. The bill was introduced by Democrats, but received unanimous support from the legislature’s Republicans, even though none of them were willing to support a simultaneous effort by the local chapter of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) to authorize a Union soldier monument on the plaza.

On May 3, 2018, Gov. Ducey signed Senate Bill 1524. One of its provisions abolished the Legislative Governmental Mall Commission and delegated its authority to the Arizona Department of Administration (ADOA). Instead of public hearings held by a diverse commission, the review of new monuments authorized by the legislature for Wesley Bolin plaza will now be handled by ADOA’s administrative personnel. This provision was opposed by Democrats in the legislature.

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.

On July 25, 2018, U.S. District Judge Robert G. James granted a request by Louisiana’s Caddo Parish to dismiss claims made by the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy that a Confederate monument they donated could not be relocated from public property.

On August 20, 2018, protestors at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill toppled the “Silent Same” confederate soldier statue that had been erected on campus in 1913. The crowd was jubilant when the statue fell. Republicans in the state’s legislature spent the following day condemning the protestors and demanding that the statue be restored.

On October 2, 2018, the Madison, Wisconsin, City Council voted to remove a Confederate memorial from a Confederate prisoner of war cemetery and relocate it to a museum because it was not a gravestone but a political statement.

On October 15, 2018, the Associated Press reported they had discovered that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs was spending millions to guard Confederate cemeteries.

On November 3, 2018, I gave a speech titled, The History of Confederate Monuments in Arizona, at the fall meeting of the local chapter of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.

On January 11, 2019, Texas state officials voted to remove a plaque on the wall of the state capitol building that was placed there in 1957 by a group called the Children of the Confederacy that proclaimed slavery had nothing to do with the Civil War.

On January 10, 2019, the Southern Poverty Law Center announced it was launching a campaign to urge the state Legislature to give local governments the power to decide whether to keep or remove Confederate monuments in their public spaces.

On January 14, 2019, the Chancellor of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill,  Carol Folt, ordered the removal of a pedestal that once held a Confederate statue on the university’s campus. Protestors had toppled the “Silent Sam” Confederate soldier statue in August 2018, and it had not been reinstalled due to public safety concerns.

On January 14, 2019, a county judge in Alabama ruled that a state law enacted in 2017 that prohibited the removal of Confederate monuments from public spaces violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

On February 22, 2019, the city of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, removed its Jefferson Davis Highway monument from the side of a downtown road because it was “an ongoing threat to public safety.”

On March 5, 2019, protestors draped a black curtain with the words, “Warning: Offensive Content” over the Confederate monument on Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza at the Arizona state capitol.

On April 11, 2019, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) signed a bill to remove the statues of two Confederate sympathizers from Arkansas that are in the National Statuary Hall Collection at the U.S. Capitol.

Jefferson Davis Doesn’t Deserve Any Monuments

Jefferson Davis
Jefferson Davis (Wikipedia)

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.

Note: Mississippi didn’t officially ratify the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, until February 7, 2013.

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.

Jefferson Davis coin, 1861
Popular coin in 1861

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.

The Confederacy’s subsequent refusal to recognize captured black Union troops as legitimate prisoners of war prompted Lincoln to suspend all military prisoner exchanges with the South in the summer of 1863. This undoubtedly contributed to the number of deaths among Union soldiers at the infamous Confederate prisoner of war camp at Andersonville, Georgia.

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.

Jefferson Davis monument - New Orleans
Jefferson Davis monument, New Orleans, LA (Natalie Burgess)

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 he still deserved a speedy. After he was released on bail, Democratic politicians urged him to run for U.S. president in the upcoming election of 1868.  They suggested his campaign should call “for a restoration of the Union upon a white basis.” Davis, however, remained under indictment until Lincoln’s successor, Southern Democratic President Andrew Johnson, pardoned all former Confederates on Christmas Day 1868.

Republican Ulysses S. Grant won the 1868 election, and after he assumed the office of U.S. president in 1869 he made Reconstruction in the South a government 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. He died unrepentant in 1889.

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