- Scope and Contents
The W. W. H. Davis Papers contain correspondence, writings, journals, drawings, newspaper clippings, photographs, and memorabilia which document aspects of the life and career of William Watts Hart Davis, attorney, editor, military officer, and historian. The papers span the dates 1846 to 1896, with the bulk of the material falling between 1846 and 1864.
The W. W. H. Davis Papers have been arranged into three series. The largest portion of the collection was originally housed in four scrapbooks, bound in the early 1880s. These volumes consist chiefly of chronologically arranged correspondence, interspersed with drawings, newspapers clippings, photographs, and other ephemera. A fifth volume was prepared but never bound. For ease of use and preservation of individual letters, these volumes, which constitute Series I, Scrapbooks, were disbound. The identity of each volume has been maintained and Davis's original order retained, with each volume representing a separate subseries. Series II, Autobiographical Writings, contains essays, draft fragments, and a memoir. Series III, Personal Papers, is composed of journals, a ledger, and miscellaneous papers. Oversize material is placed at the end of the collection.
Democratic Party politics is the common thread running through the three periods of William Watts Hart Davis's life represented in this collection. His papers reveal the prevailing attitude that loyal service to party should be rewarded with political gain. Davis possessed a keen sense of public duty, which had been encouraged by his father. He was also ambitious and frequently sought advice and assistance from his father, who was influential in both the Democratic Party and the military. John Davis served as a captain in the War of 1812 and later rose to the rank of general in the Pennsylvania State Militia. He was elected as a Democrat to the Twenty-sixth Congress (1839-41) and was an unsuccessful candidate for re-election in 1840. He was appointed surveyor of the port of Philadelphia by President James K. Polk and served from 1845 to 1849. He was a delegate to several Democratic state and national conventions and was a friend and advisor to President James Buchanan (1857-61).
Series I, Scrapbooks , is divided into five subseries, which represent the original bound volumes. Davis arranged the correspondence and memorabilia in the scrapbooks according to major themes, but within the volumes he further subdivided material by chronological period, incoming versus outgoing correspondence, or family versus non-family correspondence. This scheme produces a certain amount of overlap in the chronological sequence of the volumes and sometimes makes it necessary to consult two or more volumes to follow events occurring at the same time.
The scrapbooks cover a twenty-year span and chronicle Davis's military and civil service to the United States. The material falls into three categories: 1) the Mexican War (1846-48), covered in the first and third volumes; 2) Davis's civil service in the Territory of New Mexico (1853-57), covered in the first and second volumes; and 3) the Civil War (1861-65), covered in the third, fourth, and fifth volumes.
Elected first lieutenant of Company E, Davis and his regiment sailed from Boston on February 23, 1847. Twenty-nine days later, the ship arrived at Brazos Santiago on the Mexican border. Davis's letters describe the trip from the coast to Matamoros. His company was attached to Colonel Caleb Cushing, who was soon promoted to brigadier general. Davis hoped to become Cushing's assistant adjutant general through his father's influence with President Polk, but this did not come about. Cushing, however, a friend of Davis's father and a loyal Democrat, soon promoted him to aide-de-camp with the pay of assistant adjutant general.
After being stationed two months at Matamoros, Cushing was ordered to join forces with General Taylor in Monterey. The troops sailed up the Rio Grande to Ciudad Camargo and marched westward to Monterey. Davis's letters describe the march, the countryside, and its people. Most meals consisted of fried pork and hard bread, and dysentery from the drinking water was common. After many weeks, they reached Monterey and from there proceeded to Saltillo. In August Davis wrote from Buena Vista, having arrived shortly after the battle. He described in vivid detail the carnage of war. While there, Davis recounted he had met General Taylor several times.
A month later Davis wrote from Camp Sabinito in Texas, as his brigade had been transferred from upper Mexico and was en route to Vera Cruz to join forces with Major General Patterson. From Brazos Santiago, Davis's brigade sailed on the steamer Fanny and arrived in Vera Cruz around the first of October. They were soon transferred again to join forces with General Winfield Scott in Mexico City. After a march of five weeks, they arrived in the capital at the end of November 1847.
