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“I think history will record him as one of the greatest men of the time. Every lost cause, you know, must have a scapegoat, and Mr. Davis has been chosen as such; he must take all the blame without any of the credit. I do not know any man in the Confederate States that could have conducted the war with the same success that he did.” ~ John Singleton Mosby

Happy birthday Mr. President! June 3rd is the birthday of Jefferson Davis and when I was a boy we did not celebrate Lincoln’s birthday – we did celebrate Robert E. Lee’s birthday on January 16! – but school was always out for summer in time for Jeff Davis’s birthday, a sort of unofficial start to summer.

If you go to the Library of Congress and type “Abraham Lincoln” in the search box it will return 8,033 titles, type in Robert E. Lee and it will return 2,473 titles and type in Jefferson Davis and it will return 1,022 titles.

How does a man so splendidly qualified in mind and stature wind up at the bottom of the heap. To begin with his side lost the war and the victors write the history – which is as good a reason to be suspicious of it as any. But more than that Davis is a man who compels the respect of the intelligent but never took any steps in public to earn the adulation of the crowd. His memoirs are one of the most prolific – and least referred to – sources on the history of his time and while he is respected by historians as diverse as Bruce Catton, Shelby Foote and Frank E. Vandiver he is well beyond the scope of populists like James M. McPherson.

It is possible to be overqualified on paper and make a poor president as George H. W. Bush proved. It is possible to be moderately qualified and be overwhelmed by the office as George W. Bush proved. It is now possible for an absolute fool to occupy the office who has jest emerged from the Bushes. Davis fits into none of these categories and hopefully, now that summer has begun, you will find time for one or more of these titles and begin to form your own opinion of his true place in American history.

A young Jefferson Davis from the Library of Congress collection

Jeff Davis’s own : cavalry, comanches, and the battle for the Texas frontier    New York : Wiley c 2000  James R. Arnold United States, Army, Cavalry, 2nd History, Indians of North America Wars 1815-1875, Indians of North America Wars Texas Hardcover. vi, 378 p. : ill., maps ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references ( p. 341-367) and index.  Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or  marginalia in text.  VG/VG

The men of the Second Cavalry went to Texas to fight Indians. Then they returned home to fight each other. The creation of the Second Cavalry in 1855 was a watershed event in the history of the United States Army. Ordered to engage the Native American tribes whose persistent raids were slowing the settlement of the West, the officers of the Second were unwittingly preparing to fight each other. Established by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, the Second and its officers were assigned-disregarding Army tradition-on the basis of merit and not seniority. Davis’s innovation proved sound: Half of the full generals in Davis’s Confederate army had served with the Second Cavalry prior to the outbreak of the Civil War.Texas’s western frontier was their battleground, and the warriors of the Comanche tribe were their foes. Forsaking the infantry’s rustic stockades that had merely served as detour signs for fleet raiding parties, the Second Cavalry developed innovative tactics to address a novel situation, thereby showing the army how to complete the conquest of the West. Led by men such as Robert E. Lee (in his first independent combat command), John Bell Hood, and George Thomas, the troopers of the Second Cavalry schooled themselves in the tactics and strategies of mobile desert warfare, tutored by a skilled and tireless adversary.Drawing upon a wealth of military documents, archival materials, period newspapers, and personal journals, Arnold adds a new and insightful chapter to the history of the U.S. Army and the men who shaped it.

Jefferson Davis, Senator from Mississippi, Thirty-fifth Congress, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing right from 1859 from Library of Congress collection

Jefferson Davis : the essential writings    New York : Modern Library, 2003   Jefferson Davis : edited, with an introduction and notes by William J. Cooper, Jr. Confederate States of America History Hardcover. xxxi, 456 p. ; 22 cm. Includes index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Jefferson Davis is one of the most complex and controversial figures in American political history (and the man whom Oscar Wilde wanted to meet more than anyone when he made his tour of the United States). Elected president of the Confederacy and later accused of participating in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, he is a source of ongoing dissension between northerners and southerners. This volume, the first of its kind, is a selected collection of his writings culled in large part from the authoritative Papers of Jefferson Davis, a multi-volume edition of his letters and speeches published by the Louisiana State University Press, and includes thirteen documents from manuscript collections and one privately held document that have never before appeared in a modern scholarly edition. From letters as a college student to his sister, to major speeches on the Constitution, slavery, and sectional issues, to his farewell to the U.S. Senate, to his inaugural address as Confederate president, to letters from prison to his wife, these selected pieces present the many faces of the enigmatic Jefferson Davis.

