Fortress Monroe Va. 3 Nov. 65
My dear Wife,
Your’s of the 23d Ulto. received this day and brought the only cheering ray which ever lights up the gloom of my imprisonment. When I grow restless from desire to receive another letter from you I draw comfort from reperusal of those preserved. The letters written to you have acknowledged your’s by their dates. Those not received may yet come to hand, the chances for delay being multiplied by the forms of transmission. I should have noticed the circular of the Convent, which was received with Boy’s letter. Your account of the two schools was full, and upon it rested the satisfaction I expressed in a letter written a few days before the date of your’s. That letter will have shown you, that the inquiries made in a former letter were answered by you in those received by me on the 19th Ulto. I heard recently that Brother Jos. [Joseph] was in Washington D.C. It seemed to me improbable and I feared he would unsuccessfully seek, if there, to visit me and would not be well able to bear a refusal. I am glad he did not undertake such a journey, that he was not so near me and yet unable to see me, and that he is with our family at the “old place”. The chances are against my seeing him again in this world. There are many things I wish him to know and if permitted would write to him, as without full information he cannot well understand my course in relation to the military operations in Ga. & Ala. [Georgia and Alabama] about which you may recollect he made some remarks. You know how much I have from boyhood valued his good opinion, and he cannot know how little I had to do with the series of blunders in that quarter, or the nature of the obstructions to any important success, however palpably possible and expedient, however immediate and pressing the necessity. My fate was not veiled by such sanguine temperament as will not see the precipice. If hope had not lighted the thorny path of duty, conscience required that path should be followed wherever the same might lead; and only those who sinning from the beginning, in acting from conformity and not faith; who therefore were not under the rule of conscience, whose guide was selfishness, were qualified to find and to follow another road.
I have been reading [George] Bancroft’s History of the U[nited] States. It is a work of great research and marked by fairness and regard for accuracy. It was to me most interesting by its marginal reference to the books and pamphlets connected with his subject, which I had read many years ago; thus as it were peopling my prison with old acquaintance. Things which I had learned only through tradition are also presented on the basis of authentic record. In many passages his style rises to the highest level and through the whole runs undefiled the love of of [sic] justice and liberty.
In his general description of puritanism as it existed in the early settlements of New England, I found justification for the letter I gave to the agent for collecting funds to build a monument at Plymouth.
Neither the “Schomberg Cotte family [sic; quotation not closed ], nor Cummings scripture readings [sic] are to be had here. The library is mainly composed of works on military subjects and the text books used at the U. S. Military Academy. The officers who were here being so likely at short notice to change their station would properly avoid the collection of books.
The anxious wish of our big boy to hear of me and his recognition of the fact that he could only do so indirectly are touching evidences of his affection and growing thought. You will know how to give to him, and to my sweet daughter, their Father’s love and unceasing solicitude. Billy’s bright and inquiring face is often, very often before me. May God preserve and lead in ways of safety and usefulness.
I am glad to hear of Mary P. of whom I could expect only praise worthy thoughts and actions. Though the world judges by the test of success; the heart yields not to the judgement, and its nobler impulses prompt the retributive justice that follows wrong. __ I have read the Satires to which you referred, and felt how little we can realize the experience of another until we have felt the like in our own persons. Were it otherwise how rapid would be the progress of mankind both in mental and moral culture, Each generation bequeathing it’s acquisition to the immediate use of the next. When the prayer of King Solomon for wisdom was answered by divine endowment, he sought to enrich his Son by it as an inheritance. Into few pages the stores of his knowledge were concentrated; but could he thus “give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion? [no end quotation marks].
[This sentence is squeezed in at the top of the page in very tiny script: Your renewed request for a description of my room & account of my clothes is noted. (Intl.). [Gen. Miles would not send the one he wrote.]
Jno. Mitchell has been released. He was permitted [to] take leave of me through the grates and offered to write to you. His health suffered by his imprisonment here and I fear his lungs are diseased. Our friend Clay is not well recently. I have not seen him for some time, not having been out to walk lately, on account of a series of boils or a carbuncle with a succession of points which rose in my right arm pit and which has prevented me from putting on my coat since the day after I last wrote to you until a few days back. The disease is now probably at an end, but rains have prevented me from going out since I have been able to do so. The chaplain who has kindly aided me in the matter of religious books leaves with the Regt. [Regiment] which is now about to be mustered out of service. Though he has not been able to visit me often his departure is to me a matter of regret. Though quite young, his discretion and information in his profession are large, and his pious zeal noticeable. He was a School-fellow of the Laughlin boys [adopted sons of JE Davis’s d. Florida and husband] to whom he referred affectionately. Florida’s letters to them had been shown to him and from having heard of me through them he seemed from the first time we meet [sic] to feel an interest in me.
I perceive by the news papers that Mr. Seddon [Sec.of War C. S. A.] has been in confinement and it is inferrable [sic] that he has been released. From the same source that Mr. Trenholm and Reagan have been released. This was most gratifying intelligence to me. I hope Mr. Mallory will soon have the same good fortune. They are of that class of men who following their honest convictions may always be relied on to the extent of their pledges, and each of them will be useful at home especially when so much confusion prevails.
