Fortress Monroe Va
Aug. 21, 1865
My Dear Wife, I am now permitted to write to you, under two conditions viz: that I
confine myself to family matters, and that my letter shall be examined by the U. S. Atty. Genl.
[James Speed, Attorney General since Dec., 1864] before it is sent to you.
This will sufficiently explain to you the omission of subjects on which you would desire
me to write. I presume it is however permissible for me to relieve your disappointment in regard
to my silence on the subject of future action towards me, by stating that of the purpose of the
authorities I know nothing.
To morrow it will be three months since we were suddenly and unexpectedly separated,
and many causes prominent among which has been my anxiety for you and our children have
made that quarter in seeming duration long, very long. I sought permission to write to you that I
might make some suggestions as to your movements and as to domestic arrangements. The first
and most important point has in the mean time been so far decided by the journey of the older
children that until a key is furnished to open what is now to me unintelligible I can only speak in
very general terms, in regard to your future movements. It is to be inferred that you have decided
and I think wisely not to return to our old home [Brierfield], at least in the present disturbed
condition of society. Thus you have the world before you but not where to choose, as the loss of
our property will require the selection to be, with a view to subsistence. Should I regain my
liberty before our “people” have become vagrant there are many of them whose labor I could
direct so as to make it not wholly unprofitable. Their good faith under many trials, and the
mutual affection between them and myself make [me (Intl.)] always solicitous for their welfare and probably keeps them expectant of my coming. Should my fate be not to return to that country you can best be advised by Brother Jos: [Joseph Emory Davis (1784-1870), the sole surviving brother, out of four] as to what and how [it should be attempted, if any thing may be done (Intl.)] Always understand however that I do not mean that you should attempt in person to do any thing in the matter. I often think of “old Uncle Bob” and always with painful anxiety. If Sam. has rejoined him he will do all in his power for the old man’s comfort and safety.
The Smith land had better be returned to the heirs. No deed was made and the payments were for moveable [effects (Intl. above cancelled "property")] and for interest; their right to the [land which alone remains (Intl. above another cancelled "property" and "is")] therefore clearly [revives (Intl. above a cancelled "and")]. Since I am now unable [to make the payment which is I believe due, and shall be unable (Intl.)] to fulfil[l] the engagements hereafter to mature; therefore the sooner the case is disposed of the better. Please write to my Brother for me in such terms as you can well understand I would use if allowed to write to him myself.
In like manner please write to my Sisters [three, out of five, are surviving]. I asked Jeff.
V. [Papers of JD 12:18 n. 11 identifies as Jefferson Davis Van Benthuysen, nephew of Eliza
(Mrs. J. E.) Davis] when he & I parted, to join you as soon as he could and to remain with you;
he could render you much assistance as well by his intelligence as his discretion: Have you heard from him? The servant reported by the newspapers to be with the children in New York, is I suppose Robert, indeed so hope.
Ellen [a servant] came ashore, and it must have embarrassed you greatly under the
circumstances to lose her before you could get another. Jim. [another servant] reported here that
he knew where we had buried a large sum of gold at or near Macon [Georgia]. This I heard after
he had gone and in such manner as created the impression that he had gone on the
same ship with you. The ready conclusion was that he had returned with assurances of zeal and
fidelity [to you and expecting (Intl.)] to find an opportunity [an extra “to” is cancelled] to
rob your trunks. [here an “and” is cancelled, the period and capitol “T” are added]. This greatly
disturbed me until I found that he had gone by way of Raleigh [North Carolina]. Then
remembering his complaint that he was not [to be (Intl.)] furnished with transportation from
here; another explanation of his fiction was afforded more creditable at least to his cunning. I
have the prayer book [BCP] you sent, but the memorandum placed in it was witheld [sic]. The
suit of dark grey clothes has also been received. It was like you in moments of such discomfort
and annoyance as th[ose (written over an erasure)] to which you were subjected, to be careful
about my contingent and future wants. Some day I hope to be able to tell you how in the long,
weary hours of my confinement, busy memory has brought many tributes to your tender and
ardent affection. The confidence in the shield of Innocence with which I tried to quiet your
apprehensions and to dry your tears at our parting, sustains me still. If your fears have proved
more prophetic than my hopes, yet do not despond-- “Tarry thou the Lord’s leisure; be strong,
and He will comfort thy heart” [Psalm 27:16, BCP]. Every day twice or oftener I repeat the
prayer of St. Chrysostom [which ends both Morning and Evening Prayer, BCP] and assemble
you all, each separately noted, on the right is Winnie [his nickname for Varina], then Polly
[daughter Margaret], Big-boy [son Jeff. Jr.], Billie [son William Howell], then L.P. [Li’l Pie or
Piecake, family names for baby Varina Anne] held by Aunty [Varina’s sister, Margaret
Howell], and sometimes, as affection numbers the line, “the Little man” [son Samuel Emory, their first child, who died in his second year] is found between his Brothers. x x x x x _ _ _ _ _.
