JEFFERSON DAVIS: The Man and His Hour by William C. Davis

JEFFERSON DAVIS: The Man and His Hour

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A fine, objective portrait in paradox, shrewdly detailing how Jefferson Davis's character flaws rendered him woefully unsuited to be President of the Confederacy. The author (no relation to his subject) brings to bear the military acumen one might expect from a former editor of Civil War Times Illustrated and author of more than 25 books on the Civil War and southern history, including Duel Between the First Ironclads and The Battle of New Market (both 1975). Yet his discussion of strategy is also informed by a firm grasp of Davis's extremes of character. It seemed logical in 1861 that the South would turn to Davis. He was, after all, its major military hero (as a colonel in the Mexican War, he helped win the Battle of Buena Vista); the natural successor to John Calhoun as the Senate's chief States'-rights advocate; and, under President Franklin Pierce, one of the most innovative secretaries of war ever. Yet, as early as his two courts-martial while a West Point cadet and army lieutenant, Davis manifested negative traits that proved fatal as a chief executive: anger, pedantry, vanity, indecision, and, as his future second wife noted after their very first meeting, an overbearing ""way of taking for granted that everybody agrees with him."" He had the diligence and intelligence of a bureaucrat, but none of the interpersonal skills of a politician. Author Davis examines how these strengths and weaknesses affected the Confederate leader's relationships with his strong-willed second wife, Varina, and his mentor, brother Joseph; his unusually benevolent treatment of slaves; and his mismanagement of the western theater of operations, aggravated by petty squabbling with Generals Pierre Beauregard and Joseph Johnstone and foolish loyalty to incompetents like Braxton Bragg and Leonidas Polk. A dispassionate, well-researched, and skillful biography of a complex and controversial figure.

Pub Date: Dec. 4th, 1991
Page count: 792pp
Publisher: HarperCollins