History has not been kind to Jefferson Davis. His cause went down in disastrous defeat and left the South impoverished for generations. If that cause had succeeded, it would have torn the United States in two and preserved the institution of slavery. Many Americans in Davis's own time and in later generations considered him an incompetent leader, if not a traitor. Not so, argues James M. McPherson. In Embattled Rebel, McPherson shows us that Davis might have been on the wrong side of history, but it is too easy to diminish him because of his cause's failure. In order to understand the Civil War and its outcome, it is essential to give Davis his due as a military leader and as the president of an aspiring Confederate nation.
Davis did not make it easy on himself. His subordinates and enemies alike considered him difficult, egotistical, and cold. He was gravely ill throughout much of the war, often working from home and even from his sickbed. Nonetheless, McPherson argues, Davis shaped and articulated the principal policy of the Confederacy with clarity and force: the quest for independent nationhood. Although he had not been a fire-breathing secessionist, once he committed himself to a Confederate nation he never deviated from this goal. In a sense, Davis was the last Confederate left standing in 1865.
As president of the Confederacy, Davis devoted most of his waking hours to military strategy and operations, along with Commander Robert E. Lee, and delegated the economic and diplomatic functions of strategy to his subordinates. Davis was present on several battlefields with Lee and even took part in some tactical planning; indeed, their close relationship stands as one of the great military-civilian partnerships in history.
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Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Jean on 18-10-14
Civil War scholar and Pulitzer winning (“Battle Cry of Freedom” 1988) author James M McPherson has taken a fresh look at a subject with whom he is eminently familiar: the life and times of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. With open minds in short supply these days the author takes a big risk in challenging past postulations. Many still consider Davis a traitor.
McPherson has methodically, without emotions written this short book. It is obvious he has conducted an enormous amount of research in preparation to write this story of Davis. This is not a biography in the traditional since as details of Davis’s life before Secession and his fate during Reconstruction are not covered.
McPherson claims Davis was not an inept leader as many historians have claimed. Davis was a graduate of West Point and had served in the Mexican War. The author states that the south also had problems with its Generals. He compared the tentative George B. McClellan to the backpedaling Joseph E. Johnston. While he documents that Davis made his share of mistakes and was an impolitic politician, McPherson concludes that Davis devised a credible strategy for fight the war. The South’s material and manpower handicaps are well known, but McPherson list other obstacles such as the Southerners were anything but united. The “States Rights” mantra often inhibited coordinated military tactics. The author covers the 1862 threat by Arkansas to secede from the Confederacy and in 1863 North Carolina’s leaders favored negotiations. On top of this Rebel soldiers deserted in droves.
McPherson’s overall evaluation of Davis is fair-minded. He criticizes Davis but also points out some favorable points. The book’s worth a read particularly for those interested in the Civil war. Robert Fass did a good job narrating the book.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
By maya59 on 25-02-16
How McPherson Lost His Reader
What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?
More insight into Jefferson Davis as a person. This was not a biography so much as an overview of events.
Has Embattled Rebel turned you off from other books in this genre?
Not at all. I'm a history buff. Perhaps that's why this book didn't teach me anything new; the general overview of the war was too thin to educate anyone with a general sense of events, and also too thin as a biography. It was neither here nor there.
What does Robert Fass bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?
He did a good job emphasizing key points, and kept me listening despite the lackluster text.
If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Embattled Rebel?
I'd cut a lot of the information on the war itself and replace it with more meaty information on the man Davis. Team of Rivals, for example, offers real insights into Lincoln's character while keeping the reader appraised of key events in the war.
Any additional comments?
Not a book for anyone hoping to get real insights into Jefferson Davis. That book is yet to be written, apparently.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful