Why were there 5 Confederate Secretaries of War?

betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,324
Was it difficult to work with Davis? Were they scapegoated or was it a difficult job with the war not going well?
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,447
Dispargum
It probably was difficult working for Davis. As a former secretary of war himself, he probably thought he could do the job better than anyone else and micromanaged the position. And yes, when the war did not go well it was easier to fire the secretary of war than it was to fire Davis.
 

betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,324
Benjamin resigned and took the blame for not sending powder to fort that surrendered for lack of it. The problem was there wasn't powder available (this was 1862) and they didn't want to admit that. He was then appointed Secretary of State.
 

betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,324
Davis had been Secretary of War. He also was a West Point graduate and former officer. He was obviously chosen to large extent for those reasons. Lincoln was chosen mainly for being a strong candidate, and maybe was more effective because he did not think he was a military expert.
 
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Jan 2019
52
US
Davis pretty much acted as his own Secretary of War, which was no doubt frustrating for the men who held that title. He disregarded their value as advisers, and they likely resented him for it. As for why he was so controlling, it comes down to his background and personality. As @betgo mentions, he had a military background, although it's less impressive than one would expect. It's interesting to note that Davis didn't even want to go to West Point and pursue a military career - he nearly got himself kicked out. He only agreed to attend in order to please his brother Joseph, who had assumed the role of guardian after their father's death. His service after graduation wasn't very long-lived or impressive, either. The military was not very appealing to him when he was young. But Jefferson Davis was an effective Secretary of War under Pierce. Many historians have noted the irony of the fact that he did so much to build up the Union army into a more powerful tool that would be used against his own confederacy shortly thereafter. So he was definitely competent within that role in particular. That worked against him when it came to cooperating with others, because he considered himself more qualified than they.

His personality also contributed to his assumption of his Secretaries' duties. Contemporary accounts of Davis' personality often contradict one another, but one thing historians agree on is the fact that he was a workaholic. I think his puppeteering of the Secretaries of War is largely due that trait, coupled with the strain of the war. Davis' health suffered greatly during its run, likely worsening his obsessive streak. Also, in contrast with his early distaste for army life, he had a great desire to be close to military action. Davis was actually hoping for a purely military assignment at the time of the secession. He didn't want to be president (unless that bit of history was fabricated as a kind of humble-brag; the story of his nomination does have a strong Deep South romanticism to it). While president, he put himself in danger often by riding out to see the Confederate army. But acting as Secretary of War was about as close to the action as he could reasonably come most of the time.

This is somewhat tangential, but considering the Confederacy's romantic idea of resurrecting the "Old Union" and seeing the War as a "second revolution," Davis might have been projecting himself into the role of George Washington. Commander-in-chief of the underdogs, fighting for (what they believed to be) a government for the people against the threat of tyranny. Active in the field, a military genius...all very appealing to Deep South notions of glory and grandeur. Even Davis' reluctant acceptance of the main position of authority (in hindsight, at least) mirrors Washington's. The prospect of a role in history parallel to that of one of the Founding Fathers who was practically worshiped in the South might account for his warming up towards the idea of a military career, contrasted with his early disinterest. So I guess you could say that the short answer is found in Jefferson's assumption of the duties of his Secretaries of War, while the long answer is that he was a workaholic romanticist who happened to have the right background.
 
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