Tag Archives: Jefferson Davis

Skyping With Skidmore

A few weeks ago I was contacted by Prof. Gregory Pfitzer, who is currently teaching a course in American Studies at Skidmore College.  His students are examining various aspects of Civil War memory and as part of their reading Prof. Pfitzer assigned one of my blog posts on the recent controversy surrounding the SCV’s Davis-Limber statue that was supposed to be placed on the grounds at the Tredegar Ironworks in Richmond.  I agreed to respond to their comments.  I did my best to respond to every student and on more than one occasion the give and take resulted in lengthy threads.  The students’ comments were incredibly thoughtful and forced me to rethink some of my own assumptions about this story. [Skidmore comments begin with #17 on March 11]

Prof. Pfitzer and I decided to follow up the assignment with a Skype interview, which we thought would give students a chance to ask further questions about the subject or anything else on their minds about Civil War Memory.

Untitled from Kevin Levin on Vimeo.

Engaging Students From Skidmore College

You can imagine my surprise when I returned from my trip to Shepherd University to find an email from Prof. Gregory Pfitzer of Skidmore College.  Prof. Pfitzer is currently teaching an American Studies course that focuses on Civil War Memory and has been using this blog as a resource.  Students are focusing specifically on a series of posts that I did on the Gary Casteel statue of Jefferson Davis and Jim Limber that is currently located at Beauvoir. Prof. Pfitzer thought it might be a good idea for his students to engage me on one of the posts, which I was more than happy to do.  You can follow the discussion here.  I am quite impressed with their enthusiasm as well as their ideas.  Check it out.

Jim Limber Kidnapped and Brought to Beauvoir

Statue026It looks like Gary Casteel’s statue of Jefferson Davis holding hands with his biological son and “adopted” son, Jim Limber, has found a new home at Beauvoir.  You may remember that this statue was commissioned by the Sons of Confederate Veterans in hopes that it would be placed next to the Lincoln statue at the Tredegar Iron Works.  That deal fell through and left the organization scrambling for alternative sites.  At one point they even asked the state of Mississippi to accept it.

Since the SCV meant to “educate” the public about Jefferson Davis and race relations during the Civil War with this statue, it is hard not to see this new home as reflecting nothing less than a complete and utter public relations failure.  The reason the statue ended up here has nothing to do with political correctness or any other catch-phrase that is currently en vogue.  It has to do with the fact that the statue has little to do with solid history and has everything to do with the current SCV propaganda machine which would have the general public see the Confederacy as part of some sort of civil rights movement.  I’ve written quite a bit about this particular story over the past year if interested.

Update on Jefferson Davis’s Crown of Thorns

Pius_IXAfter last week’s post on the controversy surrounding whether the story of Jefferson Davis receiving a crown of thorns from Pope Pius IX was authentic, I received this additional information.

It looks like part of the problem has to do with commentary that is contained in Jefferson Davis: Private Letters 1823-1899, which was selected and edited by Hudson Strode (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1966).  As part of an introduction to two letters written in 1878 Strode wrote the following: “When the ex-President was in prison His Holiness had sent him a large photograph of himself with a crown of thorns woven by the papal fingers and an inscription in his own hand. The photograph and thorn crown may be seen today in Confederate Memorial Hall in New Orleans.”  The first letter was written by Varina for JD, but it is the second letter by JD that is worth considering here: “When our war had closed in the defeat of the South, and I was incarcerated with treatment the most needlessly rigorous, if not designedly cruel; … [more observations on the defamation, etc., JD endured] a voice came from afar to cheer and console me in my solitary captivity. The Holy Father sent me his likeness, and beneath it was written, by his own hand, the comforting invitation our Lord gives to all who are oppressed, in these words: ‘Venite ad me omnes qui laboratis, et ego reficiam vos, dicit Dominus.’ That the inscription was autographic was attested by Al. Cardinal Barnado, Dec. 1866 (under his seal).”  It seems strange that JD specifically mentions the Pope’s letter without also citing an object that was supposedly handmade specifically for him.

In addition, a list of “relics and documents” presented to Memorial Hall in New Orleans by Varina Davis attributes the crown of thorns to her. The following appeared in Confederate Veteran [July 1899]:

[F]amily Bible, given by Jefferson Davis to his wife Varina Jefferson Davis, with his written indorsement to that effect, and one from Mrs. Davis, presenting it to Memorial Hall; pciture of Pope Pius IX (framed), with an autograph and a Latin sentence inscribed on it by his holiness, bearing his seal, and certified to by Cardinal Barnabo Pref. (The Pope sent this picture to Jefferson Davis while a prisoner at Fortress Monroe.  Accompanying the picture is a crown of thorns, made by Mrs. Davis, that hung above it in Mr. Davis’s study[.]

Keep in mind that Varina Davis was still alive in 1899.  Do you believe that Varina would have allowed this attribution to go unanswered if it in fact was a mistake?  That’s it for now.  I will keep you updated if I hear anything more.

So It Was a Holy Cause After All

Pope Benedict and the Confederate FlagUpdate: I don’t mind having to admit a mistake every once in a while, but this time I really dropped the ball.  I thought I had confirmed this story with a sufficient number of SCV websites, but Karen Cox tells me that the entire story is apocryphal.  Ruth Ann Coski, who used to work at the Museum of the Confederacy, carried out the necessary research and discovered that the crown was made by Varina Davis.  It looks like the Myth of the Lost Cause is indeed just a myth, but I would still like to know why Pope Benedict is standing in front of a Confederate flag.

I had no idea that Pope Pius IX sent Jefferson Davis a hand-written note along with a crown of thorns during his brief imprisonment following the war.  The note included the following: “Come unto me, all ye who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” and supposedly the crown was handwoven by the thorn. Robert E. Lee, pointing to his own portrait of Pius IX, is supposed to have told a visitor that he was “the only sovereign…in Europe who recognized our poor Confederacy.” The crown is located in a museum in New Orleans.  Apparently, Pope Benedict is continuing the Catholic Church’s tradition of sanctifying the Confederate cause.  So, it looks like the Myth of the Lost Cause wasn’t a myth after all.  I had no idea.