Saturday, May 21, 2016

Etiquette for Confederates

Southern Belle, Varina Davis, tried to duplicate the protocol and etiquette of Washington DC, after her husband became President of the US Civil War's Confederacy 


The Confederacy's Jefferson Davis, and His Wife's Washingtonian Inspired Attempts at Copying the North's Presidential Protocol 

In his "Recollections of Richmond," Edward A. Pollard chats as follows about Mr. and Mrs. Jefferson Davis:




Amid the frivolities and vicissitudes of Richmond society during the war, Mrs. Jefferson Davis was conspicuous for an attempt to introduce into them something of the manners and and etiquette she had imported from certain circles in Washington. It proved not only an ignominious failure, but an unpleasant scandal. 

The Confederate President himself, although recluse and haughty in his government, was democratic enough in his personal habits, simple in his social tastes, and plain and accessible to the populace. But Davis was the most usurious of men, and it was surprising indeed that a man of his fine nervous organism, a very type of social dilletantism, should have fallen so much under the dominion of a woman who was so excessively coarse and physical in her person, and in whom the defects of nature had been repaired neither by the grace of manners, nor the charms of conversation. 

Mrs. Davis was a brawny, able-bodied woman, who had much more of masculine mettle than of feminine grace; her complexion was tawny, even to mulattoism; a woman loud and coarse in her manners, full of self assertion, not the one of her sex who would have been supposed to win the deference of a delicate man like Davis — whimsical in health, a victim to "nerves," nice and morbid in his social tastes — although she might as well have conquered the submission of such a creature by the force of her character. 

Davis deferred to her in the social regulations she would impose upon Richmond. She demanded the etiquette of Washington, that the President's lady should return no calls; she introduced what was unknown in Richmond — liveried servants; and when every horse was impressed in the service, the citizens forced to to go afoot, remarked with some disdain the elegant equipage of Mrs. Davis, that paused much more before the shops of Main street than the aristocratic residences of Grace and Franklin.

Davis himself was simple and democratic in his habits. His figure, habitually clothed in Confederate gray, was familiar on the streets, or might be seen almost every evening, mounted on the rather mean horse on which he took regular exercise. He invited the approach and freedom of  the commonest men, but sometimes to the disadvantage of his dignity. 


A number of stories were told in Richmond of his curiously free intercourse with his soldiers, although they lacked something of the Napoleonic tradition. Once, when he was crossing Capitol Square, a drunken North Carolina soldier stopped him and inquired, "Say, mister, be' t you Jefferson Davis?" "Sir," returned the President, "that is my name." "I thought so," replied tar heel, "you look so much like a Confederate postage stamp." 

Another occasion was more dramatic. The President was returning with Mrs. Davis from one of the customary festivities on a flag of truce boat that had come up the James. Walking the street in the night, unattended by his staff, and with no indications of his importance, he had to pass the front of the Libby Prison, where a sentinel paced, and according to his orders, forced passengers from the sidewalk to take the middle of the street. 

As the President, with his wife on his arm approached him, he ordered them on the pavement. "I am the President," replied Davis, "allow us to pass." "None of your gammon," replied the soldier, bringing his musket to his shoulder, "if you don't get into the street, I'll blow the top of your head off." "But I am Jefferson Davis man — I am your President — no more of your insolence!" and the President pressed forward. He was rudely thrust back, and in a moment he had drawn a sword or dagger concealed in his cane, and was about to rush on the insolent sentinel, when Mrs. Davis flung herself between the strange combatants, and by her screams aroused the officer of the guard. 

Explanations were made, and the President went safely home. But instead of the traditional reward of the faithful sentry, that has usually graced such romantic adventures, came an order next day for the Libby to degrade the soldier, and give him a taste of bread and water for his unwitting insult to the Commander-in-Chief of the Confederate armies. — Sacramento Daily Union, 1868


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