Jefferson Davis' Speech at Wilmington, N.C.
November 5, 1863
The President in reply returned his thanks to the people of Wilmington and to Mr. [William A.] Wright as their organ, for the cordial welcome they had given him. He was proud to be welcomed by such an enthusiastic concourse of North Carolinians to the soil of the ancient and honored town of Wilmington. He hoped that Wilmington, although frequently menaced, might be forever free from the tread of an invading foe. He knew well the importance of her harbor, now the only one through which foreign trade was carried on, and he trusted that the valor of her people, assisted by the means which the government would send to her defence would be fully adequate for that purpose. He had given for the defence of Wilmington one of the best soldiers in the Confederate army--one whom he had seen tried in battle and who had risen higher and higher as dangers accumulated around him. What other means the government could command had been sent here, and in case of attack such additions would be made to the garrison in men and arms as would, he believed, enable Wilmington to repulse the foe, however he might come, by land or by sea.
The President urged upon all their duty to do a full part in the present great struggle, the issues of which were on the one hand freedom, independence, prosperity--on the other hand, subjugation, degredation and absolute ruin.--The man who could bear arms should do so. The man who could not bear arms, but had wealth, should devote it freely to the support of the soldiers and to taking care of their widows and orphans. Those who for the necessities of civil of government, or for the carrying on of industrial pursuits deemed essential to the country, were exempt from the general service, were still bound to take part in the local defence; even the old man who was unable to bear arms, must, in the course of long years have acquired an influence, which should be exerted to arouse those in his neighbourhood to fresh zeal and renewed exertions in support of the cause in which all are so deeply interested. If we were unanimous, if all did their duty manfully, bravely disinterestedly, then our subjugation would be impossible; but if, neglecting the interests of the country, and only anxious to heap up sordid gain, each man attended only to his own private interests, then would it be found that such gains were accumulated only to fall into the hands of the plundering Yankees. The soldier who had fought bravely for his country, although he could leave his children no other fortune, would leave them rich in an inheritance of honor, while the wealth gathered and heaped up in the spirit of Shylock, in the midst of a bleeding country, would go down with a branding and a curse.
Since the President had last passed through Wilmington he had travelled far and visited many portions of the country, and in some he had found ruin and devastation marking the track of the vandal foe. Blackened chimneys alone remained to mark the spot where happy homes once stood, and smouldering ashes replaced the roofs that had sheltered the widow and the orphan. Wherever the invader had passed the last spark of Union feeling had been extinguished, and the people of the districts which the Yankees had supposed subjugated were the warmest and most devoted friends of the Confederacy.
He had visited the army of the West, had gone over the bloody battle field of Chickamauga, and a survey of the ground had heightened his admiration for that valor and devotion, which, with inferior numbers, had overcome difficulties so formidable, and after two days' fighting had achieved a glorious victory, the routed foe only finding shelter under the cover of night.
He had visited Charleston, where the thunder of the enemy's guns is heard day and night hurling their fiercest fire against Sumter, and still the grand old fortress stands grim, dark and silent, bidding defiance to the utmost efforts of the foe. He had visited the other points about Charleston, and had found the spirit of the people and of the troops alike resolute and determined. The Yankees were anxious to crush what they called the nest of the rebellion. He believed that it would stand, spite of their utmost efforts for its capture. It had his best prayers for its safety. God bless the noble old city!
The President said that in North Carolina, as elsewhere, the contact of the Yankees had thoroughly extinguished every spark of Union feeling wherever they had come. The Eastern portion of the State which had suffered most from the enemy was perhaps the most loyal and devoted portion of the whole State; and North Carolina as a State had not been behind any other in the number of troops she had given to the armies of the Confederacy. In every field, from great Bethel, the first, to Chickamauga, the last, the blood of North Carolinians had been shed and their valor illustrated, and if she had fewer trumpeters than some others to sound her fame, the list of killed and wounded from every battle-field attested her devotion and bore witness to her sacrifices. North Carolina might well be proud of her soldiers in the armies of the Confederacy.
We are all engaged in the same cause. We must all make sacrifices. We must use forbearance with each other.--We are all liable to err. Your Generals may commit mistakes; your President may commit mistakes; you yourselves may commit mistakes. This is human and for this proper allowance must be made. We must cultivate harmony, unanimity, concert of action. We must, said the President, beware of croakers--beware of the man who would instil the poison of division and disaffection because this section or that section had not got its full share of the spoils and the plunder, the honors and the emoluments of office. Did we go into this war for offices or for plunder?--did we expect to make money by it? If so, then he and others, who, like him, had lost all--had seen the product of years swept away, had been woefully mistaken. But we had not gone into this war from any such ignoble motives, and no such narrow considerations ought to control appointments. Merit and merit alone should be the criterion. And merit hadbeen found, and North Carolinians had received and now held a full proportion of the high positions in the army. He here alluded to General Bragg, a native son of North Carolina.
If, there were those who yielded to despondency, who despaired of the Republic, who were willing to submit to degredation, they were not to be found in the ranks of the army, where all was confidence and determination. Those who complained most, were those who had made the fewest sacrifices, not the soldiers who had made the most.
In the changing fortunes of war, we may for a time be driven back, but with a resolute purpose and united effort we would regain all that we had lost, and accomplish all that we had proposed. Freed from the shackless imposed upon us by our uncongenial association with a people who had proved themselves to be ten times worse than even he had supposed them to be, the Confederate States would spring forward in a career of happiness and prosperity surpassing the dreams of the most sanguine.
The President again returned thanks for his kind and enthusiastic reception, and withdrew.
From The Papers of Jefferson Davis, Volume 10, pp. 48-54. Transcribed from the Wilmington (N.C.) Journal, Nov. 6, 1863.