Spotlight: Jefferson Davis

Published:April 27, 2009 by Brendan Wolfe

Our Jefferson Davis entry has been published on the site. I like this bit of drama from Davis’s early career:

Davis missed the Black Hawk War (1832) due to illness—Lincoln, however, battled the Sac and Fox tribes as a member of the Illinois militia—but returned in time to escort the Indian chief into captivity. (Davis “treated us all with much kindness,” Black Hawk recalled in his autobiography.) He also returned in time to meet the daughter of his commanding officer, Virginia native and future U.S. president Zachary Taylor. Against Taylor’s objections, Davis and Sarah Knox Taylor married in 1835, but she died of malaria a few months later.

Zachary Taylor, to his credit, had a famous change of heart about Davis. The latter served under the former (awkward!) during the Mexican War. At the Battle of Buena Vista in 1847,

Davis was wounded and won national acclaim for helping to repulse a charge by Mexican lances. “My daughter, sir, was a better judge of men than I was,” General Taylor reportedly told him, and later that year the governor of Mississippi selected Davis to fill a vacant seat in the U.S. Senate.

In the meantime, it’s fair to ask: why should Encyclopedia Virginia publish thousands of words on a Mississippian born in Kentucky? We believe that in order to understand Virginia during the Civil War, in order, for instance, to understand the actions of generals Robert E. Lee (Davis’s friend) or Joseph E. Johnston (Davis’s foe), one needs to understand Davis himself. This entry is a good place to start.