A Guide to the James D. Davidson Letters, 1860-1865
The son of Presbyterian minister Andrew Baker Davidson James, Dorman Davidson (1808-1882) was born in Rockbridge County, Virginia. James graduated from Washington College in 1828. After passing the bar in 1831, Davidson lived and practiced law in Lexington for half a century. In 1835, he handled the settlement of the estate of Colonel James McDowell, father of Davidson’s friend and future Virginia governor James McDowell, Jr. Davidson. The case set Davidson’s course as a specialist in estate settlement. Known as the “Country Lawyer,” Davidson was widely respected by the Virginia legal community and made friends from all walks of life.
Politically active, he was first a Whig, then a Democrat, and initially a staunch Unionist. At the request of Governor John Letcher, Davidson visited with President Abraham Lincoln, withdrawing his opposition to secession after seeing that the President would not compromise. During the war, Davidson organized the Rockbridge County Home Guard, acted as Commissary Agent for the Virginia troops, and represented Governor Letcher in his dealings with military forces. Three of Davidson’s sons with wife Hannah McDowell Greenlee Davidson, Greenlee, Frederick, and Albert, died fighting for the Confederacy. His brother Alexander H. Davidson lived in Indiana and was a general in the U. S. Army. After the war, Davidson acted as a diplomatic agent between occupying Federal forces and the citizens of his county. He also tried to revive the local economy by urging investment in West Virginia coal and lumber.
In addition to his legal career, Davidson served as trustee of Washington and Lee University from 1858 to 1882. A friend of Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson, Davidson also led the establishment of memorials for the men in Lexington. Additionally, he contributed poems and short stories to the literary periodical The Mountain Laurel.
Kellar, Herbert A. “A Journey Through the South in 1836: Diary of James D. Davidson.” The Journal of Southern History. Vol. 1, No. 3 (August 1935): pp. 345-377.
Consisting of a typed transcript volume of correspondence and legal documents, the James D. Davidson Letters, 1860-1865, document the politics and life of Davidson and his family leading up to and during the Civil War. The correspondence with Davidson concerns slavery; the politics of succession and the Virginia Secession Convention; troop organization; and army life and family affairs, primarily in Virginia. Frequent correspondents include James McDowell, James Baldwin Dorman, John Letcher, and George W. Hannaford. Several legal documents include the charter for a light artillery company by Greenlee Davidson and a petition to allow men to work at the Rockbridge Woolen Factory rather than join the Confederate Army.
This collection is open for research use.
James D. Davidson Letters, 1860-1865, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.
Basic processing and cataloging of this collection was supported with funds from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) for the Briscoe Center’s History Revealed: Bringing Collections to Light project, 2009-2011.
Detailed Description of the Papers