Academic journal article The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

Jefferson Davis, Confederate President

Academic journal article The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

Jefferson Davis, Confederate President

Article excerpt

Jefferson Davis, Confederate President. By HERMAN HATTAWAY and RICHARD E. BERINGER. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2002. xxiv, 542 pp. $39.95.

WITH three fairly recent biographies of Jefferson Davis by eminent scholars William J. Cooper, Jr., Felicity Allen, and William C. Davis, one might ask why anyone would write another book on the Confederate president. The answer is simple: this is not a biography. It is instead the story of an individual in his official role as the chief executive of the Confederate States of America. Certainly Davis the man emerges, and the authors, Herman Hattaway and Richard E. Beringer, must deal with this complex personality, but his story is generally limited to the war years from 1861 to 1865.

This book is an excellent survey of the Confederacy. One of the strengths of this volume is the authors' frequent mention of secondary works and references to the writings of other scholars who are experts in their particular fields. Although this is certainly not a bibliographical essay in any sense, there is an element of that scattered throughout. The authors, during the seventeen years they worked on this project, compiled a great deal of information in their analysis of Davis as president. Still, they are willing to credit the research of others. Unfortunate is the absence of many recent books that could have enhanced the already excellent overview of the literature.

By the last year of the war, the pressure of the office had taken its toll on Davis. He had always driven himself when ill, and as the fortunes of the Confederacy fell in 1864 "he was ill more and more often" (p. 302). The military situation seemed "ultimately hopeless" (p. 303), and efforts to undermine him increased. Davis, the authors contend, "was a wartime American president operating not so much in the tradition of past presidential behavior but within the experience of future wartime presidential powers" (p. 306). Both he and Lincoln, they believe, were forerunners of twentieth-century crisis presidents. …

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