As William J. Cooper, Jr., writes in his Introduction, “Davis’s notability does not come solely from his crucial role in the Civil War. Born on the Kentucky frontier in the first decade of the nineteenth century, he witnessed and participated in the epochal transformation of the United States from a fledgling country to a strong nation spanning the continent. In his earliest years his father moved farther south and west to Mississippi. As a young army officer just out of West Point, he served on the northwestern and southwestern frontiers in an army whose chief mission was to protect settlers surging westward. Then, in 1846 and 1847, as colonel of the First Mississippi Regiment, he fought in the Mexican War, which resulted in 1848 in the Mexican Cession, a massive addition to the United States of some 500,000 square miles, including California and the modern Southwest. As secretary of war and U.S. senator in the 1850s, he advocated government support for the building of a transcontinental railroad that he believed essential to bind the nation from ocean to ocean.”

Jefferson Davis and his cabinet during the War for Southern Independence from the Library of Congress collection

Jefferson Davis : the man and his hour    New York, NY : HarperCollins, c 1991  William C. Davis Presidents Confederate States of America, Statesmen United States Biography,     Davis, Jefferson, 1808-1889 Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. xv, 784 p. : ill. ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 761-774) and index.  Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG  .     

An objective portrait in paradox, detailing how Jefferson Davis’s character rendered him unsuited to be President of the Confederacy. The author (no relation to his subject) brings to bear the  acumen one might expect from a former editor of Civil War Times Illustrated and author of more than 25 books on the Civil War and Southern history, including Duel Between the First Ironclads and The Battle of New Market. Yet his discussion of strategy is also informed by a firm grasp of Davis’s extremes of character.

It seemed logical in 1861 that the South would turn to Davis. He was, after all, its major military hero (as a colonel in the Mexican War, he helped win the Battle of Buena Vista); the natural successor to John Calhoun as the Senate’s chief States’- rights advocate; and, under President Franklin Pierce, one of the most innovative secretaries of war ever.

Yet, as early as his two courts-martial while a West Point cadet and army lieutenant, Davis manifested traits that proved fatal as a chief executive: anger, pedantry, vanity, indecision, and, as his future second wife noted after their very first meeting, an overbearing “way of taking for granted that everybody agrees with him.” He had the diligence and intelligence of a bureaucrat, but none of the interpersonal skills of a politician.

Author Davis examines how these strengths and weaknesses affected the Confederate leader’s relationships with his strong-willed second wife, Varina, and his mentor, brother Joseph; his unusually benevolent treatment of slaves; and his mismanagement of the western theater of operations, aggravated by petty squabbling with Generals Pierre Beauregard and Joseph Johnstone and foolish loyalty to incompetents like Braxton Bragg and Leonidas Polk.

This is a dispassionate, well-researched, and skillful biography of a complex and controversial figure that proves the old adage that if you had rather be right than president you probably aren’t either and further demonstrates why Lee’s reputation endures while Lincoln and Davis falter on close examination.

Jefferson Davis’s generals    New York : Oxford University Press, 1999  edited by Gabor S. Boritt Generals Confederate States of America History Hardcover. xvii, 217 p., [16] p. of plates : ill. ; 22 cm.     Includes bibliographical references (p. 197-213). Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG   

Confederate General P.G.T.Beauregard once wrote that “no people ever warred for independence with more relative advantages than the Confederates.” If there was any doubt as to what Beauregard sought to imply, he later chose to spell it out: the failure of the Confederacy lay with the Confederate president Jefferson Davis.

In Jefferson Davis’ Generals, a team of the nation’s most distinguished Civil War historians present fascinating examinations of the men who led the South through our nation’s bloodiest conflict, focusing in particular on Jefferson Davis’ relationships with five key generals who held independent commands: Joseph E. Johnston, Robert E. Lee, P.G.T. Beauregard, Braxton Bragg, and John Bell Hood.

Craig Symonds examines the underlying implications of a withering trust between Johnston and his friend Jefferson Davis. And was there really harmony between Davis and Robert E. Lee? A tenuous harmony at best, according to Emory Thomas. Michael Parrish explores how Beauregard and Davis worked through a deep and mutual loathing, while Steven E. Woodworth and Herman Hattaway make contrasting evaluations of the competence of Generals Braxton Bragg and John Bell Hood.

Taking a different angle on Davis’ ill-fated commanders, Lesley Gordon probes the private side of war through the roles of the generals’ wives, and Harold Holzer investigates public perceptions of the Confederate leadership through printed images created by artists of the day. James M. McPherson’s final chapter ties the individual essays together and offers a new perspective on Confederate strategy as a whole. Jefferson Davis’ Generals provides stimulating new insights into one of the most vociferously debated topics in Civil War history.

Jefferson Davis, seated, facing front, during portrait session at Davis’ home Beauvoir, near Biloxi, Mississippi from Library of Congress collection


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