First Lady of the Confederacy: Varina Davis's Civil War

By Joan E. Cashin | Go to book overview
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13
DELECTABLE CITY

THE WEDDING PLANS, which were sure to be controversial because Wilkinson was a Northerner, ground to a halt when Jefferson Davis died in 1889. In November he had contracted a cold while visiting Brierfield, and after the overseer notified Varina, she had him taken to the home of friends in New Orleans. There she nursed him with the assistance of a doctor. A few weeks later, Jefferson took a turn for the worse, and in his last hours he wanted Varina close by. If she left his side for a moment, he asked for her, and when she tried to give him some medicine, he whispered, “Pray excuse me,” the iron-willed gentleman to the end. He passed away on December 6 of acute bronchitis, probably aged eightyone. His wife had nursed him through worse illnesses, and she had not expected him to die. She broke down and wept, kissing him before the body was taken to lie in state at city hall. Winnie was in Paris and Maggie on her way to New Orleans when they learned of his death.1

Across the South, bells tolled, buildings were draped in black, schools closed, and resolutions were passed in honor of Jefferson Davis. Thousands of people viewed his body at city hall. White Southern papers praised Davis as the region's “beloved chief” who had led a blameless life. Most African American papers ignored his passing, and the white Northern press gave the deceased some respectful notices along with a few barbs, such as the comment by the New York Times.

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