From the dean of Civil War historians and
Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom comes a powerful new reckoning with Jefferson
Davis as military commander of the Confederacy.
History has not been kind to
Jefferson Davis. His cause went down in disastrous defeat and left the South
impoverished for generations. If that cause had succeeded, it would have torn
the United States in two and preserved the institution of slavery. Many
Americans in Davis’ own time and in later generations considered him an
incompetent leader, if not a traitor. Not so, argues James M. McPherson. In Embattled Rebel, McPherson shows us that Davis might have been on
the wrong side of history, but it is too easy to diminish him because of his
cause’s failure. In order to understand the Civil War and its outcome, it is
essential to give Davis his due as a military leader and as the president of an
aspiring Confederate nation.
Davis did not make it easy on
himself. His subordinates and enemies alike considered him difficult,
egotistical, and cold. He was gravely ill throughout much of the war, often
working from home and even from his sickbed. Nonetheless, McPherson argues,
Davis shaped and articulated the principal policy of the Confederacy with
clarity and force: the quest for independent nationhood. Although he had not
been a fire-breathing secessionist, once he committed himself to a Confederate
nation he never deviated from this goal. In a sense, Davis was the last
Confederate left standing in 1865.
As president of the
Confederacy, Davis devoted most of his waking hours to military strategy and
operations, along with Commander Robert E. Lee, and delegated the economic and
diplomatic functions of strategy to his subordinates. Davis was present on
several battlefields with Lee and even took part in some tactical planning;
indeed, their close relationship stands as one of the great military-civilian
partnerships in history.
Most critical appraisals of
Davis emphasize his choices in and management of generals rather than his
strategies, but no other chief executive in American history exercised such
tenacious hands-on influence in the shaping of military strategy. And while he
was imprisoned for two years after the Confederacy’s surrender awaiting a trial
for treason that never came, and lived for another twenty-four years, he never
once recanted the cause for which he had fought and lost. McPherson gives us
Jefferson Davis as the commander in chief he really was, showing persuasively
that while Davis did not win the war for the South, he was scarcely responsible
for losing it. Download and start listening now!