Academic journal article Military Review

An Honorable Defeat: The Last Days of the Confederate Government

Academic journal article Military Review

An Honorable Defeat: The Last Days of the Confederate Government

Article excerpt

AN HONORABLE DEFEAT: The Last Days of the Confederate Government, William C. Davis, Harcourt, Inc., NY, 2001, 512 pages, $30.00.

Pulitzer Prize nominee William C. Davis's exceptional work, An Honorable Defeat: The Last Days of the Confederate Government, tells the story of Confederate General Robert E. Lee's duels with the Army of the Potomac during the last months of the Civil War. Although much of the story has been recounted in great detail, little has been written that illuminates the plight of the Confederate government as Union Major General Ulysses S. Grant tightened the noose around the neck of the Confederate capital at Richmond, Virginia.

Davis's extensive use of primary sources as well as his continuing scholarship on the Confederacy makes this book a welcomed update to the previous standard on the subject-Alfred Jackson Hanna's Flight into Oblivion (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1938). Davis combines his definitive work on Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge (Breckinridge: Statesman, Soldier, Symbol, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, 1992) with other works on Confederate President Jefferson Davis to develop the relationship between these two powerful men whose relationship forms the basis for Davis's analysis of the flight of the Confederate cabinet from Richmond.

In addition to spotlighting Breckinridge's role in the escape, Davis develops other themes to a degree that surpasses previous narratives. The first is Jefferson Davis's insistence that the Confederacy would not die but would live on west of the Mississippi. Davis's dogged determination to reach the Trans-Mississippi Department drove him toward Florida, where he hoped to find a ship that would convey him, the archives, and the Confederate treasury to Texas. …

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