In Their Own Words
May 27, 1871
Journal Entry on Meeting Jefferson Davis
Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas had watched sadly as Jefferson Davis was carried through Augusta as prisoner in 1865. But they met face to face six years later, and she recorded the event in detail in her journal:
“Saturday, May 27, 1871 - I am writing History for you my children and your mother tells you now of her interview with the man whom she ‘most delights to honor’ - tells you of our President Jefferson Davis, dearer far dearer now in the hour of defeat than he was when chief magistrate of the Southern Confederacy. How I sympathised with our fallen chieftain in his degradation when he was taken through our streets closely guarded, no woman in that hour of peril daring to wave her handkerchief to him to make sign of sympathy - and men so crushed by defeat that the closed carriage passed by crowds who dared not cheer for him for fear of sharing his fate. We could do nothing else for you my President and we did all we could. We named our boy for you, our boy who during the first year of the war I never dreamed of calling for our successful chief, but we felt honoured in identifying ourselves with him in his change of fortune… . Col. Snead met us at the door and we waited a few moments until a party who had been introduced finished their conversation. ‘Is that President Davis?’ I enquired as I saw a gentleman bow in reply to an introduction. ‘Yes wouldn’t you have known him by his pictures?’ ‘No’ I replied ‘he is much better looking, younger looking.’ Just then the President turned and Col. Snead introduced ‘Mrs. Thomas, President Davis, Mr. Thomas Miss Mary Vason.’ I shook hands with him and for the moment forgot all else in the great content of an accomplished hope. Drawing Jeff [her son] to me I introduced him as Jeff Davis Thomas. He took Jeff’s hand in his, drew him closely to him, and held him there with his arm around him. ‘I cannot tell you Mrs. Thomas how highly I appreciate this compliment.’ My heart warmed at his reception of Jeff and I added ‘Perhaps you will understand Mr. Davis how dear you are to the dear daughters of your people as you so gracefully termed us, when I explain that our little Boy was named for you the afternoon you passed through Augusta as prisoner. We could do nothing else to express our sympathy and we honored ourselves in naming him for you.’ ‘My dear Madam’ he replied, ‘I appreciate the compliment so much the more.’ We continued the conversation a few moments longer but during that time the soul had met with soul and I think I understand his character better than I did before.”
Source: Virginia Ingraham Burr (ed.), The Secret Eye: The Journal of Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas, 1848-1889 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990), p. 370-372.