Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief

James M. McPherson. Penguin Press, $32.95 (292p) ISBN 978-1-59420-497-5
In 1865, Confederate Ordnance Chief Josiah Gorgas lamented the leadership of President of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis, wondering “where could we get a better or a wiser man?” Pulitzer Prize– and Lincoln Prize–winner McPherson (Tried by War) refuses to answer such a question, but his examination of Davis as a military commander suggests that perhaps there was not one. Davis has had many harsh critics over the years, an inevitable fate for a leader who “went down to a disastrous defeat and left the South in poverty for generations.” McPherson, however, presents Davis in a relatively sympathetic manner as he explores the Confederate president’s accomplishments and undertakings. McPherson places Davis’s actions, which are delivered in chronological order and garnished with a dose of opinion, in the larger contexts of the war, his health and personal life, his politics, and his relationships with other major historical players. Despite the biography’s dry, yet light presentation and relatively singular focus, Davis is most redeemed not by justifications for his decisions, but through an empathetic, simple understanding of his motives: namely, an admirable (if in hindsight horribly misguided) passion for the Confederacy. Maps & illus. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 06/30/2014
Release date: 10/07/2014
Compact Disc - 5 pages - 978-1-61176-316-4
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-0-14-312775-8
Hardcover - 365 pages - 978-1-4104-7740-8
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio

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