Born in Christian (now Todd) County, Kentucky , on June 3, 1808, he grew up in Mississippi as the youngest of ten. He spent two grueling years as the only Protestant in an all Roman Catholic boarding school. After this, he moved on to Transylvania University. In 1824, Davis went to West Point and graduated in 1828, 23rd out of 32, with over 327 demerits on his record. Davis served at several frontier posts, and in the Black Hawk War, but resigned in 1835.
Davis married in 1835, but contracted malaria, and lost his wife only three months after marriage. Riddled with misery, he moved to a small plantation in Mississippi, near his brother's. For ten years he managed this plantation with a few slaves. In 1845, he married Virginia Howell, 18 years younger than he. The next year he was given command of the 1st Mississippi Rifles, a volunteer group from the area in the Mexican War. After the war, he was elected as a democrat to the U.S. Senate in 1847. In 1851 he resigned from the Senate to make an unsuccessful run for governorship. He returned to the senate in 1853 where he remained until 1857, as a spokesman for slavery and states rights.
He was hoping to retain control of the entire southern army, but was inaugurated as President on February 18, 1861. Disputed is the intelligence of the decision of Davis as a Presidential leader. He neglected to delegate authority in the least, and kept close and loyal friends in position of office despite obvious proof of negligence and disability. He neglected the civil authority of government, and concentrated deeply on the military aspects.
In April 1865, as the Confederacy was collapsing, Davis fled from Richmond, Virginia, hoping to continue the war from the Deep South or from west of the Mississippi, or to organize a government in exile. On May 10th, he was captured by Federal cavalrymen in southern Georgia. For 2 years he was held in prison and threatened with trial for treason. His suffering during his imprisonment won him the affection of the Southern people, who came to regard him as a martyr to their lost cause. Although indicted, Davis was never brought to trial, and he was released on bond in 1867. His subsequent ventures into business were unsuccessful. Believing that he had done nothing to be pardoned for, he refused to seek a pardon and remained ineligible for public office. Davis retired to Behavior, Mississippi, an estate that he inherited from a generous family friend, and devoted himself to writing in defense of the South in general and himself in particular. His Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government was published in 1881. Davis died on December 6, 1889, in New Orleans.
Bibliography: Ballard, M. B., Long Shadow: Jefferson Davis and the Final Days of the Confederacy (1986); Burke, D., The Long Surrender (1989); Catton, William and Bruce, Two Roads to Sumter (1963; repr. 1971); Davis, Burke, The Long Surrender (1989); Davis, Jefferson, The Papers of Jefferson Davis, 6 vols. (1971-89); Davis, W. C., Jefferson Davis (1991); Eaton, Clement, Jefferson Davis, the Sphinx of the Confederacy (1977); McElroy, Robert, Jefferson Davis: The Unreal and the Real, 2 vols. (1937; repr. 1969); Patrick, Robert, Jefferson Davis and His Cabinet (1944; repr. 1976); Rowland, Dunbar, ed., Jefferson Davis, Constitutionalist: His Letters, Papers, and Speeches, 10 vols. (1923); Strode, Hudson, Jefferson Davis, 3 vols. (1955-64); Vandiver, Frank E., Jefferson Davis and the Confederate State (1964); Woodworth, S. E., Jefferson Davis and His Generals (1990).