Davis was pleased to be transferred to Mexico City. In a letter to his father dated December 6, 1847, he expressed the hope that being in the capital "will afford us some fighting and give us a chance to try our maiden swords" (Box 3, folder 38). Davis was impressed by the size and magnificence of Mexico City and was especially struck by the grandeur and immensity of the public buildings. Later he traveled to Guadalupe to witness the festival in honor of "Our Lady of Guadalupe."
Davis seems never to have gotten the opportunity to "try his maiden sword," but his six-month residence in Mexico City was not in vain. His position as General Cushing's aide-de-camp placed him in a perfect position to observe and record events, frequently ones at the heart of Mexican authority and influence. The general and his staff stayed in the houses of wealthy residents and Davis took advantage of this situation by learning Spanish. (Box 3, folder 39)
Davis contributed to our knowledge of the Mexican War through his detailed observations of the process by which the Mexican government ratified the peace treaty concluding the war. A letter of February 7, 1848 to his father provides detailed information on the drafting of the treaty, its terms, and the process of ratification:
"As to the ratification by the Mexican Congress, I think it very doubtful, and so do all thinking men here. The President has not been able to bring a quorum together, and when a quorum is assembled it will be more difficult to control their votes. All agree that the President has but little power, and that it will be impossible to bring a constitutional majority to his way of thinking. To effect his purpose of a ratification, he is now raising a million of money with which to influence the votes of the members of Congress. One member in the city of Mexico demands twenty thousand before he will take his seat, to say nothing of the sum he will require to buy his vote." (Box 3, folder 39)
Later in a letter of May 20, 1848 to his sister Ann, Davis accurately predicted Mexico's future:
"What will become of this unhappy country when the American Army leaves, God only knows. The seeds of discord already begin to show themselves, and ere long must grow up and bring forth bad fruit. The disorganizers of their country who are too cowardly to fight, and yet always oppose peace, are anxiously awaiting the time when they can raise up new revolutions to distract their already unhappy and unfortunate country. I fear revolution will follow upon revolution in quick succession and the treaty instead of bringing peace and quite to Mexico will be the forerunner of new discords and dissentions. I hope these predictions may turn out to be untrue but I have fears and doubts." (Box 3, folder 40)
The bulk of Davis's correspondence during the Mexican War consists of letters to his parents and three unmarried sisters: Amy, Lizzie, and Sarah (Sallie). He encouraged them to read his letters to any friends who might drop by and they frequently wrote to tell him that they did so. In addition, he frequently sent letters for publication to S. J. Paxon, editor of the Doylestown Democrat, and John W. Forney, editor of the Pennsylvanian.
Davis received considerable correspondence from his friends, many of whom were lawyers. Among them were Edward J. ("Ned") Fox, Joseph Pfeiffer Longhead, and John Blair. They were devoted Democrats who often discussed local, state, and national politics and took every opportunity to castigate the Whigs. A typical attitude was expressed in a letter of July 4, 1847 by Davis's brother-in-law, A. T. Duffield, who wrote of his disgust with the Whigs over their vehement opposition to the Mexican War: "Our country right or wrong has long been a favorite motto with Americans, but these bipeds never acknowledge their country right under any circumstances" (Box 1, folder 4). The great fear of Davis's friends was that the Whigs would grab General Taylor as a presidential candidate before the Democrats could.
Another of Davis's correspondents was the wealthy Philadelphia Quaker merchant Oliver Howard Wilson. He opposed the war and sympathized with the patriotism exhibited by the Mexican people in defending their homeland. In keeping with his love of peace, Wilson remarked in one letter how he gained great pleasure from gazing at his painting "The Peaceable Kingdom," which he had purchased from artist and fellow Quaker Edward Hicks. As victories by the U.S. forces continued, Wilson expressed the fear that Mexico would be annexed as slave territory and that this action would lead to the dissolution of the union.
The greatest personal tragedy suffered by Davis while he was away at war was the death of his mother on August 17, 1847 of complications related to palsy and dysentery. Davis's father and sisters were devastated by her death and John Davis asked his son to resign his commission and return home, but on October 4, 1847, Davis replied:
"The motives which would govern me in such a course, could not and would not be appreciated by men at large, and although they might know all the circumstances, the very fact of my resigning at such a period would appear strongly against me. I am now living for the future, and as I hold my spotless reputation dearer than life, I wish to give those who would hereafter injure me, no chance to do harm. What a grand opportunity it would be for political capital." (Box 3, folder 38)
Three months later Davis asked his father to use his influence to get him a lieutenant colonel's commission. By April he had lowered his sights: "The Majority is still vacant, and I stand a good chance of being elected" (Box 3, folder 39). On July 19, 1848, Davis was mustered out of the army with the rank of captain.
