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In Memoriam

Today marks the 130th anniversary of the death of Jefferson Davis, only President of the Confederate States of America. He passed away in New Orleans, Louisiana, in the Forsyth House, which was the home of Judge Charles E. Fenner. Judge Fenner had been a Confederate officer and was an Associate Justice on the Louisiana Supreme Court. He was a friend of the Davis Family.

The Forsyth House - New Orleans, Louisiana

In November 1889, Jefferson Davis had left his Biloxi home of Beauvoir to visit his plantation at Brierfield up the Mississippi River. While traveling, he fell ill and refused to send for a doctor while at Brierfield, instead waiting until he was returning to New Orleans. He was diagnosed with acute bronchitis that was complicated by malaria. When he returned to New Orleans, he was taken to the home of Judge Fenner, where he remained bedridden for two weeks prior to his death. Prior to his death, he seemed to have been doing better but took a sudden turn for the worse the day before he died. He died in the company of his wife Varina and a few of his friends.

Jefferson Davis' funeral was one of the largest in the South and the city of New Orleans was placed into morning as his body lay in state at the New Orleans City Hall. While lying in state, his casket, as well as other surfaces in the room, was draped with both a Confederate flag to represent his time as President of the Confederacy, but also draped with an American flag to emphasize his ties to the United States of America.

The Times-Democrat Reported:

At 12:45 o’clock this morning Hon. Jefferson Davis, ex-President of the Confederate States, passed away at the residence of Associate Justice Charles E. Fenner. Only once did he waver in his belief that his case showed no improvement, and that was at an early hour yesterday morning, when he playfully remarked to Mr. Payne: “I am afraid that I shall be compelled to agree with the doctors for once, and admit that I am a little better.” At 7 o’clock Mrs. Davis administered some medicine, but the ex-President declined to receive the whole dose. She urged upon his the necessity of taking the remainder, but putting it aside, with the gentlest of gestures whispered, “Pray, excuse me.” These were his last words.

The New York Times Reported:



His illness takes a turn for the worse and he expires at an early hour this morning.

New Orleans, La., Dec 6. - Mr. Davis died at 12:45 this morning.

New Orleans, Dec 5 - Mr. Davis this afternoon had a chill and fever. This change has thrown him back considerably. For the three days previous he had been getting steadily better and was much improved, so the physicians thought, but the unexpected set-back of to-day has upset all the doctors' plans. He is now in a precarious condition. Last night at 9 o'clock the physicians, Drs. Chaille and Bickham, held a consultation. Previous to this, Dr. Bickham had called and found Mr. Davis so much worse that he sent for Dr. Chaille. During the continuance of the fever Mr. Davis was delirious, but the doctors attributed no very great importance to this fact.

Jefferson Davis Lying in State

The day following his death in New Orleans, the New York Times released an article entitled "Their Dead Chieftain" and wrote the following:

Jefferson Davis is dead, and his death has cast a shadow over the whole city in which he breathed his last. Flags have hung at half-mast all day; bells have been tolled in the slow, funereal way which tells of death, and there has been but one topic of discussion within the limits of town...From the beginning of his fatal illness Mr. Davis had insisted that his case was nearly or quite hopeless, though the dread of pain or or fear of death never appeared to take the slightest hold upon his spirits, which were brave and even buoyant from the beginning of his attack. In vain did the doctors strive to impress upon him that his health was improving. He steadily insisted that there was no improvement, but with Christian resignation he was content to accept whatever Providence had in store for him. Only once did he waver in his belief that his case showed no improvement, and that was at an early hour yesterday morning, whom he playfully remarked to Mr. Payne: "I am afraid that I shall be compelled to agree with the doctors for once and admit that I am a little better." All day long the favorable symptoms continued, and late into the afternoon - as late as 4 o'clock - Mrs. Davis sent such a cheering message to Mrs. Stamps and Mr. and Mrs. Farrar that they decided, for the first time since Mr. Davis had been ill, to attend the opera. At 6 o'clock last evening, without any assignable cause, Mr. Davis was seized with congestive chill, which seemed to absolutely crush the vitality out of his already enfeebled body. So weak he was that the violence of the assault upon him soon subsided for lack of vitality upon which to prey.

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