Winnie Davis: Daughter of the Lost Cause

Winnie Davis: Daughter of the Lost Cause

Winnie Davis: Daughter of the Lost Cause

Winnie Davis: Daughter of the Lost Cause


Varina Anne "Winnie" Davis was born into a war-torn South in June of 1864, the youngest daughter of Confederate president Jefferson Davis and his second wife, Varina Howell Davis. Born only a month after the death of beloved Confederate hero general J.E.B. Stuart during a string of Confederate victories, Winnie's birth was hailed as a blessing by war-weary Southerners. They felt her arrival was a good omen signifying future victory. But after the Confederacy's ultimate defeat in the Civil War, Winnie would spend her early life as a genteel refugee and an expatriate abroad. After returning to the South from German boarding school, Winnie was christened the "Daughter of the Confederacy" in 1886. This role was bestowed upon her by a Southern culture trying to sublimate its war losses. Particularly idolized by Confederate veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Winnie became an icon of the Lost Cause, eclipsing even her father Jefferson in popularity.
Winnie Davis: Daughter of the Lost Cause is the first published biography of this little-known woman who unwittingly became the symbolic female figure of the defeated South. Her controversial engagement in 1890 to a Northerner lawyer whose grandfather was a famous abolitionist, and her later move to work as a writer in New York City, shocked her friends, family, and the Southern groups who worshipped her. Faced with the pressures of a community who violently rejected the match, Winnie desperately attempted to reconcile her prominent Old South history with her personal desire for tolerance and acceptance of her personal choices.


Poor Jeb Stuart was shot through the kidneys and his
liver grazed also. He lay in the bloom of youth and
apparently in high health strong in voice and patience
and resigned to his fate at eleven o’clock in the morn
ing, at five that evening was dead without seeing his
wife who was traveling to get to him. Poor young man
the city he did so much to save mourned him sincerely

Confederate first lady Varina Howell Davis to her
mother, Margaret Kempe Howell, May 22, 1864

Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, so memorable for his twinkling blue eyes, his roguish sense of humor, his famous plumed hat, and his remarkable leadership skills as the commander of the Cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia, was only thirty-one when he died. Stuart, like so many others who fought in that war, could not escape feeling a sense of mortality. Several lines from a letter dated March 2, 1862, that he wrote to his wife, Flora, speak to his dedication as a soldier and to the uncertainty of the future. “I, for one, though I stood alone in the Confederacy, without countenance or aid, would uphold the banner of Southern Independence as long as I had a hand left to grasp the staff, and then die before submitting … Tell my boy when I am gone how I felt and wrote and tell him … never to forget the principles for which his father struggled.”

The young general was fatally wounded at the Battle of Yellow Tavern, north of Richmond, in May 1864, joining thousands of others as martyrs of the South. Stuart was thus transformed into a representative of all the proud, resourceful young men of the South who had died in battle. Confederate president Jefferson Davis visited J.E.B. on his deathbed in Richmond on May 12, 1864. Davis realized that he was losing one . . .

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