Rise and Fall of the Confederacy: The Memoir of Senator Williamson S. Oldham, CSA

Rise and Fall of the Confederacy: The Memoir of Senator Williamson S. Oldham, CSA

Rise and Fall of the Confederacy: The Memoir of Senator Williamson S. Oldham, CSA

Rise and Fall of the Confederacy: The Memoir of Senator Williamson S. Oldham, CSA

Synopsis

Williamson S. Oldham was a shrewd and candid observer of the Civil War scene. Representing the always contrary and suspicious Texans in the Confederate Senate, he was a major opponent of President Jefferson Davis and spoke out vehemently against conscription--which he considered an abusive violation of individual rights--and against military interference in the cotton trade. Oldham's memoir provides a firsthand look at the Civil War from the perspective of a government insider. In it, he sheds light on such topics as military strategy, foreign relations, taxes, and conflicts between state officials and the Confederate government. Perhaps more important, his travels between Texas and Richmond--both during and after the war--allowed him to observe the many changes taking place in the South, and he made note of both the general sentiment of citizens and the effect of political and military measures on the country. Throughout the memoir, Oldham consistently stresses the centrality of politics to a society and the necessity of legislating for the will of the people even in times of war. In assessing the Confederacy's defeat, he points not to military causes but to Congress's giving in to the will of the president and military leaders rather than ruling for and representing the people. Clayton E. Jewett has edited and annotated Oldham's memoir to produce the only fully edited publication of this important document, significantly expanded here over any version previously published. His introduction helps clarify Oldham's position on many of the topics he discusses, making the memoir accessible to scholar and Civil War buff alike, while his annotations reflect his deep knowledge of the intrigue of wartime political life in both Texas and Richmond. Oldham's memoir offers important new insight into not only political leadership and conflicts in a young nation but also the question of why the South lost the Civil War, dispelling many myths about the defeat and bolstering interpretations of the Confederacy's decline that point more to political than to military causes. Rise and Fall of the Confederacy is one of the major political and social documents of the Confederacy and will be a boon to all scholars of the Civil War era.

Excerpt

For years, historians of the American Civil War have neglected significant politicians, especially legislators, in favor of accentuating military leaders. While descriptions of the guns, blood, and death of the battlefield can be more interesting to read, an emphasis on that aspect of the war has left a gap in our understanding of southern Civil War society and the Confederate defeat. As such, it behooves historians to examine the words and actions of significant politicians and to explore the broader political realm in order to better understand that most significant historical period. Williamson Simpson Oldham, a Confederate senator from Texas, is one politician worthy of such attention. During the Civil War, six times Oldham traveled between Richmond and Texas and made note of the social, political, and economic climate. Immediately after the war, he wrote his memoir specifying numerous concerns facing southerners and the Confederacy. Over the years, researchers have consulted Oldham’s memoir, and the noted historian Wilfred Buck Yearns edited and published a small portion that he entitled From Richmond to Texas. Yearns, however, included only the first four chapters of the memoir and omitted much informative and biographical information. Rise and Fall of the Confederacy is thus the first full edition of Oldham’s Civil War memoir.

In his work, Oldham details his opposition to conscription and proffers his view on leadership and the appropriate function of government. He rails against government involvement in the market and chastises those military and political leaders willing to circumscribe individual liberties for the perceived necessities of war. He explains the failure of the Confederate government in Richmond to utilize the resources of the western Confederacy and the trade outlets through Mexico and exposes the blunders of leading eastern military and political figures. He denigrates some commanders for their failures and lauds others for their leadership capabilities. in the end, he dispels many myths regarding the Confederate defeat and sheds light on what he believes led to the southern demise.

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