I was surprised to see James M. McPherson, who I always thought was no friend of the South, writing a book about Jefferson Davis in a positive light. There was a time I cared little for Davis or reading anything about him. That changed years ago when I read his prison memoirs. Davis is a very complex man, and a man of his time. Like many of that period in time, he is torn between the Union and seeing it dissolved. He is a slaveholder, yet he and his brother treat them fairly. He is not to be judged lightly.
McPherson is to be congratulated on fairly bringing Davis to the forefront of his writings. Davis was in no way perfect and yet he is cast into a role he has no desire to fill. Like many of the former leaders returning to the South after secession, he just wants to live a quiet life and be left alone. Yet the will of the people would not have it any other way and Davis is trust into the forefront of the fledgling Southern nation.
This book brings to light that Davis did not walk into the Confederate White House with all the answers and knowledge to do the job. Quite the opposite is true, and Davis is thrust upon a stage to perform before the world in a role without a script. McPherson gives the reader a view of Davis as he appoints his generals, looks toward war, and then fights enemies within and without, and then struggles while the Confederacy slowly crumbles. We see him as a sick man, a hardened leader, as one who has compassion, and as a family man. We see him going from a U.S. government leader to the leader of a new country seeking recognition from the world in the sea of confusion and debate.
Davis was the Commander in Chief and he would remain so, even as he fled Richmond and headed south. As advisors jumped ship and told Davis the cause was now hopeless, he would remain, if nothing else, the Commander in Chief to the bitter end.
I recommend this well written book by one of America’s best Civil War historians. It is not a long work, but an excellent source for anyone wanting to understand the mind and life of the Confederate President.
Title: Embattled Rebel Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief
Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The
Author: James M. McPherson
-Book review by Tim Massey
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