I daily repeat the hymn I last heard you sing, “guide me [O thou great Jehovah]” etc. It is
doubly dear to me for that association. The one which follows it in our Book of common prayer [“Whene’er the angry passions rise”]is also often present to me. It is a most beautiful lesson of humility & benevolence.
I have had here fresh occasion to realize the kindness of my fellow man. To the Surgeon
and the Regtal. [Regimental (both titles written over erasures)] Chaplain I am under many
obligations. The officers of the Guard and of the Day have shown me increased consideration,
such as their orders would permit. The unjust accusations which have been made against me in
the newspapers of the day might well have created prejudices against me. I have had no
opportunity to refute [them by proof (Intl.)] nor have I sought to do so by [“such” crossed out] statements of chronological and other easily to be verified facts which I might perhaps have been [induced to make under other circumstances; (all but “to make” heavily written over erasures)] & can therefore only attribute the perceptible change to those good influences which are always at work to confound evil designs. Be not alarmed by speculative reports concerning my condition. You can rely on my fortitude, and God has given me much of resignation to His blessed [marred by ink blot] will.
If it be His pleasure to reunite us, you will I trust find that His Fatherly correction has
been sanctified to me, and that even in exile and obscurity I should be content to live [unknown,
quietly to (Intl.)] labor for the support of my family; and thus to convince those who have
misjudged me, that self seeking and ill regulated ambition are not elements of my character.
Men are apt to be verbose when they speak of themselves and suffering has a rare power
to develop selfishness; so I have wandered from the subject on which I proposed to write and
have dwelt upon a person whose company I have for some time past kept so exclusively that it
must be strange if he has not become tiresome.
Under the necessity before stated, and during our separation, you will have [temporarily
(Intl.)] to select a place of abode where you will not be wounded by unkind allusions to
myself, where you will have proper schools for the children and such social tone, moral and
intellectual, as will best conduce to their culture. As well for yourself as for them you should
endeavor to find a healthy location. To you a cold climate has been most beneficial, such also
will best serve to strengthen the constitution of the children; and though the mind may hold
mastery over the body, yet a strong frame is a great advantage to a student, and still more to him
who in the busy world is called upon to apply his knowledge. If the news gatherer has rightly
concluded that the children were on their way to Canada, I suppose it must have been under
some [intermediate (Intl. above a cancelled word)] arrangement. You will sufficiently
understand the necessity for your presence with them and you must not allow your affectionate
solicitude for me to interfere with your care for them.
It has been reported in the news papers that you had applied for permission to visit me in
my confinement; if you had been allowed to do so the visit would have caused you
disappointment at the time, and bitter memories afterwards. You would not have been allowed to
hold private conversation with me and if we are permitted to correspond freely in relation to
personal matters, not connected with public affairs, it will be a great consolation, and with it I
recommend you to be content.
Your stay in Savannah [Georgia] has been prolonged much beyond my expectation and I fear beyond your comfort. I do not know whether you are still there, but hope your whereabouts may be known at Washington and will ask that this letter may there receive the proper address.
Have the articles belonging to you personally and which were seized at the time of our
capture been restored? You are aware that I have had no opportunity to present the case, and
therefore you have had the unusual task of attending to it yourself. Money derived from the sale
of your jewelry and the horses presented to you by Gentlemen of Richmond [Virginia, the Confederate Capital] could hardly be put on the same footing with my private property, and as little could they be regarded as public property, the proper subject of capture in war. The Heads of Executive Departments accustomed to consider questions of law and of fact, would I supposed take a different view of the transaction from subaltern officers of the Army _ _ _.
You will realize the necessity of extreme caution in regard to our correspondence. The
quid nuncs if they hear you have received a letter from me will no doubt seek to extract
something for their pursuit, and your experience has taught you how little material serves to spin
Have you been sick? On the 21st of July little Maggie [daughter Margaret, also called Polly] appeared to me in a most vivid dream, warning me not to wake you etc. etc. You know how little I have been accustomed to regard like things. Here such visions have been frequent, nor have they always been without comfort.
I am reluctant to close this first letter to you after so long an interval; but am warned that
I may be abusing a privilege, as what I write is to be read by those to whom the labor will not be
relieved by the interest which will support you.
If my dear Margaret [Howell, VD’s sister] is with you give to her my tenderest love, she
always appears to me associated with little Winnie.[yet another nickname for Varina Anne, also for VD] Kiss the Baby for me, may her sunny face never be clouded, though dark the morning of her life has been.
My dear Wife, equally the centre of my love and confidence, remember how good the
Lord has always been to me, how often he has wonderfully preserved me, and put thy trust in
Farewell, may He who tempers the wind to the shorn lamb [an adage quoted by Laurence
Sterne, a favorite author of Davis’s in A Sentimental Journey (1768)] whose most glorious attribute is mercy, guide and protect and provide for my distressed family; and give to them and to me that grace which shall lead us all to final rest in the mansions [John 14:2] where there is peace that passeth understanding [Phil. 4:7; also in BCP ].
Once more farewell, Ever affectionately
Jeffn ~ .. Davis
Mrs. Varina Davis