December, 2011. Biloxy, Mississippi – Jefferson Davis and Beauvoir

Posted on December 16, 2011


When we visited Beauvoir in 2005 right after Hurricane Katrina, we were sure Jefferson Davis’ retirement home at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico was damaged beyond any hope of repair.

After being smashed in the face with a 20-foot wall of water, its future did not look good – at least, not to us.

But when we visited again last week, everything was back to better than normal.  Better, because reconstruction gave the governing board the opportunity to make some needed improvements.  For one, interior paint schemes were returned to the proper shades of the original Davis-era colors.  And, more importantly, general construction of the building was upgraded to help the home better survive the next hurricane.

Jefferson Davis bought Beauvoir in 1879 and lived there until his death in New Orleans in 1889. The property originally consisted of over 600 acres with a Louisiana raised cottage-style plantation house.

His widow, Varina, sold part of the property, including the house, to the Mississippi Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in 1903, with the stipulation it be used as a home for veterans and their widows.  The property served that purpose until 1957.

Davis was an interesting man.

Mostly associated with the Civil War and his role as the President of the Confederate States of America, there are other reasons he should be remembered.  Most of his life accomplishments must have given him a sense of satisfaction, but one…maybe not.

A graduate of West Point, Jefferson Davis commanded the “Mississippi Rifles” in the Mexican War. He served as a U. S. Representative and U. S. Senator from Mississippi, but always considered himself first and foremost a soldier.

He was appointed Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce in 1853, and it was in this role that he first made a name for himself.  Ironically, however, part of the changes he instigated while in this position did not work out so well for his beloved South.

According to our tour guide at Beauvoir, Davis studied engineering at West Point, which would account for the fact that as Secretary of War he also supervised the enlarging of the U. S. Capital, directed railroad surveys, and oversaw construction of a water viaduct in Washington, D. C.

He also called upon his military background to work toward strengthening the U. S. Army through improved training methods and by establishing the first medical corps.

And, in 1855, he successfully pushed for the adoption of the rifle-musket and minie bullet as standard issue for the U. S. Army Infantry,

Six years later, of course, Northern soldiers in the Civil War were outfitted with an improved version of this same weapon – the 1861 model built by the federal armory in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Historians agree the deadly effectiveness of the Springfield rifle loaded with a minie bullet was largely to blame for the Civil War’s appalling casualty rates.

Various sources claim that during the nearly 10,500 skirmishes and battles of the war, more than 110,000 Federal soldiers and 94,000 Confederates were killed, and an additional 275,000 and 194,000, respectively, were wounded.  The minie ball, as well as other less-used rifle bullets, caused 90 percent of all these casualties.

Jefferson Davis did not want to be President of the Confederate States.  He wanted instead to command its military forces.

Would Davis in command have made a difference in the outcome of the Civil War?

Probably not, but it’s an interesting thing to think about.