Thursday, 11 February 2016

Book Review: A Long Shadow: Jefferson Davis and the Final Days of the Confederacy

A Long Shadow: Jefferson Davis and the Final Days of the ConfederacyA Long Shadow: Jefferson Davis and the Final Days of the Confederacy by Michael B. Ballard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book covers the flight of Confederate President Jefferson Davis after the fall of Richmond until he was captured and put in prison. The focus is on the man himself and only touches briefly on the military situation with Generals Lee and Johnston, so if you are unclear on the military side of the war's final weeks you'll want to read up on that first.
The main thesis of this book is that Davis, through his insistence on trying to get away and continue the war from South Carolina, or the Trans-Mississippi, or Mexico, or pretty much anywhere, helped found the idea of the Lost Cause. His stubborn resistance inspired Southerners with the idea of the undying South that would some day rise again.
Ballard makes a good case, but he is hampered by the relatively short length of the book, much of which is given over to day-to-day details of the long flight away from his Union pursuers. I finished this book in only three sittings and closed it thinking it could have been much longer and more detailed. Perhaps it wouldn't have been as marketable, but it would have been a better work of history. Still, it's a good blow-by-blow account of the last day of the Confederate government.
One major complaint: Ballard keeps referring to slaves as "servants". There is a world of difference between the two. Just because 19th century sources didn't always make a distinction, doesn't mean that 20th century historians shouldn't.

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