Jefferson Davis, Unconquerable Heart

By Felicity Allen | Go to book overview

XXII
The Hero

After so many prayers, the death of Jeff Jr. pushed Davis close to despair. He felt “shadows as darkas ever fell on man” and rather welcomed what Northrop called the “atrocious pain” of neuralgia, as distraction from “less endurable” ills. He wrote to Winnie: “I have bowed to the blows, but in vain have sought for consolation. So many considerations, not selfish, plead for his longer stay on earth that I only shut my eyes, to what it is not permitted me to see, and stifling the outward flow, let my wounds bleed inwardly.” Fortitude alone made him able to pray at the end of this letter, “May God have you in his holy keeping.” 1

He had noted long before that ill might follow, “did the Lord always grant our purest prayers when and as they are offered.” This humility brought him to the end of life still able to say, this time to Maggie, “God bless and shield you, my beloved child, is [my] fervent prayer.” Simple trust in the depth of desolation is what Goulburn and à Kempis call perfection. The offer of his life made so long before seems accomplished in this death to himself. It is not surprising to find that he “especially loved” the biblical bookof Job. 2

Another death seemed as unreasonable as Jeff Jr.'s—that of the Confederacy. FrankStringfellow, cavalryman and spy in the bid for independence and now Episcopal priest, wrote to Davis, puzzling over how to “harmonize” these facts: “we were right” and “God permitted our overthrow.” Davis wrote, “I have often times combatted the idea that the failure of our righteous cause rendered doubtful the government of the world by an overruling providence.” They might not have wisely used a victory; “the distant future” might bring good “consequences” from “our present losses.” And had not their overthrow shown “how faithless, dishonest, and barbarous our enemies were, and proven “that we were more right than even our own people generally knew?” “The inimitable

-534-

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