The Papers of Jefferson Davis
 
The Papers of Jefferson Davis

Photograph by Columbus W. Motes, c1886 National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Insitution

 

 

Jefferson Davis' Speech at Vicksburg


[November 10, 1846]

Friends and Countrymen: Whatever may be considered the value of the services I have been enable to render, I feel they are now more--far more than rewarded by the approbation extended so generously by my fellow-citizens. I feel, too, that not so much to my own services, as to those of the gallant men it has been my pride and good fortune to lead to battle, this warm gushing of approval is tendered. It shall be my grateful duty to convey to these glorious spirits the approval you have expressed--to convey to them the only reward for which the Mississippi Volunteers took arms--the thanks and smiles of their State and countrymen.

It has been the high fortune of the Mississippi Regiment to add by their valor and conduct at Monter[r]ey, another chaplet to the honor of the chivalry of our State. It has not been done without sacrifices, labors, privations, and dangers. A few months ago you saw a band of patriots leave your shores--exulting in hope and youth and looking forward to laurels and victory. Few in that band of enthusiastic volunteers knew what were the stern realities of military life; and at the very threshhold of the service upon which they entered, detention, disappointment, and harships attended them.

When they landed on the inhospitable shores of their future field of operations they did so but to encounter yet severer trials. Young men reared to ease and the refinement of life had suddenly to enter upon the forbidding and homely duties of the Soldier. Added to this, sickness in its most relaxing form did its dreadful work; and often--often did I see the high hopes almost ready to yield--the proud spirit almost discouraged by the delays and idleness and disease that unnerved them. How painful was my situation at that time! I saw the men who had trusted themselves to my care in the generous confidence that I could serve them, fretted by delays--wasted by sickness- -galled by seeing regiment after regiment pass before them to that front to which they aspired; and I was forbid by the very confidence given me to tell them that notwithstanding all, when the time of trial came, theirs should be the foremost post of honor. I could not tell them this, and was forced to see their growing disgust and despair. But not for a single moment in all these trials did I fail to see the evidences--did I lose the firm conviction--that when danger arose and the time for action came, the ardor and valor, dimmed but not quenched, would flame up anew--and the chivalry and bravery of the Mississippians be gloriously vindicated!

We spent the time of our delays in the discipline that was to fit us for the front position we intended to claim. And without arrogating undue credit, let me say that this time was not fruitlessly wasted, as the result soon showed. We became known as the best drilled Regiment in the volunteer army. And, when at Camargo the line of march was formed, and our regiment was at last put in the proud leading position to which we intended to assert our right, it was asked how we came to be put in this advanced position in preference to others who had moved before us, I answered, irritatingly, but yet truthfully-- "Their merits place the Mississippi Regiment in front."

It is not my purpose to weary you with the details of the actions in which our regiment bore so distingued a part at Monterey, nor would have time to notice all that should be noticed were I to undertake it. I can only in brief allude to some of the conduct that marked our corps, and have won them the admiration of the army and country.

It has been said that volunteers were adequate indeed to one impulsive charge, but after the noise and confusion of actual battle, would forget their discipline and could no longer be controlled by their officers. In front of the first fort taken at Monterey, I disproved this fallacy; and I must be excused for mentioning it with the pride I feel. When our forces were advancing under the deadly fire of the Forts--when the havoc of battle raged hottest and fiercest--when the dying and the dead lay around us, and balls were hissing through our ranks at every step, I saw an opening allowed by a movement of the regiments in our neighborhood, and determined to seize the opportunity to place the Mississippians at once in the post of most efficient action. By a manoeuvre and a flank movement by companies which I shall not attempt to explain, we could take the place desired. The words of command were given and reechoed. The trial movement had come. With anxiety, yet with confidence, I watched the result. Coolly, silently, firmly and bravely that regiment of volunteer Mississippians went through the complicated evolution, in the midst of the roar of cannon and the crashing of death-shots around them, with the self command of veterans and as quietly and perfectly as if on a peaceful parade field!

Others, who have been more successful in writing their valor on paper with a pen, than on the bodies of our enemies with lead and steel, may have beaten the Mississippians in blazoning their deeds to the country. But of one thing we can boast; none of them beat the Mississippians in storming the enemy's ramparts; and we shall be content that deliberate, and sometimes slowmoving truth, shall travel behind these impetuous rumors, and finally set all things right.

