AN HONORABLE DEFEAT: The Last Days of the Confederate Government

William C. Davis, Author . Harcourt $30 (512p) ISBN 978-0-15-100564-2

The Pulitzer Prize–nominated Civil War historian turns his pen to the last four months of the Confederacy: how, asks Davis (Three Roads to the Alamo, etc.), did Confederate president Jefferson Davis respond to Union victory? Author Davis charts the president's gradual acceptance of defeat, his flight from the Confederate capital and his eventual capture. The author has an eye for detail, and his chronicle of the Confederate cabinet's attempt to escape Richmond is lively. We watch President Davis sending his wife out of the city on a train, having given her a gun "and instructed her in its use." We see Davis silently reading a note from Robert E. Lee in the middle of Sunday morning worship at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, and we watch as Secretary of War John Breckenridge leaves behind his invalid wife, who is "too ill to travel." But if Davis has given us a fast-paced story, his analysis leaves something to be desired. He is too busy telling us what happened to pay attention to why. The gist of Davis's analysis can be gleaned from his title—like many scholars of the Confederacy before him, Davis is interested in showing that the rebels were, above all, honorable. They emerge as gentlemen, hounded and beleaguered, rather than as traitors. Readers who enjoy romantic renderings of the Civil War era will enjoy this portrait of defeat. Readers looking for a compelling and convincing historical interpretation will be disappointed. (July)

Reviewed on: 07/09/2001
Release date: 06/01/2001
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 496 pages - 978-0-15-600748-1
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