Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Joe Davis dies in a fallApril 30, 1864

Jefferson Davis's third son, Joe, died at five years old as the result of an accidental fall from the east portico of the Confederate White House.  He had celebrated his 5th birthday less than two weeks before his death.

Joseph Evan Davis was born on April 18, 1859 Washington while his father was serving in the Senate. Davis proclaimed his new son "a very fine one" and named the boy for his eldest brother and his grandfather. Varina protested, for she deeply resented Joseph Emory Davis. She confided to her mother, however, that the boy did bear a resemblance to his namesake uncle, which she hoped he would outgrow.

Little Joe was described as exceptionally bright, and he was apparently the best behaved of all of the Davis children. 

But his life ended tragically with a fall from a White House porch on April 30, 1864. Rumors persist that he was pushed by older brother Jeff Jr., but there is no evidence to support this story.

According to contemporary accounts, the accident took place at some point between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., while neither parent was at home. A servant discovered Joe lying by the pavement onto which he had fallen from a height of about fifteen feet. His sister, Maggie Davis, ran to the neighbors for help, and Jeff Jr. enlisted the aid of two people passing by on the street. One of these men, a Confederate officer, wrote that Joe's "head was contused, and I think his chest much injured internally."

The child apparently died about the time his parents reached the house. His father refused to see visitors and could be heard pacing all night.

Funeral services were held at St. Paul's Episcopal Church on May 1, and Joe was buried at Richmond's Hollywood Cemetery, where the rest of his immediate family would eventually be interred.

On June 4, 1864, President Davis received a letter from Hollywood informing him the lot in which his young son rested, was now his free of charge. The letter went on to state that if the President wished another unsold lot in the cemetery, instead of the one selected under trying circumstances, he was at liberty to exchange. The Davis family chose to exchange lots to what is now known as Davis Circle.

Richmond children collected 40 dollars in May 1866 to buy a monument for their former playmate's grave. 

Young Joseph and his stone were moved to Davis Circle in 1893.

There are no known likenesses of Joseph Evan Davis, in large part due to the scarcity of photographic materials during the war. 

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