Varina Anne Davis was the youngest of six children born to Confederate President Jefferson F. Davis and his wife Varina Howell Davis. Born on June 27, 1864, in the White House of the Confederacy, she was known affectionately to her family as "Winnie."
According to the United Daughters of the Confederacy Magazine (volume LVII, number 8, p. 4, September 1994), "In 1896 Winnie...accompanied her father on a trip to Atlanta, Georgia. During a train stop at West Point, Georgia, General John B. Gordon, who was escorting the group to Atlanta, introduced Winnie for the first time as '...the Daughter of the Confederacy...' Southern women took this name to heart and further honored her by choosing the name 'Daughters of the Confederacy' for their organizations in their work with Confederate veterans and their families."
Winnie lived with her parents at Beauvoir near Biloxi, Mississippi, throughout the 1880s and became a great favorite with veterans across the South, whose reunions and rallies she attended regularly with her father. So proprietary did they feel about their adored Winnie that they raised a great outcry when it became known that she was being romanced by Alfred C. (Fred) Wilkinson, a young New York attorney whose grandfather had been a leading light in the abolitionist movement. Although Jefferson and Varina gave their blessings to an eventual marriage, the couple's 1890 engagement didn't last long. Some believe that the public furor ended the relationship, but more recent evidence indicates that Wilkinson's financial situation may have been more to blame.
Winnie and Varina moved to New York City in 1891 following Jefferson Davis's death in 1889, where both actively pursued careers in literature. Although Varina would eventually publish a monumental two-volume biography of her husband, Winnie's aspirations were cut short. In 1898, while visiting in Rhode Island, she succumbed to "malarial gastritis." The Daughter of the Confederacy was dead at the age of 34.
In keeping with the reverence in which she was held by former Confederates, Winnie Davis was buried with full military honors in Richmond's Hollywood Cemetery. A year later, on November 9, 1899 -- at the sixth General convention of the organization that now bears her name -- a monument depicting a mourning angel was unveiled at her gravesite. A sonnet composed especially for the occasion by Dr. Henry M. Clarkson was read to the United Daughters of the Confederacy General convention in honor of the dedication ceremonies.
"Daughter of the Confederacy"
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Last modified 18-April-2001