Jefferson Davis, Unconquerable Heart

By Felicity Allen | Go to book overview
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VIII
United States Senator

Sacrificing his desire for battle to duty and loyalty—“I could not in the present condition of Genl. Taylor askto leave him”—had pitched Jeff Davis into the most glorious battle of the Mexican War. Americans tended to name their places Buena Vista rather than Cerro Gordo or Contreras or Churubusco or Chapultapec—the battles by which Scott went on to win Mexico City and the war. Buena Vista moved Capt. Albert Pike of the Arkansas cavalry to fifteen rhyming stanzas, in one of which “Gallant Davis drives the foe.” It inspired the famous poem “The Bivouac of the Dead.” Capt. Theodore O'Hara of Danville wrote it for the burial of Clay, McKee, and others in Kentucky soil, and in time it became a favorite for Civil War monuments:

The muffled drum's sad roll has beat The soldier's last tattoo Rest on, embalmed and sainted dead, Dear as the blood ye gave Nor shall your glory be forgot While Fame her record keeps, Or Honor points the hallowed spot Where Valor proudly sleeps. 1

Sacrificing high military honor, the generalship, to his constitutional creed led Davis to high civil honor, a seat in the Senate. Davis resented being ordered about, as Quitman said, if he thought the authority illused, like Quitman's, or questionable, like Jesse Speight's. When Davis went to Washington in 1845, Speight was a Mississippi senator. He was used to having great men like Clay come at his call. Early one snowy morning—never a good hour for Davis in the best of weather—he sent 159

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