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07.14.02 Winnie Davis: Daughter of the Lost Cause, by Heath Lee, published in 2014

Notes Concerning the Author

Heath comes from a museum education, preservation, and program background. She holds a B.A. in History with Honors from Davidson College, and an M.A. in French Language and Literature from the University of Virginia.

She started her museum career at the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte, North Carolina, as the Director of Education and Programs.  Heath has since worked as a consultant for southern house museums such as Stratford Hall, Robert E. Lee’s birthplace, and Menokin Plantation, once home to Francis Lightfoot Lee.  She recently served as the Coordinator of the History Series for Salisbury House & Gardens, a 1920’s house museum in Des Moines, Iowa.  She currently works as the Editorial Assistant for The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography and lives in Roanoke, Virginia.

Our Review

This is a wonderful book that not only tells the story of Jefferson Davis’ youngest child, but also of the Jefferson Davis family in general, Richmond during the war, the fall of Richmond, reconstruction and the post war South.

The book begins by telling of the death of Joe Davis, Jeff and Varina Davis’ youngest son.  Following this was the death of JEB Stuart which was seen as an ominous sign by Southern soldiers.  By contrast the birth of Winnie was thought to be a good omen.

At age 13 Winnie was sent away to a boarding school in Germany.  She returned an intellectual with a gift for art and writing.

Although the Confederacy lost the war it maintained the vision that the South was superior to the north in terms of cultural, honor and morals.  Winnie began accompanying her father on his many trips throughout the South.  On April 30, 1886 in West Point, Georgia former Confederate General John B. Gordon introduced Winnie as “The Daughter of the Confederacy.”  Her father’s image signaled to veterans the need to preserve the past, while Winnie symbolized their hopes for the future.

Many former Confederates expressed a hope that through her a sort of Confederate royal bloodline might be preserved and passed on, that she would marry a son of one of the great Confederate generals.

When she became engaged to the grandson of a well known abolitionist Jefferson Davis gave his consent, but the Davis family began receiving letters from Southerners stating their disapproval. Winnie was sent away to Europe to get away from the chaos and for her health.  While away absence made her heart grow coldly for her fiancé.  Once Winnie returned to the states her mother convinced her that that fiancé of hers could not support a wife and the marriage was called off.

After the breakup Winnie and Varina moved to New York City for pecuniary reasons.  They had tried to find writing jobs for Southern newspapers but to no avail.  A distant cousin of the Davises was Kate Pulitzer, wife of Joseph Pulitzer, one of the wealthiest men in the country.  Winnie and Varina were offered writing jobs paying them $1500 a year.  Winnie wrote two novels after moving to New York with her mother.

Tragically Winnie died on September 18, 1898 while vacationing in Narragansett, Rhode Island.  Her death register notes that she died from “acute gastritis and gastroenteritis.” She was only 34.

Her death was mourned in the north as well as the South. Many agreed with the symbolism of burying the Daughter of the Confederacy in the former capital of the Confederacy.  Richmond was eager to claim her as one of its own.  She had been born there, and memories of the Lost Cause and all those associated with it were still strong.  Winnie was granted a full military funeral, a rare honor for any woman.

As Southern writer and poet Robert Penn Warren observed, the South that had adored Winnie with a consuming passion ultimately rendered her “the last casualty of the Lost Cause.”

Availability of this Book

This book is readily available including from

Jeff Wolverton