The Papers of Jefferson Davis
The Papers of Jefferson Davis

Watercolor on ivory by George L. Saunders 1840s National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution


Jefferson Davis to William Preston Johnston

S. S. Adriatic  13th June 1874

My dear Friend

Your letter of the 8th of May was received on the 3d Inst. and I immediately wrote several letters to be sent on the Steamer of the next day to New York.  At that time my purpose was to sail for New Orleans, but the Steamer on which I was to go, postponed her departure and as it was too late in the season for delay, I took the Steamer for New York on which the letters were to be sent.  To morrow we shall probably reach N. Y. and thence I intend to go immediately to Memphis to join my family and remove them to some cooler and more healthy place.  The point to which we will go is yet to be fixed after consultation with Mrs. Davis.

I am disappointed in the course of Gov. Graham and hope Hunter will truthfully state the denial made by Gov. Orr that they were conferring with me on the part of the Senate.  The excuse is paltry, because I did not ask of Gov. Graham a statement as to what occurred in the secret session of the Senate, but only as to what occurred in the interview with myself.  He is probably afraid of his responsibility in the premises; & so discloses the treasonable workings in the Senate in an opposition to the Executive which it was not thought prudent to expose to public view.

It is sickening to witness the concealment by the trusted agents of the Confederacy of the facts needful for the vindication of its history.  I will think further of this Graham case and in the mean time will be glad to have your opinion as to what is the next step to be taken in regard to it.

I have not seen the book of J. E. Johnston, though I have seen an extract in regard to what he calls an “unsent Message”.  He wrote to me when I was in Canada for a copy of a message or circular letter criticising his conduct.  I do not know whether he has inserted the correspondence, if he has it speaks for itself.  Barksdale had a copy of the Phelan Letter, and refused to give it up.  One reason for doing so was that at that time the prosecution was seeking evidence to establish against me overt acts to sustain the indictment for treason.  Genls. Cooper, Lee and others were examined in the search for such information.  The statement made by me was mild compared to that which the facts warranted, and it might not be disadvantageous to let him try to refute the the allegations, if he chooses to attempt it, and then to make a fuller and more specific arraignment.

Genl. Gorgas can give us I suppose all the facts in regard to the retreat from Harper’s Ferry, leaving the workmen unprotected who were getting out the machinery & material.  Hon. L. Q. C. Lamar now in Congress, gave me as detailed to him by Genl Johnston a very different account of that letter which Jn. says rendered me hostile to him.  Perhaps he /Lamar/ recollects the story as he told it to me.  Genl. Cooper will in general terms recollect my efforts to get Johnston to move to join Beauregard at Manassas.  I have some doubt as to how I am to deal with Johnston’s suppressions and misrepresentations.  Is it well to dignify him by a direct answer, and can he be as well answered otherwise, as for instance by the incidental notice in the proposed memoir, which would naturally occur.

Not having seen the book I cannot judge as well as yourself of the policy of publishing the Phelan letter at this time, but as it must be published at some time I do not see any harm in the publication you suggest, especially as the manner in which you got it shows how baseless is his assertion that it was being circulated by my friends for his injury.

It would be more reasonable to accuse him of asking for the letter to aid the prosecution against me.  A General who in our War was most anxious about his own rank, and most careful about his own record, must stand condemned of a want of zeal for the cause he served.  How unlike in that respect to Cooper, Sidney Johnston and R. E. Lee.

Pemberton can make an awful record against J. if he can get at the orders and letters sent to J. and group them with events in the field and consequences as Pemberton knows them.  Hood will as far as his own fame is concerned be earnest.  Bragg if he had leisure would give a most valuable paper.

I am pained to learn that Jeff. has run up such an amount of demerit.  Thank you for the consolation you give and trust he may try to redeem himself before the end of the Session.  He chose “the Institute” for himself.

I have used a pencil because the motion of the vessel would not permit me to use a pen as readily.  Please present me affectionately to your Wife and Children and believe me ever truly your friend

Jefferson Davis
ALS (LNT, Barret Coll.).

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The Papers of Jefferson Davis
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