The Home Front: 1861 to 1865

Women’s Roles

What was the First Family of the Confederacy like?

Jefferson Davis and Varina Banks Howell married in February 1845. The groom was eighteen years older than the bride. This was Jefferson Davis’ second marriage. His first, to the daughter of General Zachary Taylor, had ended with her death from malaria only three months after the wedding.

The Davis couple had five children, but only four came to the Confederate White House (the eldest had died at the age of two). Jefferson and Varina made an attractive couple, and visitors labeled their children the “rambunctious offspring,” but all was not well. Mrs. Davis suffered from doubts about the wisdom of the war. She had very much enjoyed life as a U.S. senator’s wife in Washington, D.C., and was not pleased with being the wife of the Confederate president. This was nothing compared to the loss that the couple endured following the accidental death of five-year-old Joseph. On April 30, 1864, he fell over a balcony, sustained severe head injuries, and died forty-five minutes later.


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