Premonition at Vicksburg

Vicksburg, Miss., Nov. 3, 1860

Antebellum Vicksburg

During the last days of the campaign, while Lincoln stayed close to home and held his tongue, another man who would soon be president played somewhat less coy.

For six full weeks, Senator Jefferson Davis had been barnstorming through Mississippi on behalf of the Southern Democrats. The state was ablaze with excitement, even though — or perhaps because — most knew that the party’s candidate was bound for defeat. Amid torchlight marches, barbecues and fireworks shows, orators were preaching less about what would happen on election day itself than on what might follow it. At Vicksburg on Nov. 3, Davis told a crowd:

If Mississippi in her sovereign capacity decides to submit to the rule of an arrogant and sectional North, then I will sit me down as one upon whose brow the brand of degradation and infamy has been written, and bear my portion of the bitter trial. But if, on the other hand, Mississippi decides to resist the hands that would tarnish the bright star which represents her on the National Flag, then I will come at your bidding, whether by day or by night, and pluck that star from the galaxy and place it upon a banner of its own. I will plant it upon the crest of battle, and gathering around me the nucleus of Mississippi’s best and bravest, will welcome the invader to the harvest of death; and future generations will point to a small hillock upon our border, which will tell the reception with which the invader met upon our soil.

Not all of his state’s “best and bravest” shared Davis’s apparent eagerness to welcome federal troops to “the harvest of death.” The Vicksburg Whig’s editor denounced the senator’s oration as showing “how inordinate vanity, operating upon a moderate intellect, flattered by past successes, may influence its possessor to the most inflated of self-laudation.”

But death would indeed reap its ample harvest at Vicksburg, less than three years later.

William J. Cooper, “Jefferson Davis, American”; Percy Lee Rainwater, “Mississippi: Storm Center of Secession, 1856-1861”; Vicksburg Whig, Nov. 7, 1860.

Adam Goodheart is the author of the forthcoming book “1861: The Civil War Awakening.” He lives in Washington, D.C., and on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where he is the Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience.

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