Read Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour by William C. Davis Online

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Drawing on many new sources, distinguished Civil War scholar William C. Davis here delves into the life of one of the most controversial public figures of the nineteenth century. He vividly details Davis' childhood in Mississippi, his military experience at West Point and on the western frontier, his brilliant record in the Mexican War, his stint as a hardworking secretaryDrawing on many new sources, distinguished Civil War scholar William C. Davis here delves into the life of one of the most controversial public figures of the nineteenth century. He vividly details Davis' childhood in Mississippi, his military experience at West Point and on the western frontier, his brilliant record in the Mexican War, his stint as a hardworking secretary of war under Franklin Pierce, and his career as an impassioned defender of slavery in the Senate, closely examining the development and expression of Davis' values, attitudes, and personality throughout this time....

Title : Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour
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ISBN : 9780060167066
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 784 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour Reviews

  • Linda Derrick
    2018-09-28 20:21

    I've read a lot of books on the Civil War, but Jefferson Davis was still an enigma as most books I've read barely touched on him. This book by William Davis ended the mystery. Well researched (the list of resources is extensive), the author weaves together an incredible amount of detail into a thorough story that is also a very engaging read. The further I got into the book, the harder it was to put down. What little I knew about Jefferson Davis gave me the impression that I would not like him. I can't say this book changed my opinion, but it did increase my understanding of the man and his times - as the title indicates. The book does debunk erroneous information about Davis including his rumored attempted escape in women's clothing and marital affair with a supporter after the war. Comparisons with Lincoln are unavoidable, and certainly don't favor Davis. Yet I now feel I have an understanding of the man that I did not have before. Additional insight into the Confederate mindset, both that of Davis and of many of those he led is another benefit from this read. As a fan of historical biographies, this book easily climbs to the top of my list of favorites.

  • Alex Fensome
    2018-10-03 20:33

    I have no sympathy for the cause Davis espoused or the things he believed in, but this book gives a well-rounded portrait of a flawed, determined man who was capable of greatness but lacked the self-awareness, insight and ability to transcend his times. Undoubtedly the best section covers his flight from Richmond and eventual capture in 1865, as the hope he's sustained for five years dissolves in front of his eyes. It was unexpectedly moving and sad, though he deserved it.Davis suffered many tragedies in his life - for all the fact he was willing to unleash horrific suffering on millions of his fellow human beings - and William C Davis succeeds in explaining why he did the things he did, what drove him and why he failed. It's also an interesting account of Varina's life - I learned a lot about someone I had only glimpsed in the background of other histories.

  • Christopher
    2018-10-13 19:33

    A wonderfully detailed and insightful look into one of the most vilified and misunderstood participants in the Civil War. The Jefferson Davis in this biography is an intelligent, focused, prideful, stubborn, and intensely loyal man who was ill-suited to be the leader of an attempted revolution. Davis was a bureaucrat, not an executive. And this biography does a wonderful job of exploring that distinction between Davis' successes and failures and his feuds with Beauregard, Bragg, and Joe Johnston. Physically incapable of admitting error and inability to act as an effective executive only hastened the demise of the short-lived rebel state. A really stellar and enjoyable work.

  • Meg
    2018-10-05 14:18

    A great and objective biography of a troubled man in power. It is amazing, given the immense physical and emotional pain he experienced throughout his life, that he was able to accomplish so much. His experience as a Senator and as Franklin Pierce's Secretary of War prepared him well for his role as the President of the Confederacy. As debilitating as his neuralgia was, I found Davis to be more disadvantaged by his own critical, judgmental nature and inflexibility. He was well respected, but not well liked by most men who knew him. Indeed, he was the kind of cold, unfeeling man I would have expected John Quincy Adams to be.

