First Lady of the Confederacy: Varina Davis's Civil War

Joan E. Cashin, Author
Joan E. Cashin, Author . Harvard/Belknap $29.95 (403p) ISBN 978-0-674-02294-2
Reviewed on: 05/22/2006
Release date: 09/01/2006
Paperback - 416 pages - 978-0-674-03037-4
Ebook - 1 pages - 978-0-674-02926-2
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Cashin has written a smashing study—the first scholarly biography—of Varina Howell Davis (1826–1906), wife of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Cashin, an associate professor of history at Ohio State, follows Davis from her Mississippi childhood through her marriage, her years in Washington (when her husband served in the Senate), through the Civil War, concluding with her widowhood, during which Varina lived in New York City and supported herself by writing for newspapers. Davis had a deep commitment to family (and in later years an almost co-dependent attachment to her daughter) and intellectual sophistication. She was a passionate reader and a scintillating conversationalist. The letters quoted here sparkle with wit. Cashin also uncovers Davis's ambivalence about the Confederacy; a "wavering Confederate patriot," she believed the South was doomed from the start. Davis kept up correspondence with Northern friends and relatives throughout the Civil War, an act that could have landed her in jail. Cashin is a strong, clear writer and situates her complex subject in larger academic debates, for example, about gender in the 19th century, without getting bogged down in academese. All in all, this is a terrifically winning portrait of a fascinating woman. B&w photos. (Sept.)

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