DAVIS, JEFFERSON, President, C.S.A. Autograph letter signed ("JeffersDavis") to an unidentified correspondent, Briarfield, Mississippi, August [no day] 1857. 4 pages, folio, closely written on pale blue paper, many deletions and interlinear additions in the text, perhaps indicating that this is Davis's retained draft of the letter, one trifling fold tear, otherwise in very good condition.
JEFFERSON DAVIS, THE BATTLE OF BUENA VISTA AND A QUARREL WITH A GENERAL WOOL
A remarkable, extremely long letter in which Davis, who had relinquished the post of Secretary of War in March 1857, defends himself from allegations by General John E. Wool that as Secretary of War he had deliberately obstructed Wool, a hero of the Mexican War, from receiving a testimonial "sword voted to him by Congress as a token of their estimation of his services in the War with Mexico and especially in the Battle of Buena Vista." Ten years before, at the time of the battle of Buena Vista (22-23 February 1847) Colonel Davis had commanded the First Mississippi Rifles, whose courageous stand against Santa Anna turned the tide of that Battle in favor of General Zachary Taylor's outnumbered American army. (Taylor, of course, was Jefferson Davis's father-in-law.) Here Davis, responding to Wool's accusations in the press, complains of "the gross misrepresentations of my conduct and of my motives in connection with the transmission of that sword"; and asks that his letters on the subject be published "so that those may be undeceived who have known so little of me to be misled by garbled extracts and the mass of petty vituperation which personal and political malignity have uttered against me...." He had tried, he asserts, to send the sword to Wool in California, but Wool had given no instructions for its delivery. How could Wool, who already "possessed all which could gratify the pride of a high-minded soldier," suppose "that after causing the sword to be made, I should have wished to withhold it from him?...General Wool...returned from California, and visited Washington City. His sword safely boxed up lay in the War office, he could have had no difficulty in finding where it was...When, ....he wrote...to tender his 'grateful acknowledgements' to Secretary [of War John B.] Floyd...his act...was little becoming to his high rank and honorable profession....But when...he proceeds to add: 'Why Secretary Davis refused to send me the sword I have not been informed'...he indited a palpable, pitiable falsehood. Since Wool, Davis explains, "has furnished the letters which have been circulated through the newspapers to sustain the attack," he is obliged to explain the circumstances of the "note I addressed to him from Saltillo.
"After the Battle of Buena Vista had swept from the front of Genl. [Zachary] Taylor's line the mighty Army which Mexico had thrown against it; the report came...that another of the enemy's columns...had got to our rear and was advancing to attack Monterey. Genl. Taylor taking a portion of his troops, and leaving Genl. Wool in command of the camp... marched to give protection to Monterey....I was one of the wounded who were left in Saltillo, and not long after Genl. Taylor had gone, various reports came to me from the camp of Genl. Wool, that he was descrying the serices and conduct of Genl. Taylor, and claiming for himself credit for having directed the Battle of Buena Vista...." Wool visited Davis in the hospital at Saltillo, and when Davis questioned him, he "made the most explicit denial," giving Davis a copy of a letter he had written, "in which he had given to Genl. Taylor the credit which was due." This satisfied Davis, who wrote Wool to express his "gratification" at having the record corrected. "My note was not, as...it may have appeared, a tribute to merit of which I was a witness..."
In conclusion, Davis asserts that, "though I did not recognize in the conduct of Genl. Wool the skill spoken of; or find in him the qualities which enable a great Commander to see victory where inferior men can only perceive defeat and by this confidence...to roll the tide of battle back when all seems to have been lost; yet by the good service he had rendered...and by the zeal and courage he displayed in action, I thought, when the [Congressional] resolution was pending, as I still think, that he was...entitled to receive a sword from Congress...for services rendered in the War with Mexico...."
For a detailed account of the roles played by Taylor, Davis and Wool in the Battle of Buena Vista see John S.D. Eisenhower, So Far From God: The U.S. War With Mexico 1846-1848, 1989, Chapter 16. Ironically, the elderly General John E. Wool--born in 1789 and a veteran of the War of 1812--with whom Davis quarrelled so publicly, commanded the Department of the East when the Civil War broke out some four years later, successfully defended Fort Monroe in Virginia from the Confederates, later occupied Portsmouth and Norfolk, was made Major General and played an active role in the conflict until his retirement at age 74, in January 1863.