Fortress Monroe Va.
11th Oct. 1865
My dear Wife,
To day I have had the good fortune to receive yours of the 22d Ulto. being the second letter since we parted. The former one was of the 14th Ulto. and was answered on the 26th. I write as often as I can and hope the three letters heretofore sent will all reach you, as the delays consequent on the manner of transmission will permit. Though I have little cheering to communicate it is as great a pleasure to me to write to you, as it is for you to hear from me. You mustn’t allow yourself to be distressed by dwelling on my suffering when sick and deprived of the consolation of your presence. I have tried and not without success to possess my soul in patience [Luke 21:19]. A varied life has given me experience in most forms of trial. When a Cadet I lay for more than four months in Hospital [at West Point, after an accident] and rarely saw any one save when it was thought I was about to die, then some of my friends were allowed to stay with me at night. I should have more resources to sustain me now than then, and as much fortitude as when you have seen me suffer.
The report you saw of my change of quarters was not true, but that which had not then been determined has since occurred. On the second of this month I was removed to a room on the second floor of a house built for officers quarters [sic]. The dry air, good water and a fire when requisite have already improved my physical condition and with increasing strength all the disturbances due to a low vitality it is to be expected will disappear, as rapidly as has been usual with me after becoming convalescent. I am deeply indebted to my attending Physician who has been to me much more that that term usually conveys. In all my times of trouble, new evidences have been given to me of God’s merciful love and of the goodness of the human heart. This always more and more impresses me with the amount of my omitting and committing sinfulness. [sic] and the immeasureable [sic] debt of gratitude which is due to Him who gives everything to us, and only requires that we shall properly use them. From such manifestations I also desire charity for those in whom humanity is obscured by ignorance or malice. As only that which is true is permanent; on this humanity of the unbiassed heart and on that sense of justice which I believe to be general, however partial may be the perception of what is just, is based my continuing hope of the better things to come, though I may not behold them, still may I hope that they are coming.
You have no doubt observed that beautiful letter written by Ladies of Holly Springs [Mississippi] to Presdt. Johnson, on my behalf. It was the more valuable to me because I had not seen them during the war, and had not had it in my power to give any additional proof of my care for that section of country [sic]. No region suffered more, yet they have continued to feel for me as I have for them. You have I suppose also seen that the Bar of Mississippi have a committee who have tendered their services for my defence. They were not selected for political affinity, but one of them who was my consistent opponent is from our former contests only the better able to appreciate my creed and motives. I have referred to these as tokens which may relieve your anguish by showing that those for whose cause I suffer are not unworthy of the devotion of all which I had to give.
I do not know whether Brother Joe has gone to the Hurricane [his plantation adjoining JD’s at Davis Bend on Mississippi River] or not. A newspaper paragraph states that his property has been restored, though the accuracy of the description was marred by adding that he had been in the army [He never was after 1815.], yet it was still unusually near to the truth for a paragraph which included my name, to have but one misstatement connected with it. As I wrote to you his right to the comparatively little which remains [Hurricane mansion was burned and its contents destroyed.] can hardly be controverted.
By your reference to Cousin Joe. Smith [son of JD’s sister, Anna] I suppose he must have visited you. There is no one who would be more willing to serve you and few better suited by character to do so agreably [sic]. Watson [Van Benthuysen, nephew to J. E. Davis’s wife] has probably pressed his credit boldly in Tobacco purchases and thus led to the conclusion that he had grown rich. It will be fortunate for him if it does not entirely fail; though enough of luck may make him what he is reported to be. This is however merely a supposition on my part founded on his former pursuits and the facts contained in your letter. Do you know whether Mary Jane [Bradford Broadhead, daughter of JD’s sister, Amanda] has changed her residence? Is William [Howell, VD’s brother] still in Augusta? As I can write to none of the family except yourself you will understand that all which concerns them is to me unknown. “The Herald” [probably the New York one since it is cited in Papers of JD 12:38 n. 18] claims to give me regular information concerning my family, but if it did contain such news, as I only get occasionally a copy, the promise would not be fulfilled.
From the published speech of Genl. Slocum I infer the “freedmen” in Mississippi are doing better than in the state of your involuntary sojourn. See Herald of the 5th Inst.
Did Jeff leave his writing “behind”. And why don’t Polly write to you? Has Margaret gone to join the children, I agree with you that her presence is desirable especially during your absence, yet she has during my confinement been to me a dream inseparable from Pei [sic]. I cannot realize that the baby walks and talks however imperfectly. Kiss her for honoring me with the first fruit of her putting her hand to paper. You cannot hear but may feel how gratified I am by the receipt of the Photographs. Guillaume's apology does not apply, the principal figure “est sacrifieé” [sacrifiée] [G., an artist friend, says a figure put into a picture to enhance the main one, instead loses out completely (See VD to JD Sept. 22, 1865 in Papers of JD 12:28)]. But it is all in all to me. “For weel ken I my ain lassie” etc. etc. you know the rest [from a “song” by Robert Burns, a favorite poet of JD’s]. Your letter gave me the first information in regard to Mildred and her family [Mildred Lee was the youngest child of Gen. R. E. and Mary C. Lee]. Her first Brother [Custis, who had served JD as aide-d-camp during the War] is equal to any fortune, and worthy of a good one. The little I see and hear indicates that it is the policy of Presdt. Johnson to restore property in most cases to those who have been deprived of it, and I hope these will not belong to the excluded class. There is however in all such cases that consolation which an approving conscience gives, and with which any personal deprivation becomes tolerable. I have lately read the “Suffering Saviour” [“Meditations on the Last Days of Christ”] by the Revd. Dr. [F. W.]Krum[m]acher and was deeply impressed with the dignity, the sublime patience of the model of christianity [Jesus Christ] as contrasted with the brutal vindictiveness of unregenerate man; and with the similitude of the portrait given of the Jews to the fierce prosecutions which pursued the Revolutionists [in Great Britain] after the restoration of the Stuarts. One is led to ask did Sir Hy. [Henry] Vane and the Duke of Argyle [both anti-royalists; both executed] imitate the more than human virtue of our Saviour [in saying, “Father, forgive them”?] or was their conduct the inspiration of a conscience void of offence in that whereof they were accused.
