Varina Davis and the Confederacy

Both Varina Davis and Mary Todd Lincoln had connections North and South.  Lincoln’s were her Kentucky relatives, some of whom fought for the Confederacy.  Davis’s were her New Jersey forebears and her education in Philadelphia.  Davis reportedly referred to herself as a “half-breed” because of those connections; and her olive complexion led some Southerners to refer to her as a “mulatto” during her troubled days as first lady of the Confederacy.  Her picture is on the front cover (bottom center) of my book, “Civil War Women: Underestimated and Indispensable,” and the following is an excerpt from the article about her. The book is available at:

“Born in Natchez, Mississippi, Varina was only 17 when she was first courted by the much older Jefferson Davis.  They had a lengthy, but difficult marriage, partly because she was an intelligent and strong woman, while he insisted on making all decisions for the family.  Her happiest years were when they lived in Washington when Davis was a Senator and Secretary of War.  During that time she began to express controversial views, maintaining that slaves were human beings and that everyone was, in some way, a “half-breed.”  According to diarist Mary Chesnut, in 1860 Varina said that she feared Lincoln’s election would lead to secession, “and the whole thing is bound to be a failure.”  But she kept these views mostly to herself because, her biographer wrote, “she found it hard to face the conclusions that flowed logically from her observations.”

“During the Civil War Varina was a dutiful supporter of  her husband, though Southern critics complained that she was not an enthusiastic advocate of the Confederacy.  She accompanied her husband when he was captured after they had fled from Richmond. She advocated persistently and successfully for his release from Union imprisonment.  Afterward, when Davis was frequently out of work, she endured years of turmoil, scandal, and financial trouble, and she adapted, as always.  When Jefferson Davis died, Varina edited and published his memoirs.  She moved to New York where she became an active newspaper columnist for the “New York World,” as well as friends with Julia Dent Grant.  Julia invited her to the dedication of Grant’s tomb in New York, and the two women knelt together in prayer, a symbol of reconciliation.”

Author: geneofva

Author of "Citizen-General: Jacob Dolson Cox and the Civil War Era," and of seven more Civil War books -- with more to come!!

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