An Honorable Defeat: The Last Days of the Confederate Government

Reviews with Integrated Context

Books You May Like

An Honorable Defeat: The Last Days of the Confederate Government

Author: William C. Davis
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Copyright: 2001
Pages: 512
Cover Price: $ 16.00

Enter a word or phrase in the box below

In the final days of the Civil War, when defeat loomed for the South, Confederate Secretary of War John C. Breckenridge warned, "This has been a magnificent epic. In God's name, let it not terminate in a farce." To be sure, there were plenty of farcical moments--even pathetic ones--as the Confederate government breathed its last. President Jefferson Davis fled capture but was ultimately apprehended in disguise; he was wearing his wife's clothing. Union soldiers detected his "distinctly unfeminine cavalry boots and spurs" and arrested him. Then there was "the last official act of the Confederate government itself"--Breckinridge giving a commission in jest to a soldier who had already surrendered because the man wanted to outrank one of his fellows. William C. Davis is the perfect author for An Honorable Defeat. He is an accomplished Civil War historian and previously has written excellent biographies of Jefferson Davis and John Breckinridge, the two figures who dominate this book. A Government of Our Own, an earlier volume on the birth of the Confederate government. An Honorable Defeat is an absorbing story of desperation, as President Davis contemplates waging a guerrilla war against the North and continues to believe the South can prevail even when its mighty armies have been reduced to almost nothing. "A narrow divide separates heroic commitment from sheer fanaticism," writes the author, who nevertheless defends Davis against the charge of fanaticism. He shows, for example, that Davis almost certainly was not aware of any plot on the life of Abraham Lincoln--even though one obviously existed and elements of his secret service probably encouraged it.

On the whole, the Confederate president comes off as a man ill-suited to the task that confronted him, which, in time, included graceful surrender. Breckinridge, by contrast, emerges as a hero who made decisions in those last hours that saved lives and fostered national reconciliation.

Click for the original review.

Background Information

Jefferson Davis served a distinguished career in the federal government before resigning from the Senate and becoming President of the Confederate States. The Confederate States of America was formed by the states that seceded from the Union in 1861 and was dissolved in 1865.