Jefferson Davis, Unconquerable Heart

Jefferson Davis, Unconquerable Heart

Jefferson Davis, Unconquerable Heart

Jefferson Davis, Unconquerable Heart

Synopsis

Preeminent Civil War historian Frank Vandiver always longed to see an interpretive biography of Jefferson Davis. Finally, more than twenty years after Vandiver expressed that wish, publication of Jefferson Davis, Unconquerable Heart makes such an interpretive biography available. Felicity Allen begins this monumental work with Davis's political imprisonment at the end of the Civil War & masterfully flashes back to his earlier life, interweaving Davis's private life as a schoolboy, a Mississippi planter, a husband, a father, & a political leader. She follows him from West Point through army service on the frontier, his election to the U.S. House of Representatives, his regimental command in the Mexican War, his service as U.S. secretary of war & senator, & his term as president of the Confederate States of America. Although Davis's family is the nexus of this biography, friends & enemies also play a major role. Among his friends fully explored in this book are such political greats as Andrew Jackson, John C. Calhoun, Zachary Taylor, Franklin Pierce, & Robert E. Lee. With the use of contemporary accounts & Davis's own correspondence, Jefferson Davis, Unconquerable Heart casts new light upon this remarkable man, thawing the icy image of Davis in previous accounts. Felicity Allen shows a strong, yet gentle man; a stern soldier who loved horses, guns, poetry, & children; a master of the English language; a man of powerful feelings who held them in such tight control that he was considered cold; & a home-loving Mississippian who was drawn into a vortex of national events & eventual catastrophe. Davis's Christian view of life runs like a thread throughout the book as shown by his devotion to his family, to the land, & to God. "Duty, honor, country" always occupied Davis's mind. Jefferson Davis, Unconquerable Heart brings Davis to life in a way that has never been done before. The variety of his experience, the breadth of his learning, & the consistency of his beliefs make this historical figure eminently worth knowing.

Excerpt

When Jeff Davis died in 1889, everyone in the South knew who he was, and what he was. In Europe and the North, most people knew something about him, even if it was bad. Yet by 1977, FrankVandiver had picked up a phrase Communists were then using to obliterate their enemies and referred to him as “an historical nonperson.” Beginning my research just before this, I had found indeed that ignorance like my own was a general state. My friends could not tell me anything except that Davis had been president of the Confederacy. So I read Dunbar Rowland's ten-volume collection of Davis's letters and papers, little by little, in order to answer the question: “What was he really like?”

This was what Sigrid Undset had asked in 1942 when Hudson Strode tookher to see the daughters of Gen. and Mrs. Josiah Gorgas in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. They, whose parents had known Davis, told her, “He was noble! A man of impeccable integrity, with a truly warm and generous heart” and “a splendid soldier.” The Nobel Prize winner in literature was puzzled. She knew that Robert E. Lee, her son's hero, was “glorified by both sides, ” and she could not understand why historians seemed to tell her only about Davis's faults. “Could anyone else have done so well, or held the Confederacy together so long with so little?” she asked. “Why is Jefferson Davis not given his due?”

Those four years as president will always be the ones of most interest, but that leaves seventy-seven more. “My whole life must speakfor me, ” said Leonidas Polk. So must Davis's. Those other years are in this book, as detailed as space will allow, showing his youth, his careers of soldier, planter, statesman, executive, and lastly, writer. All the outward events of his life speakclearly but do not say enough. What a man is “really like” comes out in the thoughts of his heart—what he feels and thinks and, above all, believes. We discover these in this bookthrough his own words, his prayers, what he chooses to read, and his relations with other people. His enemies speaktheir minds about him here, and we follow close friendships, some lasting throughout his life. The one with Lee is xi . . .

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