February 1861

Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln were both born in Kentucky and in February 1861, both prepared to preside over nations at war.
Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln were both born in Kentucky and in February 1861, both prepared to preside over nations at war.

Lib. of Congress

One hundred-fifty years ago this month, Texas seceded on February 1, 1861. Governor Sam Houston, the man who had done so much to bring the state into existence, opposed secession. Houston fought in the Texas War of Independence, served as a Senator, was the Texas Republic's first governor, and now was governor of the young state. When the legislature voted for secession, he said,

Some of you laugh to scorn the idea of bloodshed as the result of secession, but let me tell you what is coming....Your fathers and husbands, your sons and brothers, will be herded at the point of the bayonet....You may after the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives, as a bare possibility, win Southern independence...but I doubt it. I tell you that, while I believe with you in the doctrine of state rights, the North is determined to preserve this Union. They are not a fiery, impulsive people as you are, for they live in colder climates. But when they begin to move in a given direction...they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche; and what I fear is, they will overwhelm the South.

Ousted from office, he retired to private life, and Texas joined the other states in the Confederacy. Houston was born in Rockbridge County, Virginia, and moved west as a child. Some of those Texans who avidly supported secession would find themselves in far-off Appomattox County four years later.
On the 4th, the Confederate Congress met in Montgomery, Alabama. This city was chosen as the Capital of the Confederacy because of its central location. Alabama politician William Yancey, who led the state's secession movement, also pushed for the capital to be in Montgomery. Soon the relatively small city of 8,000 people doubled its population as government workers, military commanders, and office-seekers descended on Montgomery.
Four days later the Confederate Congress adopted the Confederacy's Constitution. Similar to that of the United States, it included the right to own slaves, guaranteed states rights, and allowed the president a six year term. On the 9th, the Confederate Congress elected Jefferson Davis, a Mississippi planter and former U.S. Senator and Secretary of War, as President. Georgia's Alexander Stephens became Vice President.

Through the rest of the month, both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis prepared to leave their homes and take the helm of their respective governments. Each faced uncertainty and challenges in these unprecedented times.
When Davis arrived in Montgomery on the 16th, an enthusiastic Yancey said, "The Man and the Hour have met." Over the next few days Davis chose his Cabinet members and began to put the government in place. Early on the morning of the 23rd, Abraham Lincoln covertly arrived in Washington. The northern President-elect had received death threats and his supporters feared for his safety.
On the 28th, a secession vote failed in North Carolina, though its citizens watched events with growing concern and sympathy for the Deep South states. In the meantime, in Southside Virginia's tobacco country, farmers and slaves did the routine chores for this time of year. Tobacco was a very labor intensive crop that required a great deal of care. Across Appomattox and surrounding counties this month, slaves broke open the cold ground and planted tobacco seeds in plant beds with plans to transplant them into rows in the spring. Plantation owners hoped for good weather to nurture the newly planted crops.
Among residents of Farmville, Appomattox, and Lynchburg, the growing crisis and talk of secession no doubt dominated their conversations. At the end of the month, a highly-anticipated convention met in Richmond, but did not vote for secession. Representing Appomattox County was Lewis Isbell, an ardent secessionist.

Last updated: March 31, 2012

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