Local friends, distant ediorialists offered tributes

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Jefferson Davis BicentennialThis year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Jefferson Davis, who was born in Fairview, Ky., on June 3, 1808, and at the age of 2 moved with his parents to Rosemont Plantation near Woodville, Miss. In 1835, Davis moved to Warren County where he spent the most productive years of his life. This is the 11th of a series of 11 articles about Davis as a local citizen.Jefferson Davis was eulogized throughout the nation, even by the Northern press, but nothing was more fitting than the response of those in his hometown of Vicksburg.

News of Davis’ death reached Vicksburg on the afternoon of Dec. 5, 1889. The bell on the courthouse was tolled for four hours and church bells throughout the city were rung. Davis had died early that morning in New Orleans after becoming ill at Brierfield. He had started home to Beauvoir, in Biloxi, but could travel no farther than the Crescent City.

On the day of his funeral, Dec. 11, 1889, the columns of the newspaper were bordered in black, and the courthouse, Christ Episcopal Church, and stores in the city were draped in mourning. Business was halted during the memorial service here, which was held in the Opera House.

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City fathers had offered a burial place in Cedar Hill Cemetery for the Confederate leader, and many thought Mrs. Davis would bury him at Brierfield, where they had spent so many happy days and where others of the family were at rest. Instead, she chose temporary interment in New Orleans, and many Warren countians went there for the service.

At the memorial service in the Opera House in Vicksburg, Davis’ hometown admirers and friends filled it to overflowing. On the program were several Protestant ministers, the Jewish rabbi (who was a Northerner) and a Catholic priest who had been a Confederate chaplain. A choir sang appropriate numbers, public officials spoke in tribute of the deceased hero, and the rabbi read a poem he had composed for the occasion. Col. R.V. Booth was eloquent in his eulogy.

It was the priest, however, who made the most memorable impression on the crowd. Father Picherit began his prayer in a conventional manner, but soon it sounded like a fervent sermon, a moving farewell, and when his voice rang out proudly, reminding God and mankind that Jefferson Davis “went to his grave undaunted and unreconstructed,” the crowd burst into loud applause. Just as suddenly, they grew quiet, seeming to have been embarrassed that this was a prayer they had interrupted.

There were many other eulogies, one of the most unexpected, perhaps, on the editorial page of The New York Times that said, “The death of Jefferson Davis ends a most remarkable chapter of history …. He was the chosen chieftain of the new Republic which strove to establish itself, and whose adherents battled for its existence with a heroism the memory of which is everywhere cherished as one that does honor to the American character and name …. He sacrificed all for the cause he cherished, and he alone of all the South has borne the cross of martyrdom. He was a man of commanding ability, spotless integrity, and controlling conscience …. He was proud, sensitive, and honorable in all his dealings and in every relation of life …. A great soul has passed.”

The Times editor continued, “The South loves his memory as it should love it …. Were the people of the South to forget him, or fail to honor the man who endured so patiently for their sake, they in turn should deserve none of respect or place in the minds of men …. Jefferson Davis will live longer in history and better than will any who have ever spoken against him.”

Of all the eulogies, however, none could have been more sincere than the spontaneous applause that interrupted Father Picherit’s prayer, for Davis’ hometown friends, those who knew him best, demonstrated their approval of the man who refused to apologize for a cause he always considered a righteous one.


Gordon Cotton is an author and historian who lives in Vicksburg.