It is true, we have not so many reported killed and wounded as others. The reason is that we were so far in advance that the enemy's shot, aimed at the body of the army, passed over our heads. A true reckless soldier in our regiment whom we all know remarked in the midst of the fight, that with plenty of powder he could never get out of ammunition--he could hold up his cap, and catch it full of bullets in a minute.

After we had taken this front position covering the fort, the sharp crack of our rifles within point blank distance, soon made it no holiday work for the Mexicans to stand to their guns. Their fire grew slack, and a panic and dread of our deadly aim were evidently coming over them. The favorable moment was seen; and tho' without bayonets--without any expectation of so doing when we entered on the attack--I determined on a charge. I looked on the right and left to see who of our boys were ready to follow, and gave the word. At the very moment, our brave Lieut. Colonel, the glorious McClung-with the quick decision and military judgment that mark him made by heaven for the soldier--also came to the same conclusion. Without hearing, as I have been assured, the word given by me at the other end of the line, he gave the same order to those around him, and taking advantage of the authority he held over the Tombigbee Volunteers on account of having once commanded them as Captain, he called particularly upon them, and dashed forward in the impetuous race for victory. The advance was now a mere question of speed. The Mexicans--poor fellows--did not stay to look--did not remain to raise the question whether we had bayonets or not--but rushed pell mell out of the fort; and the game form of our Lieut. Colonel, standing upon the ramparts, and waving his sword in triumph, proclaimed the victory.

The first fort being taken, the second was stormed in much the same way; though here the brave McClung received the wound we so long feared would prove mortal. The third fort was now before us, and the object of our aim. From house to house, in the intervening space, our gallant riflemen fought their way. The sharp, angry crack of their arms made no idle report, and many a Mexicans fell from his station when our Mississippi aim was taken. We were in the full tide of success, sanguine of victory and the conquest of the fort, when to our chagrin and mortification the order to retire reached us, and we were forced to abandon our pursuit.

I will not undertake to recount the trying hardships of the following night, when our men were left to guard the forts already taken.--We had every reason to anticipate an attack.--Signals were fired by the enemy in the city.--Rockets were sent up at intervals, evidently concerting for some movement at a certain hour; and in this state of expectation we were forced to keep awake and under arms the whole night. Such fatigues were enough to weary the hardiest veterans, but our boys bore all without a murmer, and only seemed eager for a renewal of the conflict; and in the morning, when, from some experience in field works, I observed that the enemy were evacuating the fort we had before approached, and the order was given for its attack; they rushed forward with the same impetuosity as before, and were mortified to find that no enemy staid to receive them, and that it was a bloodless conquest.

Nor will I undertake to detail all the incidents of the conflicts in the streets, and the heroic advance made into the very heart of danger. Through the whole of the fighting, and in all their movements, our men conducted themselves with the skill and courage of veterans, and have wholly silenced all doubts as to the efficiency of volunteers. In the scattering demonstrations of the last day's fighting, it was necessary for each man to act as his own leader, and in every moment did our volunteers evince a skill and coolness that showed nearly each himself fitted for command. In the fighting through the streets our men distinguished themselves scarcely less than in the first day's charge upon the forts; and be it remembered, that before the capitulation the Mississippi soldiers were the only ones who had looked into the Grand Plaza.

The result of the campaign, this far, of the Mississippi Volunteers, is to me the more gratifying that it verifies an opinion I have always entertained, that for incurring hardships with an unflinching will--meeting danger with a spirit that holds death in contempt--and even for enduring the drudgery of bodily fatigue and exposure--the best soldiers are gentlemen. They it is who have a high spirit of honor--a noble emulation for approval to sustain them; and with that spirit the immortal mind asserts its power, bides the toil and suffers without fatigue, mocks the danger and death, and relinquishes exertion and advance, only with life itself. To such a band of spirits in our Mississippi Volunteers I shall bear from you, my friends, the meed for which they have bled and endured; and the hour when I shall lay before them the testimony of the approval their country awards them will be the proudest and happiest of my life.
 

From The Papers of Jefferson Davis, Volume 3, pp. 79-84. Transcribed from the Holly Springs (Miss.) Gazette, December 12, 1846.

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