I do not know personally either the officers from whom you received wanton annoyance or him by whom you were relieved, and had hoped that in this age of boasted civilization, that indignities designed to degrade a cause by making it’s agents appear as the “vilest of mankind,” [from Sophocles, Antigone] would not have been applied to my helpless and unoffending Wife. Like you however I can only pray, but my faith in the supremacy of justice assures me that they both will have their reward.
Oct. 12th I was not able, on yesterday, to obtain an envelop and therefore postponed the conclusion of my letter until this morning. If you see Mr. & Mrs. [Armistead] Burt present me to them most kindly. Also make my grateful acknowledgements to Mr. [George] Schley for his kindness to you. [He housed VD, Piecake, a nurse, and Margaret Howell for months]
Again I thank you for the Photographs. Little Winnie appears to me better in that in which she is taken with you. The photograph after [Neke?] I wear next to my heart, this is placed with it. You have changed much, that I could anticipate, but I complain of your sad expression. Be not downcast. We must meet cheerfully whatever affliction it may be God’s will we should bear. Misfortune should not depress us, as it is only crime which can degrade. Beyond this world there is a sure retreat for the oppressed; and posterity justifies the memory of those who fall unjustly. To our purblind view there is much which is wrong, but to deny that in the great scale of wordly affairs every event tends to what is right, is to question the wisdom of Providence or the existence of the mediatorial government.
I hope when you next write that you will be able to give me news of the children. How they are, where they are and what they are doing. The want of information and my extreme anxiety concerning them, unfit me to make any additional suggestions in regard to them. To the protection of our Heavenly Father I commend both them and you, praying that He will guard you all from any evil to which you may be exposed. If I were a believer in dreams my days would be spent in reviewing the visions of the night. In the broken sleep which I get, you and the children frequently visit me and generally I am happy to say with more pleasing aspect than in my wakeful reflections. Little Polly comes oftenest and usually with the gentle, thoughtful air of a woman. You have not mentioned in your letters my saintly and beloved Sister Lucinda [m. to Wm. Stamps, lived at the home place, Rosemont]. Do you hear from her? Jos. [Joseph] Smith if you saw him must have told you all about the family.
I am not allowed intercourse with Mr. Clay but see him occasionally when we walk in the open air. He is now better I think than when he came here, and looks much more cheerful than he did a short time ago. As he is generaly less restricted than myself, I take it for granted that he is allowed equal or greater freedom in writing to his Wife, but it might be a comfort to her to learn the opinion of another in regard to his health.
The baby’s mode of speech is the method of nature. The like is found in all languages which were spoken long before they were written. It has been regarded as one of the beauties of the Greek. I found it still more prominent in the Chippewa [encountered in his U. S. Army days in the West]. By great freedom of abridgement a single word is formed out of many, and expresses the agent & his condition, the object, the action and it’s effect. It is termed polysynthetic.
Though my letter is long I am reluctant to stop. If I were allowed writing material it would be a pleasant occupation to give you daily my thoughts with a record of the few events which mark my prison life. But it is perhaps well, as having nothing with which to keep even the notes one would make in reading a book, and with a desire to forget what is painful, many things are lost which it would be worse than useless to preserve.
I am as ignorant as heretofore of the purpose of the authorities in regard to me. My counsel has not visited me. The few newspapers I see still manifest what appears to me an unaccountable hostility, and a strange degree of ignorance or recklessness in their statements in regard to my public career. Enough however is known by many to secure sooner or later arefutation at least of such slanders as affect those whom I represented. Being powerless to direct the current, I can only wait to see whither it runs.
We have had a few cold days here, but the weather is now pleasant. The trees as [sic] still covered with leaves, but they are assuming the hue of autumn. The feeling of cold carries my thoughts to the children in Canada, but I am consoled by the confidence that they will not be neglected; and then to “Old Uncle Bob” in Missi[sippi]. Who will take our place in regard to him, and the “old people” who were with him? Farewell my dear Wife, ever trusting in the
[Beginning here, JD wrote the rest of this letter at the top of his first page, at right angles to the previous writing, but mostly in empty space above the dateline.]
The [sic] mercy of God, I prayerfully hope that we shall be reunited in this world, but humbly strive with becoming resignation to say, Father thy will be done. There is now no reason to suppose that my imprisonment will so impair my health as soon to terminate my life. Every development of truth must diminish the desire to punish me, and therefore there is reasonable ground for hopefulness. Let us trust in Him whose wisdom cannot err and whose power cannot fail to effect His will. More now depends on you than at any former time; to be equal to the trial you require sana mens in sana corpore [Latin: Rather, mens sana in corpore sana (“a sound mind in a sound body”; Juvenal, Satires #10)], therefore cherish hope and cultivate cheerfulness as conducive thereto.
Once more my love, farewell. Through my prison bars my free spirit flies to and hovers around you. Daily and nightly my prayers are offered for you, and there is a peace which tells me they are heard. May God be with you. Again dearest and yet again farewell.
Ever affectionately yr. Husband
Mrs. Varina Davis