Golden Thread Interview: Longstreet says the trouble with Jeff Davis was "his meddling with military affairs"

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lelliott19

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Failure due to Davis.JPG

On the occasion of Longstreet's visit to Antietam in 1893, a correspondent of the Washington Post recorded the General's opinions on a number of topics. In this, the closing section of the interview, General Longstreet opines on "the trouble with" Jefferson Davis.

"Do you think, General Longstreet, that the Southern cause would have been successful if the administration had been in hands other than those of Mr. Davis?" I asked.

"I haven't a shadow of a doubt that the South would have achieved its independence under Howell Cobb, of Georgia, who was a statesman pure and simple. There were others, perhaps, equally good.

"The trouble with Mr. Davis was his meddling with military affairs: his vanity made him believe that he was a great military genius; that his proper place was at the head of an army, and not in the executive department. He was also jealous of the success of others, especially military leaders. It is not generally known, but it is nevertheless a fact, that he was secretly jealous of Lee; that their relations were strained, and that Lee was always on his guard in dealing with the President. The world knows that the President's attitude toward Johnston and Beauregard was that of suspicion, opposition, and obstruction. He did not venture to antagonize Lee ---that officer's prestige was too great; besides there was no other arm on which to lean. He did not like Stonewall Jackson and called him cranky."​

Interview: Reprinted from the Washington Post of June 1893, the interview appeared in The Times Dispatch. (Richmond, VA.), November 12, 1911, page 3.
Image: wiki/Jefferson_Davis

Note: This post is Part 22 of a series on Longstreet's opinions of various Generals and individuals, expressed during an 1893 interview with a Washington Post corespondent. Longstreet's opinions on various individuals are posted in separate threads so they can be easily located - Bragg, Jackson, A P Hill, Early, Ewell, Pickett, Sheridan, Joe Johnston, Beauregard, Hood, Jeff Davis, Lee, Meade, McClellan, and more. Here are the links to Parts 1-21, posted previously:
Part 1 - Intro to the article
Part 2 - Longstreet on Bragg
Part 3 - Longstreet on Jackson
Part 4 - Longstreet on AP Hill
Part 5 - Longstreet on Ewell & Early
Part 6 - Longstreet on Pickett, Sheridan, Five Forks & the Timing of the Surrender
Part 7 - Longstreet on Joe Johnston
Part 8 - Longstreet on Beauregard
Part 9 - Longstreet on Hood
Part 10 - Longstreet on Lee's military attributes
Part 11 - Lee's Best Battle
Part 12 - Lee's Poorest Generalship
Part 13 - Lee's greatest weakness as tactical commander
Part 14 - Lee's tactical weakness at Gettysburg
Part 15 - Meade's Lost Opportunity
Part 16 - Gettysburg Controversies
Part 17 - Post-Gettysburg Relationship with Lee
Part 18 - Lee's Dangerous Confidence
Part 19 - Longstreet on McClellan Part 1
Part 20 - Longstreet on McClellan Part 2
Part 21 - Three Lucky Shots at Antietam

<Up next - Longstreet has more to say about Jeff Davis -to be continued in three more installments of this series.>
@Eleanor Rose @Union_Buff @FarawayFriend @War Horse @novushomus @GELongstreet @LeesWarhorse @Tom Elmore @Coonewah Creek @Yankeedave @Andy Cardinal @PeterT @Zella If you aren't tagged and would like to receive notification when these are posted, let me know and Ill tag you in future ones.
 
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wausaubob

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Longstreet's comment suggests that at the end, General Lee was waiting for the army and so called President Davis to separate, so that Davis could not fire Lee and order a widespread guerilla war.
 
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Carronade

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"I haven't a shadow of a doubt that the South would have achieved its independence under Howell Cobb
That's a bit much!! It wouldn't be so bad if he opined that the South would have had a better chance of winning under Cobb or someone else, but what Longstreet is saying - absolutely - is that Davis was the one thing that caused them to lose, never mind every other factor.
 

Eleanor Rose

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Well I'm no fan of Howell Cobb. He has a fairly impressive resume, but he would have mightily clashed with Robert E. Lee. Cobb greatly opposed Lee's proposal to enlist slaves into the Confederate Army saying, "You cannot make soldiers of slaves, or slaves of soldiers. The day you make a soldier of them is the beginning of the end of the Revolution. And if slaves seem good soldiers, then our whole theory of slavery is wrong." The whole theory of slavery was wrong!

