Look Away! A History of the Confederate States of America
Dirck, Brian R., The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Look Away! A History of the Confederate States of America. By WILLIAM C. DAVIS. New York: The Free Press, 2002. xii, 484 pp. $35.00 cloth; $17.00 paper.
FEW people are better qualified than William C. Davis to write a general history of the Confederacy. He has written excellent studies of the Confederacy's birth and death and biographies of Jefferson Davis, John C. Breckinridge, and Robert Barnwell Rhett. Although Davis is well versed in military matters, he does not allow his various explorations into Confederate history to become drums-and-trumpets accounts focusing on generals, soldiers, and battlefields.
Look Away! reflects these strengths. While offering relatively brief nods to battlefield exploits, Davis focuses most of his attention on the political and social history of the Confederacy. Following a detailed description of the circumstances surrounding the creation of the new nation's constitution and government, the book offers thematic chapters describing the Confederacy's legal system, economic problems, race relations, the role played by southern women in the war, and the various disputes between Richmond and state authorities.
Confederate history is "a good story," Davis argues, and (as in all of his books), he employs his considerable talents in bringing that story to life. His narrative perfectly captures the eccentric collection of personalities that inhabited the Confederacy's political universe: Jefferson Davis's combination of competence, aloofness, and political insensitivity; Alexander Stephens's intellectual brilliance, coupled with a seething hatred for Davis that led him to become one of the Confederacy's foremost obstructionists; Robert Barnwell Rhett's gnawing bitterness at being passed over for the high political offices his erratic character would have turned into disaster; Robert Toombs's drunkenness. Davis also has a nice feel for the trials and tribulations of the thousands of ordinary people who did most of the war's suffering and dying.
Davis's Confederacy is a cauldron of seething social tensions, political resentments, and economic hardships. The overall narrative arc in Look Away! …