  • Kyle Bunkers
    2018-10-20 19:25

    This was an interesting book, and not one I would normally have read. I was kindly offered a digital copy for free from Endeavour Press to review and given my interest in the (American) Civil War, I decided I would try out the book on the President of the Confederacy. In that vein, the digital edition is quite good. I found few typos, and the linking within the ebook works quite well. The ebook is well-done.The author, William Davis, does an admirable job of presenting the person Jefferson Davis, from boyhood to old age. I admit that I came to the book with a negative impression of Davis (I agree with US Grant that the Confederacy was "one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse"), but the book does a good job of evaluating Davis objectively. I cannot say that I have a positive impression of Davis now, but I do have a more nuanced impression.We learn of Davis's childhood, his father, his older brother that acted more as a father, and Davis's traits that defined him for better or worse: obstinacy/steadfastness, loyalty, and an unshakeable belief that his opinion is right. We learn of his escapades at West Point, narrowly avoiding expulsion, and his short career in the military. We get to Davis's political life (and his tour in the Mexican-American War), as he eventually became a Senator, and we learn of his views in the ante-bellum era. I was surprised to learn that Davis's slaves were actually treated relatively generously (but they were still slaves, so it is not like it was great...). The slaves on the plantation were not allowed to be whipped, and Davis by all accounts treated them rather well. He certainly shared the prejudices of his era about slaves capacities once free. The author notes that Davis treated children and women quite well, in addition. It was only those who questioned Davis that endured his obstinacy.We then go on through Davis's Secretary of War stint, and get to the reason anyone writes about Davis, his presidency during the Civil War (the author says "The fact is that there is one reason, and only one, for writing or reading a biography of Jefferson Davis, and that is his quadrennium as leader of the Lost Cause"). Here the author understandably devotes a large portion of the book, and I think he does a good job of keeping the focus on Davis and his actions. I have read many Civil War books, and they often get bogged down in the details of battles; the author does a great job of avoiding this and simply explaining the overall situation, including how Davis's actions fit into the strategic picture. We then learn of Davis's final years, which were turbulent, but ended in peace.The author mostly avoids questions that haunt most Civil War related books [ranging from answered questions, like "why did the war happen?", to "could the South have won?"]. He acknowledges that slavery drove the Confederacy into being, but does not dwell on it. Similarly, he does not engage in what-ifs for battles that could have gone differently and possibly changed the outcome of the war. I do not mean this as a criticism, as I think the author acknowledges the questions, but he only tackles them as they pertain to Jefferson Davis (since it is a Jefferson Davis biography, after all).That said, the final chapter takes the Union's victory as a foregone conclusion. I am not one who buys the "Lost Cause". The author says "Any final verdict on Davis as war president must be predicated on the assumption that the Confederacy could not have won the war under the conditions it faced" or "had their roles been reversed, and Davis led the North and Lincoln the South, the Union would still have won". My own opinion is that it was certainly possible for the South to win, even if the chances were not great. The South could move troops internally around in a defensive war and needed to demoralize the North. This is difficult, but it's hard to believe it was impossible.Overall, we are left with a portrait of a man who was not suited to the office. He had good friends and bad friends, and a good deal of the book also talks about his remarkable wife Varina. In the end, we are left with the fact that Jefferson Davis had many flaws, and he dealt with very difficult situations, but he fought a great effort for a cause that he believed in. But it was for an awful cause.If you have strong interest in the Civil War era, I would definitely recommend the book as a viewpoint into the South and its leadership. The writing is quite good, although the themes of Davis's weaknesses can be hammered a bit too much. You will not be learning the details of battle, nor an in-depth analysis of the causes and driving forces of the war, but you will get insight into the era in which Davis lived and how the South was run. Given the length, it probably is not worth reading if you do not have a strong interest in the Civil War era or a particular reason to read about Jefferson Davis.

