Happy Birthday, Jeff Davis: Local celebration kicks off Saturday|[05/18/08]

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Vicksburg and Warren County Historical Society has planned a lineup of events Memorial Day weekend honoring the 200th birthday of Jefferson Davis – Mexican-American War hero, former U.S. secretary of war and only president of the Confederacy.

Davis was born in rural Kentucky on June 3, 1808. His family moved to Woodville, Miss., when Davis was a small child, and he would later make his home in Warren County in 1836.

“He was a local boy who did extremely well in life, and sacrificed a lot for what he believed in,” said Gordon Cotton, chairman of the historical society. “It would be a shame if the south ever forgot him.”

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If you goEvents planned to celebrate Jefferson Davis’ 200th birthday:SATURDAY5 p.m. – Performance by The 8th Georgia Regiment Band, of Rome; Old Court House Museum; free, light refreshments; bring lawn chairs and blankets.7:30 p.m. – Banquet; Dr. Lynda Lasswell Crist, speaker; Helen Abraham, caterer; Southern Cultural Heritage Center auditorium; Lester Senter Wilson and Billy Ray Reynolds, musical guests; $25, advance registration required; 601-636-0741.MAY 2510 a.m. – Worship service; Christ Episcopal Church on Main Street; music by The 8th Georgia Regiment Band.The 200th birthday celebration kicks off Saturday evening with an outdoor concert by The 8th Regiment Band on the lawn of the Old Court House Museum. Civil War era music will be played, and light refreshments will be served. In case of rain, the concert will be held in the upstairs courtroom. A banquet at the Southern Cultural Heritage Center’s auditorium will follow, featuring a keynote address from renowned Davis historian and author Dr. Lynda Lasswell Crist.

Crist is a professor at Rice University and longtime editor of “The Papers of Jefferson Davis,” a multivolume documentary project based at the Houston university, exploring Davis’ legacy through his letters and speeches.

The banquet will also feature music provided by mezzo-soprano Lester Senter Wilson of Jackson and Billy Ray Reynolds, a Civil War enthusiast whose resume includes playing alongside country music’s Waylon Jennings on some of his most successful albums and tours. Registration for the banquet is required through the Old Court House Museum.

Festivities will continue May 25, with The 8th Regiment Band performing religious songs at a 10 a.m. Sunday worship service at Christ Episcopal Church, where the Davis family had attended services. The church was also one of the buildings the city draped in mourning following Davis’ death in 1889.

“It’s fitting for Vicksburg to honor Davis because he spent most of his adult life in the area, and he started his political career here on the grounds where the court house now stands,” said Bubba Bolm, curator and director of the Old Court House Museum, which features a large, permanent collection of Davis artifacts.

Davis married his first wife in 1835, the daughter of Zachary Taylor, who would become president 13 years later. In 1844, Davis was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, but resigned two years later to become a colonel in the Mississippi Rifles during the Mexican War. His distinguished service in the war led to his appointment as U.S. secretary of war under President Franklin Pierce in 1853. Four years later, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, but resigned his seat in January 1861 to return to Mississippi, which had just voted to leave the union.

Davis was at his plantation home, Brierfield, 11 miles south of Vicksburg, when he was notified he had been chosen as the president of the Confederacy on Feb. 9, 1861. He made his first public speech as president-elect in Vicksburg, en route to Montgomery, Ala., to be officially inaugurated.

Following his two-year imprisonment after the Civil War, he retired and spent his final years at Beauvoir, his home in Biloxi. It was heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina but will reopen to public tours on Jefferson’s 200th birthday for the first time since the Aug. 29, 2005, storm.

“He had a star-crossed career. It’s absolutely amazing, the things that happened to him,” said Cotton, who has authored a book on Davis’ life. “He lived such a fascinating life that I can’t help but admire him. Like many Southerners, I also admire him for never apologizing for his role in the war. He hung in there, gave it his best shot and said he’d do it all over again if he had the chance.”

The Mississippi House of Representatives passed a bill earlier this year to establish a commission “for the purpose of organizing and planning a celebration in recognition of Jefferson Davis’ 200th birthday,” but it died in the Senate appropriations committee.