The papers are sent to me irregularily [sic] the same papers not being furnished in series so that I sometimes see part of a matter only, if it be contained in separate numbers. I have too long and too earnestly watched public affairs to be able to dismiss the care, though I may realize my inability to promote the welfare of those in whose service so large a part of my life has been spent and towards whom I look with unchanging affection.
From an officer of the new garrison I have learned that our friends in Portland are so nearly in the condition we left them that time seems to have stood still for them. The only changes are, the death of Mr. Little, and the marriage of his widow, and the removal of Mr. McDonald. Our Landlady is in statu quo [Latin: in the state in which (we left her)]. Miss Clapp is unmarried. The fine house opposite our window is unfinished etc. etc.
I have carefully read McCauley’s [sic] History of England and not without disappointment. A better title for his work would have been Biography of William of Orange. The great movement [in?] England the reformation of the Monarchical system which rose on the downfall of feudalism, the exaltation of the people to the position of founder of states are subordinated to the purpose of making a pedestal for the statue of William the third. A dissenter could find in Cromwell’s greatness an argument against the accusations with which loyalists sought to disgrace his memory; but like reasoning would have prevented the conclusion that Marlborough was guilty of the meanest vices of mankind. ___ It has been so long since I read the Iliad that its beauty remains to me indistinct, though the impression is yet enough to make all translations tame. The sound of the Greek is to Homer’s verse a charm which no other language can borrow. Well read it might move the heart of one who did not know the meaning of a single word, and tell its general tale like the music of an opera.
Day by day the photograph of Pie grows on me in expressiveness. I had already found her like Sister Anne when your letter came describing her ways as I have found Sister A’s [Anne’s] portrayed when she was a child. It is difficult for me to realize the baby is walking and talking and hard to think and be patient. I am sustained by a power I know not of. Tthese last four words, though quite legible, begin a passage of seven and a half lines which were marked through as if for deletion. Respecting the wish for privacy, we press on and come to “the death of Lizzies’s father.”] It will be a sad blow to her for she is worse off than a widow. If I were permitted to do so, would write to her, and though both may be little worth, would offer my sympathy and love. I have no means of communicating with anyone but you, and as I understand the orders, all communications to you must pass through Washington, and be viseèd [sic] [This may account for any delay in the answers to your message to Genl. Miles. (Intl. in very tiny script).] Pie’s silky lock [of hair], her separate photograph, Boy’s letter and the view of Maggies [sic] school are together. Armistead [Burt] always was true gold and with peculiarities which might sometimes displease his Wife is a true hearted unwavering friend – I feel as it were mesmerically drawn to the lonely pair, and there are none to whom I would more securely trust. Sister Maran [Mrs. Howell Cobb] has improved since you saw [(Intl.)] her – cheerfulness has followed change of association and more active occupation. Her Husband is a sincere, honest man and prudent when his friend’s matter is his charge.
The cigars were received. And as they have been smoked your caution came too late. I took them in small doses and so no injury, but some good was the result. Do you know where your likeness by Dodge is? [In following passage many words are too faint to read:] Margaret will no doubt … of the children. In a former letter … your present inquiry as to my approval of the course taken by you in regard to them. John [Taylor Wood] will not forget them and his head and heart are alike sound. The field for your selection was so narrow that at least until you could go with them, no other plan was before you. You will have need to watch the tendency to political disturbance there. It appears to be the only practicable object of the Fenians, if present, for early movement … their purpose. I have no data I can merely make surmises. [An abortive raid across the U. S. border into Canada near Buffalo on June 1, 1866 was the only activity of these Irish nationalists near this time.] Jno. and Preston [Johnston] can probably learn and advise.
4th Nov. Today is dark and wet, not cold, but chilly. The trees in the fort are sheltered by the defenses well, but their leaves tell that summer has gone. I have nothing learned in regard to the purposes concerning myself. Counsel has not visited me, and the newspaper stories are so repugnant to the Constitution and the decisions under it, that they must have been made by the ignorant for the ignorant. [A total of eight lines is here obliterated and in the left margin appears; “7th Nov. 65. J.D.”] I draw near the end of my paper and have the pang of this kind of parting, from my beloved and trusted.
What under Providence may be in store for us I have no ability to foresee. I have tried to do my duty to my fellow man and while my penitent prayers are offered to our heavenly Father for forgiveness of the sins committed against him, I have the sustaining belief that he is full of mercy; and knowing my inmost bent will acquit me where man, blind man seeks to condemn. From our mediating saviour I humbly trust to receive support, and whatever may befall[l] me in this world, to have justice, dictated by divine wisdom and tempered with divine mercy in the next. By no despondent by let us rather seek only so to live that we may not fear to die, looking with hope to the resurrection which we have by promise, and to the home where the weary shall be at rest, in the midst of joys not to be conceived of in our present state.
[The following three paragraphs ending this letter are written crosswise at the top of the first page:]
Kiss dear little Winnie for me and as she grows teach her how her Father loved her when she was too young to remember. Try to make my thanks to Mr. Schley and the Ladies equal to my gratitude. Did he not call on me when I was last in Augusta, or was it another of the family, I think it was he.
Farewell dear Wife my prayers go up constantly for you, your image is ever before me, my spirit is about you, and my faith tells me that our merciful Father will give us whatever it is expedient we should have.
You know what I would say at least what I always feel and suppressing utterance I say again Farwell/Dearest farewell.
Mrs. Varina Davis,