With the war over and the imminent likelihood of a Whig administration in the White House, Davis returned to Doylestown and practiced law for the next five years. Upon Franklin Pierce's election to the presidency in 1852, Davis began a flurry of correspondence to Congressmen and other prominent Democrats, seeking support for a consulate or port position. Although Caleb Cushing, Davis's commanding officer in the Mexican War, was secretary of state in the new administration, Davis was unable to secure a position he wanted. On September 11, 1853, however, Cushing informed Davis that the position of United States District Attorney for the Territory of New Mexico was open. Davis accepted the offer and received the appointment eight days later (Box 2, folder 13).
Davis arrived in Santa Fe on November 24, 1853 after a twenty-three-day trip from Independence, Missouri. He was unimpressed with the territorial capital and described it as a mud city of some six or seven thousand individuals. He threw himself into his work, traveling on horseback to the U.S. District Court over the territory, which then included most of present-day New Mexico and Arizona and parts of Colorado and Nevada.
Davis was appointed secretary of the Territory of New Mexico on May 22, 1854. Pleased with his promotion, he wrote in a letter of August 26, 1854 to his sister Lizzie: "I am the next biggest man to the Governor in the Territory now, and hope one of these days to be the biggest duck in the puddle" (Box 2, folder 27). At the time, the Territory of New Mexico had a population of sixty thousand, practically all of whom were of Hispanic origin.
As secretary, Davis was charged with recording, maintaining, and making public all legislative acts and proceedings of the territory. One important function was to print and disseminate the acts and proceedings. Davis let this lucrative contract to the Santa Fe Gazette, which he served as editor for some two and a half years. Davis further supplemented his income by serving as the Santa Fe agent for Hockaday and Hall, stage proprietors, who provided the main communication link with the "States" through their monthly mail deliveries.
New Mexico Territory contained numerous Indian tribes, many of whom periodically clashed with local whites. In hopes of making peace treaties with the Apache, Navajo, and Utah Indians, Governor David Meriwether was frequently out of the capital. The governor often encountered Mormons to the north, who were held in contempt by the New Mexican territorial officials. Meriwether's absences left Davis as acting governor.
In New Mexico Davis developed a number of strong political enemies, chief of whom was his former business partner at the Santa Fe Gazette, James L. Collins. Their quarrel originated in a dispute over Governor Meriwether's handling of Indian affairs. When Meriwether took office, his duties included the responsibilities of the Superintendent of Indian Affairs. During his term these two offices were separated and Collins was appointed the first full-time superintendent. Shortly after Collins's appointment, Meriwether returned to the States on business. In leaving, he removed from the letterbook of the Office of the Superintendent of Indian Affairs copies of certain letters which he considered personal. When Collins obtained the letterbook and discovered the missing copies, he accused Meriwether of removing evidence of his mismanagement of the Office of Indian Affairs. Collins demanded that Davis, as acting governor, apprehend Meriwether and recover the letters. Davis, however, had discussed the matter with Meriwether and dismissed the affair, and claimed that Collins's motivation was to run him out of the country, ultimately leaving the administration of the territorial government to Collins and his crooked friends. Accusations and counteraccusations made their way to Washington. Davis wrote his father urging him to go to Washington to speak with the president and resolve the matter.
In another controversy, the National Democrats of the County of Santa Fe sent a resolution to Washington demanding Davis's removal as secretary of the Territory. In that position, he was required by the territorial constitution to have the annual proceedings of each legislative session printed and distributed throughout the territory. In 1855, however, the Treasury Department failed to allocate money for this purpose. Since he was not authorized to incur deficits and since communication with Washington often took months, Davis printed and distributed one hundred copies of the most important proceedings. The citizens group intrepreted Davis's action as willful disregard of his responsibilities and filed a complaint. To make matters worse, the lower house declared that the Territory of New Mexico did not recognize the authority of the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States within its borders.
