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First Look at the Confederate President and Commander-In-Chief

The inauguration of Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederate States of America provides a study in contrasts.

In spite of his disinterest in the office, the mood during the inauguration ceremony was celebratory at the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery on Feb. 18, 1861. According to a newspaper correspondent on that bright sunny day, “The city was alive, from early morning, with delegates from the various States, and the people from the adjoining country, and long before the hour of the inauguration arrived, the Capitol Hill was filled with the beauty and the chivalry of the South.”

Only one image of the memorable scene exists, a photograph produced by Archibald Crossland “Charles” McIntyre, a Georgia native who operated a gallery in Montgomery. The photograph itself was not widely circulated, though variations of it appeared in several illustrated newspaper engravings.

A badge created for the occasion by photographer John H. Fitzgibbon of St. Louis surfaced in various print forms, including a carte de visite and a button-size rosette. The renowned Charleston, S.C., photographer Charles J. Quinby “borrowed” the image and likewise distributed it in the ubiquitous carte de visite format.

The Fitzgibbon badge is attached to a pole, center, in this carte de visite by Tucker & Perkins. The full badge, left, is shown in a carte de visite by Quinby & Co. of Charleston, S.C. The badge composed the centerpiece of a Confederate rosette pictured in engraving, right, from Harper’s Popular Cyclopedia of United States History by Benson J. Lossing. The badge was surrounded by blue satin ribbon and attached to white ribbon that featured the Confederate flag.
The Fitzgibbon badge is attached to a pole, center, in this carte de visite by Tucker & Perkins. The full badge, left, is shown in a carte de visite by Quinby & Co. of Charleston, S.C. The badge composed the centerpiece of a Confederate rosette pictured in engraving, right, from Harper’s Popular Cyclopedia of United States History by Benson J. Lossing. The badge was surrounded by blue satin ribbon and attached to white ribbon that featured the Confederate flag.

Subsequent to the inauguration, other cartes de visite of the new president circulated in scattered areas of the fledgling Confederacy. These photographs featured the popular likeness of Davis made by Mathew Brady in 1859—the so-called “stately portrait.” It was through this Northern photographer that Southerners viewed their new president. The Brady portrait was also widely published during this time in the form of prints, stationary and envelopes, postage stamps, currency, bonds and even playing cards.

Davis is revered as the “Saviour and Father of his Country” in a caption on the back of this carte de visite by Tucker & Perkins.
Davis is revered as the “Saviour and Father of his Country” in a caption on the back of this carte de visite by Tucker & Perkins.

Perhaps the most impressive example of the early cartes de visite based on the Brady portrait was “Our First President” by Augusta, Ga., photographers Isaac Tucker and Jabez W. Perkins. The most extensive picture makers of Southern leaders throughout the war years, the Tucker & Perkins logo appeared on the verso of images from their studio.

John O’Brien of Charles Town, W.Va., is a retired journalist and historian from the University of Connecticut, and a contributor to MI. The cartes de visite reproduced here are from his collection.

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