LOOK AWAY! by William C. Davis


A History of the Confederate States of America
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Historian Davis (Lincoln’s Men, 1999, etc.) offers a thoughtful social and political history of the Confederacy, without the usual emphasis on armies and battles.

The secession of the Confederate states from the US in 1861 was an odd sort of revolution. A small group of Southern autocrats and firebrands, who controlled political activity in their states using the forms and rhetoric of democracy, started the Civil War to preserve a hereditary aristocracy and a semi-feudal way of life. However, the strong sense of state identity and distrust of central authority that gave birth to the secessionist movement fatally undermined the Confederate government, and personal antagonisms between President Jefferson Davis and his many enemies added to the disunity. Moreover, the very process of waging the Civil War dramatically transformed Southern society. As the author explains, social chaos disrupted the legal system, Southern families experienced ever-worsening economic privation, and disloyalty to the Confederacy became commonplace. Rationing of commodities like cotton and salt represented government intrusion into private affairs that should have been antithetical to secessionists jealous of their property rights. Davis (Director of Programs/Virginia Center for Civil War Studies, Virginia Tech.) points out that by war's end military necessity compelled Confederate leaders to consider the conscription of black troops, which made nonsense of the racial justification for slavery. Ironically, he observes, the comprehensive ruin of the Civil War left Southern oligarchies intact at its end. Thus, ominously for Reconstruction, postwar Southern power remained in the hands of the few rather than the many.

There probably have been too many books written about the Civil War—James Thurber once suggested that fines be levied on authors of new ones. Davis, though, admirably sheds some new light on an old topic.

Pub Date: April 7th, 2002
ISBN: 0-684-86585-8
Page count: 496pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2002


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