The volume of Davis's civil service papers contains two legislative reports filed with the House of Representatives of the Territory of New Mexico. The first concerns the issue of slavery and stated that when the Territory of New Mexico applied for statehood, it would declare its position on slavery in its proposed state constitution. The second report urged support for the passage of a bill authorizing both civil authorities and Protestant and Jewish religious officials to perform marriages. Previously only marriages performed by Roman Catholic priests were valid in the Territory of New Mexico.
Soon after his arrival Davis was hired to serve as legal counsel for the New Mexico Mining Company. Davis's primary duties were to insure the validity of the charter and the legality of the land titles. The president and chief stockholder of the company was Abraham Rencher, a native of Pennsylvania.
Dissatisfied with both the Pierce administration and his own career, Davis wrote to his sister Lizzie on November 25, 1855, "If a new Democratic President should be elected, I must try and obtain a good office in a more civilized country" (Box 2, folder 29). After the election of Pennsylvanian James Buchanan, Davis wrote his father and other influential Democrats asking for an appointment to a consulate position in Europe or the West Indies. When success appeared unlikely, he petitioned for the office of territorial governor of New Mexico. At the end of the summer Abraham Rencher was appointed governor and Davis submitted his resignation as territorial secretary.
In other letters, Davis complained about the climate, the landscape, the high cost of living, the isolation, and the strange customs and backwardness of the local people. He remarked in a May 27, 1854 letter that the morals of the natives of New Mexico were "rotten to the very core, in fact they have none. . . . They are familiar with every vice known. . . and practice them without let or hindrance." On Christmas Day he wrote about the legislature: "They are about as fit to make laws for themselves as so many children. . . . The fools are talking about a state government, when they will not be fit for it under twenty five years" (Box 2, folder 27).
He also felt his talents and abilities were under-utilized and unappreciated. Two happy events transpired during his tenure in New Mexico, however. On June 24, 1856 he married Anna Carpenter, daughter of a wealthy Brooklyn businessman, and in August of that same year he signed an agreement with Harper & Brothers for the publication of his first book, El Gringo: or New Mexico and Her People. El Gringo records his views of the Spanish-speaking Roman Catholic inhabitants of the former Mexican holding.
In the summer of 1857 Davis began to make alternate plans in case his political aspirations did not materialize. On May 27, 1857 he wrote his father that he was considering becoming editor of a good newspaper. Eventually Davis purchased the Doylestown Democrat from S. J. Paxon and returned home.
Following the bombardment of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, the Doylestown Guards responded to President Lincoln's request for troops to defend the capital. Davis was commissioned captain of Company I, 25th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers on April 26. Soon thereafter Davis and his men went to Harrisburg, where they joined the other companies of their regiment for training. On May 3 from Camp Scott in York, Pennsylvania, Davis wrote his wife that he had been placed in command of six companies, numbering some four hundred men. (Box 3, folder 43) He reported that his company, the Doylestown Guards, was the best outfitted, armed, and disciplined in camp.
The next week Davis received special orders from General Simon Cameron, Secretary of War, to detach the battery belonging to the Ringold Artillery and report to Colonel Cake in Washington. Davis with eighty men and four pieces of cannon departed York by railroad and reached the north side of Baltimore early on the morning of May fifteenth. The battery of the Ringold Artillery was the first company to pass directly through the City of Baltimore since the bloody riot of April 19, in which Pennsylvania and Massachusetts troops were attacked by Southern sympathizers. In letters to his wife and father, Davis described in gripping detail the tension and fear he and his men experienced while passing through the cursing, taunting crowd. (Box 3, folder 43)
The battery arrived safely in Washington and was attached to the Advance Pennsylvania Regiment, nicknamed the Cameronians, after Secretary of War Cameron. Toward the end of June, Davis and his men were sent to the upper Potomac, some fifty miles above Washington in northwestern Maryland, to reinforce the column of Colonel Stone. They passed through Rockville, Poolsville, and Point-of-Rocks before reaching Harper's Ferry. Occasionally they engaged in brief skirmishes with rebel forces but never actually came into battle. From Williamsport they crossed over the Potomac to Martinsburg, Virginia (now West Virginia) to reinforce General Patterson. From there they went to Winchester, Virginia, and then back to Charlestown, Virginia (now West Virginia), where Davis was made provost marshall of the town. On August 1 the term of Davis's three-month enlistment expired. Upon special orders of the secretary of war, Davis returned home, where he raised the 104th Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers.
