In March 1861, Ambrose Dudley Mann, a native of Virginia, left the Confederate States of America on a diplomatic mission to Europe, where he remained for the next four years. After his country was defeated in the war, he resolved that he could never return to his native soil unless he returned to an independent South, and so he resided in France until his death in 1889, living in Paris and also at a country estate in Chantilly.

A new, never-before-published collection of his letters which has just been released as A Confederate in Paris: Letters of A. Dudley Mann, 1867-1879, offers a glimpse into the life of a Confederate expatriate who was a close friend of Jefferson Davis. Mann’s letters, all of which are addressed to his beloved friend in South Carolina, Mrs. Susan Sparks Keitt, document two visits by the Confederate ex-president, the first of which occurred in the winter of 1868-1869. Davis was accompanied by his wife Varina, and Mann proudly reported to Mrs. Keitt that the French people “were entirely captivated with him.” Mann tried to convince his old friend to settle in France, but he was too attached to his beloved South. The pure-minded Davis was put also off by the worldliness of Paris, although he did return there for a second time in the summer of 1874, staying with Mann for a month. On these two occasions Davis went abroad mainly for reasons of health, and his first trip included tours of Liverpool and Edinburgh, but, financially ruined, he also sought business opportunities in England and France. He had been cruelly imprisoned for two years after the war, awaiting a trial for treason that never took place. The legal case against Davis was not dropped until February 1869, so he was still under its cloud during his first visit to Paris, during which Mann praised him as “a magnificent representation of Majesty in adversity.”

In his letters to Mrs. Keitt, Mann also wrote about other ex-Confederates in France, the terrible conditions in Paris when the city was under siege during the Franco-Prussian War, and Reconstruction politics in America. The corruption evident in postwar American politics in both the North and South (especially during President Grant’s second term) disgusted him, and he was ashamed of “scalawag” Southerners who cooperated with Republicans in Washington and the carpetbagger governments in the states.

Mann was not only dismayed by the political and social trends he saw in America, but also in Europe. He was horrified by the socialist “Mob-Commune” (Communard) takeover in Paris after the Franco-Prussian war ended, and as the years went on, he observed the progress of Marxist ideology in Europe with alarm. On New Year’s Day in 1884, he penned a letter to Jefferson Davis, musing pessimistically about the march of Western civilization in Europe toward nihilism, socialism, and communism. The United States, he contended, was marching not far behind in the same direction, and that unfortunately, the only force which could have checked that progress, at least in America, was the South—but a South now gone. He wrote to his old friend:

I never was more bothered in mind for the formation of an opinion as to what point of descent the, so denominated civilized world is wending as on this New Year’s morning; nor do I believe that the brightest human vision can foresee. The propitious progress which it is making downward, in general demoralization, forbids a rational expectation that a halt is probable. Vice is in such supreme role everywhere that the masses of humankind are disgusted with government and are steadily embracing the sentiment of nihilism. Anarchy has become the impelling motive of their thoughts. Universal suffrage will not satisfy them. The potentates of Europe fancy that it will. Even Bismarck counts upon it as a cure for the Socialism of Germany. Gladstone seems to be quite willing to enlarge the elective franchise in Great Britain but he is met with the extremely puzzling question, to what extent? In like manner all the other premiers of the monarchs of Europe are secretly embarrassed for a trustworthy solution. But each, in the supposed interest of his reigning Mistress or Master, has no alternative but to make a ‘merit of necessity’ and allow every citizen to vote—and that before the lapse of a lengthened period. The political power thus created will inevitably sweep away the existing thrones. But it will not be inclined to stop with this procedure. It will institute Communism and precipitate a general division of property. The vox populi of the United States will not be far behind the lead of the movement. There was that virtue once in the South that would have efficiently checked such an attempt, but it has, as I contemplate the matter, actively disappeared. The sensibility of principle, in the control of affairs, no longer exists in that former Heaven favored land.[1]

Mann revered the South, especially its incarnation as an independent confederacy founded on the republican principles he revered. In March 1871 he wrote to Mrs. Keitt that “A Republic, such as was Virginia and South-Carolina in other days, and such as Switzerland is at present, is the best form of Government ever given to mankind.” Later, in June 1871, he declared, “I intend to die, as I have lived, a moderate Republican such as was Washington, Jefferson, Calhoun and the glorious men of the South of their times.” He could never accept the destruction of his beloved Confederacy, and among the Southern “irreconcilables” he may have been the most adamant. The letters of Ambrose Dudley Mann are a testament of his devotion to his beloved South.


[1] This letter was published in a collection of Mann’s letters to Jefferson Davis, “My Ever Dearest Friend,” 88-89.

Karen Stokes

Karen Stokes, an archivist at the South Carolina Historical Society in Charleston, is the author of nine non-fiction books including South Carolina Civilians in Sherman’s Path, The Immortal 600, A Confederate Englishman, Confederate South Carolina, Days of Destruction, and A Legion of Devils: Sherman in South Carolina. Her works of historical fiction include Honor in the Dust and The Immortals. Her latest non-fiction book, An Everlasting Circle: Letters of the Haskell Family of Abbeville, South Carolina, 1861-1865, includes the correspondence of seven brothers who served in the Confederate Army with great distinction.


  • Gordon says:

    Nice review Ms. Stokes. We can read only so many books about Chancellorsville and Brice’s Crossroads, so thank heaven for Confederate esoterica. Here, the study of Confederate ex-patriotism, begun early in the week in Brazil, spreads to France. I sympathize with Ambrose Dudley Mann’s heartbreak with the devastation wrought in his Virginia and the South and look forward to a fresh perspective. Just the same, I’ll stay forever more impressed with the hundreds of thousands who stayed, witnessed the devastation and shared in the toil of rebuilding their lives and homeland. I think I’m fortunate to be descended from the Confederate veterans and their families with a continued familiarity and remembrance.

    Mr. Mann accurately forecasts Marxism in the United States but even with continuing Reconstruction we’ve still had a measure of freedom and opportunity in the Southern United States that I don’t think Parisians can meet – and even if the chip on our shoulder has never really been knocked off. I’m thankful too that Southerners didn’t relinquish to authoritarians the sole authorship of defining what it is to be an American. I bet we’ve had more fun down home, too.

    To be truthful though, I really can’t read too much about Chancellorsville and Brice’s Crossroads.

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