In 1862, with Grant's capture of Nashville and McClellan at the gates of Richmond, the drunken wretch of a Confederate President Robert Toombs (pictured) fled to Cuba leaving the defeated South to pay a heavy price for losing Jefferson Davis in an unnecessary duel with Judah P. Benjamin.
Co-written with Scott PalterThe dispute began when the two southern politicians clashed at a session of the Senatorial Finance Committee on June 8th 1858. Considering an army appropriations bill for $100,000 worth of breech-loading guns, the Senator for Lousiana had queried whether the request was actually for new guns, or simply to rework old ones. Taking exception to this line of inquiry, the Secretary of War made the offensive remark that he "had no idea that he was to be met with arguments of a paid attorney in the Senate Chamber". Benjamin took this statement as a personal insult because he believed that it implied he was a corrupt official being paid to represent the interests of a well-known gun manufacturer.
Asking Davis to repeat the remark in case he had heard it incorrectly, the Secretary of War was sufficiently angered to affirm (rather snappily) that indeed he had. By the time he reached the Senate cloak room, his anger had subsided, but by then it was too late because Davis was given notice of a challenge to a duel.
Benjamin had never fired a shot in his life whereas Davis had served as a Colonel in the Mexican-American War. But a cataract had caused almost total blindness in his right eye and his shot at his opponent missed the mark. Benjamin fled to England in disgrace only to discover from the post-humous publication of Davis diary that the Secretary of War had been pained by his misbehaviour in stepping across a boundary.
"Defend yourselves, the enemy is at your door ... !" ~ Robert ToombsAnd so neither were present on the floor of the Senate on January 24, 1860 when the then Senator for Georgia Robert Toombs famously declared "Defend yourselves, the enemy is at your door ... !". And from afar the guilty Benjamin was forced to read reports of Toombs rise to the Southern Leadership where has was to squander the Presidency that surely would have been far better served by Jefferson had he not wasted his life over a simple misunderstanding.
And yet Benjamin would still play a final part in the conduct of the war. World famous as the first practicing Jewish Cabinet Member of a North American Government, he convinced Benjamin Disraeli1 to act as an advocate for his southern comrades. And so just before the collapse of the Confederacy, the Royal Navy whisked die hard Confederates off to exile in South Africa. A final act of seemingly little significance that would ultimately have huge implications for the long-term future..