By the fall Davis had returned to Washington. He was stationed at Camp Davis in Kalorama Heights, named in honor of his father, and commanded the 3rd Provisional Brigade, numbering some thirty-two hundred men. In letters to his father he constantly urged him to use his influence to help secure him a brigadier generalship. These letters accomplished little, but as a "pet" of the secretary of war, he was introduced to such notables as General McClellan and the Count de Paris. In a letter of February 2, 1862 to his father, Davis expressed his fears of being passed over and missing the glories of battle. (Box 3, folder 47) Around the end of March Davis was ordered to accompany General McClellan in his campaign to take Richmond. His letters provide a detailed account of the transport of the troops from Alexandria to Fortress Monroe, as well as ensuing skirmishes and battles.
During the campaign Davis and his men were constantly on the march, frequently separated from their baggage, forced to sleep in their clothes in the open and to subsist on hard crackers, as well as being shot at by the enemy. By the end of the month, when his regiment was within six miles of the Richmond, he was wounded in the arm and sent home to recover. Davis returned to active duty in August, but the Union army was now in retreat and evacuating the peninsula. Around the end of the month Davis was placed in command of the fort at Gloucester Point, just across the river from Yorktown. He set about repairing and strengthening this stronghold, where he remained until the end of the year.
In January 1863 Davis's brigade was shipped to Carolina City, North Carolina, but by the end of the month they were transferred to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. In early July Davis and his men were sent to Folly Island in Charleston Harbor to take part in the siege of Charleston. General Gillmore placed Davis in command of all the Union forces on Folly Island, which was the base of supplies for operations against Charleston. For the next year Davis variously served on Folly, Morris, and James Island and he carefully recorded events and observations in his letters and in a journal. On July 6, 1864, Davis was in a tree examining the position of the rebel forces with his field glasses when a shell exploded near him. The resulting injury cost him most of the fingers of his right hand. For W. W. H. Davis the war was over and he was mustered out on September 30, 1864.
In addition to correspondence, the scrapbooks also contain photographs of Davis, his wife, Harvard Law School, and various public buildings in Monterey, Mexico; newspaper clippings, especially published letters written by Davis about the Mexican War; some broadsides in Spanish from Davis's civil service in New Mexico; a few crude, hand-drawn maps; a number of receipts; and twenty-six captioned pencil drawings depicting scenes from the siege of Charleston. See appendix for a list of these drawings.
Series II, Autobiographical Writings , reflects Davis's involvement in and impressions of Mexico and the American Southwest. The series contains an essay on the occupation of Mexico City by American forces during the Mexican War and another on the Spaniard in New Mexico. There are numerous draft fragments describing the Mexican War. The series also contains a lengthy letter to an unidentified editor in which Davis rebuts a letter of William Ellery Channing to Henry Clay on the question of Texas annexation. The greatest portion of the series consists of a memoir, written by Davis in 1849, recounting his experiences as captain and aide-de-camp to Brigadier General Caleb Cushing during the Mexican War. There are two typescript copies of this memoir.
Series III, Personal Papers , consists of an extra-illustrated Life of John Davis, journals, a ledger, and miscellaneous papers reflecting Davis's travels and responsibilities in New Mexico and military service in the Mexican War and Civil War. Davis kept journals of a trip west in 1852 and his 1853 journey from Doylestown to Santa Fe. A ledger documents Davis's service as Santa Fe agent for Hockaday and Hall. Davis also kept a journal during the siege of Charleston in 1863-64. Pamphlets of the Aztec Club and the National Association of the Veterans of the Mexican War provide evidence of Davis's affiliation with Mexican War veterans's associations. There is also a student notebook in Spanish.
Oversize consists of official appointments to civil service in the Territory of New Mexico and commissions to military service in the Mexican War, Pennsylvania State Militia, and the Civil War.
- Conditions Governing Access
The materials are open for research.
- Conditions Governing Use
The W. W. H. Davis Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.
- Immediate Source of Acquisition
Please consult the appropriate curator.
- 1846 - 1896
- Majority of material found within 1846 - 1864
- 4.5 Linear Feet (10 boxes)
- Related Names
- Davis, W. W. H. (William Watts Hart), 1820-1910
- Language of Materials