Robert E. Lee was painstakingly loyal to Jefferson Davis. Many generals before him had not been. Lee respected the idea of civilian control over the Army and the civilian who controlled it. However, based on what I have read about Jefferson Davis, I can easily believe he would have been jealous of Lee. Davis could be quite petty.
 

Ole Miss

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I seriously wonder if any one person could have lead the Confederacy to victory. The issue of State's Rights ensured that a sound and strong central government could be established. Much is made of the difficulty that officers encountered training and discipling the average citizen soldier but Davis had to work with so many prima donnas with inflated self values and egos! When we add Davis' own self inflated opinion and views to the mixture it turns out to be nuclear!

Robert E. Lee could not have a better job than Davis which leads to the ultimate question. Could any man have lead the South to victory? Don't think so.
Regards
David
 
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matthew mckeon

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Did Davis meddle enough? He had R.E.Lee to defend the CSA's northeast front, left him to do that, and overall that was good. Where did he intervene decisively in the West? He couldn't get Joe Johnson to react to Vicksburg effectively, he couldn't settle the hash of the Army of Tennessee discontent under Bragg and various backbiting corps commanders. He finally replaced Johnson with Hood, but Hood went off(or stayed off) the rails, and Davis didn't exercise much control over him.
 
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matthew mckeon

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Maybe he wasn't a great judge of character. Johnson and Beauregard had real gifts as commanders and he feuded with them. Albert S. Johnson was Davis's idol, but let's face it, he wasn't that great. Bragg was kept in command despite his lack of success until Chattanooga.
 

matthew mckeon

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Longstreet mentions Lee "being on guard" with Davis. I suggest that Lee, whose gifts included emotional intelligence, managed Davis effectively. As he managed Longstreet, for that matter.

Lee: his real victory was keeping all his generals pointed at the enemy, most of the time.
 
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wausaubob

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Longstreet is speaking about personalities, which I suppose provides good copy. However the Confederates had a very serious problem in trying to turn white southerners from the western areas into disciplined soldiers. The degree of personal autonomy among western southerners was a severe handicap. Indeed in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri, many of those southerners were living in a frontier society that prized self-reliance and autonomy.
As the war progressed in the west, many of those southern men went home to defend their homes.
These comments are consistent with the history that ignores that the core western army for the US won campaigns in Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina and ended up marching all the way to Washington, D.C.
The Confederacy had no equivalent army and lacked a navy. Personalities would not have changed things.
 

Eleanor Rose

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That's the trouble with losing, there's a hunt for scapegoats.
General Longstreet knew that quite well. Even today some members of CWT refer to him as a "lying sack." :giggle:

Longstreet is speaking about personalities, which I suppose provides good copy.
Jefferson Davis dealt with a lot of criticism and disrespect from his fellow Southerners during the war. Many viewed him the same way General Longstreet did. Though he had been a hero in the Mexican War, he faced many challenges as the leader of the Confederacy. “Davis was roundly criticized throughout the war by politicians, military officers, governors, the press, and the public at large.” Southerners felt he favored old friends, refused to delegate responsibility and ignored public opinion. After some time, “many (Southerners) learned to dislike and even hate him.”

I seriously wonder if any one person could have lead the Confederacy to victory.
I think a case could be made that Davis’ struggles interpersonally and the Confederacy’s losses were related. His generals (not just Longstreet) complained about his leadership techniques, his decisions, his “poor ‘people skills,’ his inflexible convictions and his unwillingness to compromise.” The South needed and wanted a leader it could rally around and Davis was not that leader. I'm not sure anyone could have been.

In hindsight it seems clear that the South stood very little chance of victory from the start. However, at the time, I think Southerners felt the war effort was slipping away from them and many blamed Jefferson Davis.



Source: Collins, Donald E. The Death and Resurrection of Jefferson Davis. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005.
 
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Eleanor Rose

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Jefferson Davis endeared himself with his memoir, “The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government,” in which he described his justifications for the Civil War. He compared Southern secession to the American Revolution. His Southern spirit inspired Southerners to revere him in ways they never did during his time as the Confederacy’s President. He became their champion of the Lost Cause.


Source: Strawbridge, Wilm K. “A Monument Better Than Marble: Jefferson Davis and the New South.” Journal of Mississippi History, December 2007, 325-47.
 
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