Book Review: Jefferson Davis and the Civil War Era


by William J., Jr. Cooper, Jr.

Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2008. Pp. viii, 128. Notes, index. $24.95. ISBN: 080713371X

Jefferson Davis’ life and career, as politician, Confederate president and warlord, and shaper of the “Lost Cause” myth.

Jefferson Davis and the Civil War Era comprises nine essays by William J. Cooper, who is a noted Davis biographer and historian of the South.  The essays fall into three broad categories: Davis and the politics of secession and of the Confederacy, Davis and the conduct of the war, and Davis and the rise of the myth of the “Lost Cause.”  Some of the essays make vital, and often overlooked, points.

In what is his most important point, Cooper argues effectively that rather than see Davis as an inept politician and war leader, we should keep in mind that Lincoln’s brilliance in these roles obscures the Mississippian’s very real abilities.  But Cooper goes on to also make a good case that Davis failed to make full use of his considerable political skills during the war because he took his role as president as being above politics, as a symbol of “The Cause,” a charge that certainly could not be made against Lincoln.  Cooper further argues that Davis had a good grasp of the overall strategic situation, for example, believing strongly in the importance of the Western Theatre, but was hampered in efforts to develop a more effective strategy by domestic and military politics. There’s more, of course, Davis’ personal relationship with Braxton Bragg, other commanders, and some politicians, his postwar life, during which his efforts to shape the “Lost Cause” helped turn revive his popularity in the South, and more.

Jefferson Davis and the Civil War Era is an interesting work for those curious about national leadership in time of war, and, of course, a valuable one for any student of the Civil War.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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