  • Steven
    2018-09-30 15:37

    The recent controversies about Confederate monuments and various tributes paid to Confederate leaders make this book a worthwhile read. I will say, however, that you have to be prepared for a very long and detailed read. This is a long book - over 700 pages. It's interesting, but long. I knew a fair bit about Jefferson Davis's time as President of the Confederacy, and a little bit about his political career before that - as a US Senator from Mississippi and as Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce - so a lot of what author William C. Davis offered about those periods of Jefferson Davis's life I already knew. I did appreciate the look at Davis's early life, and at his post-Civil War life, neither of which I knew a great deal about.I came out of this not really certain what the author's take on Davis's life was. Certainly he provided a good look at both Davis's strengths and weaknesses, which in many ways were the same. On the positive side, he was completely committed to the cause of southern independence which he claimed and ultimately led. On the other hand he was so committed to his ideas that he couldn't even think about alternatives, turning people into enemies just because they disagreed with him and surrounding himself with friends who agreed with him and wouldn't challenge him. However, in the end, as another biographer I once read wrote about Davis - he led the cause as well as anyone could have and better than most would have. The author is clear about his belief that ultimately the south could not have prevailed, no matter who its leader was, and while Davis came in for much criticism during the war, the author notes his rehabilitation after the war, as he came to be fondly regarded by the people of the vanquished south. (I was quite taken with the author's take on Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston. Most of what I have read about Johnston has portrayed him as a highly regarded general; suffice to say that the author was not a fan of Johnston or his abilities as a general.)Davis's personal life is looked at in great detail. His search for a father figure after the death of his own father when he was young is an ongoing theme of the book, as is his dependence on his older brother Joseph. There's a lot of interesting information about his marriage to Varina and their relationship. There's also a lot of information about his poor health, of which I wasn't especially familiar. There's really not a great deal about his views about slavery or African Americans. Suffice to say that he shared the general southern feeling that blacks were morally and intellectually inferior, although at least as slave owners go he seems to have been among the less offensive. One thing I learned is that Davis and Varina spent a lot of time in Canada after the Civil War. Having lived in the region, I knew that they had a connection to Niagara (the Canadian side) but I wasn't aware of how much time they spent in Quebec (mostly Montreal and Lennoxville) although I believe I have read that there's a plaque or something (or was) on a building in Montreal where Davis had lived.Anyone with an interest in either Jefferson Davis personally, or the Civil War or the history of the Confederacy will find this a worthwhile book to read.

  • Charlie Newfell
    2018-09-27 19:13

    Full disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book due to others that I read. They did not even ask for a review. Jefferson Davis is probably the face of the Confederacy to most people, Southerners as well as Northerners. With all of the reading I've done, I guess I never thought much about the man. My only connection was a visit to Beauvoir in Biloxi, his retirement home along the Gulf Coast. We visited there a few weeks before Katrina hit and did significant damage to the house, museum, and grounds. The author claims that most of what has been written either praises or demonizes the man, and that they aim to be objective. I believe that they have accomplished this. He was a fairly polarizing person, full of inconsistencies. Fighting for States Rights (Southern Rights) he wanted the minority voice heard - but remained an unrepentant slave-holder and racist to the end (unfortunately not uncommon in the times). Fiercely loyal to his friends (to a fault) and blind to his enemies positive attributes, it seemed that everyone was in one camp or the other. Once on the enemy side, there was no coming back.He was a staunch American patriot - hero of the Mexican War, Cabinet secretary, devoted to several presidents, but assumed the leadership voice of the slave-holding states during the contentious 1850's - and became a leading anti-unionist. He became the natural Chief Executive of the Confederate States, but his value to the "cause" probably would have been better used elsewhere (but perhaps for the good of the USA, it was perfect).Putting his friends and confidants into high-ranking military positions, he was not a good judge of skills or characters (Robert E. Lee being the exception). Once he was convinced of something - nothing could change his mind. He held onto the South's ultimate path to "victory" after Lee surrendered, planning to meet up with the armies to the West, whom he believed still held out.He was unrepentant to the end. Never asking for a pardon (he didn't do anything wrong in his mind) and writing his memoirs that gave his point of view late in life.Overall, a very detailed, but even-handed account that will give you the whole story of one of the least know major characters of the Civil War.

  • Eric
    2018-09-27 17:18

    The best biographers have a very empathetic connection with their subjects. This author did a wonderful job of bringing JD to life. That obviously has minuses as well as pluses. JD was a complex character, proud & sensitive, loyal to his friends, to a fault. Vindictive to those he considered his enemies, and was far too stubborn to ever imagine he could be wrong about anything. But understanding all this gave me insights into what made the CSA work the way it did, and why the leaders & commanders of the CSA spent more time and energy fighting among themselves than they dedicated to fighting off Lincoln's armies. The book itself is huge, more than 1000 pages, which can be intimidating, and is dense packed full of lots of letters, speeches, etc, and initially led me (I was getting lost in it, and I couldn't see the forest for the trees) to read a more concise biography of JD, which gave me an overview of the times, but no insight into what made JD tick, let alone why he was selected to be the President of the CSA, and the huge impact he had on the USA during the Civil War. I was glad to get back into reading this book, knowing full well I still had more than 40 hours of reading ahead of me. But for someone that is willing to put the time into it, this book is well worth reading.

  • Vicki Gibson
    2018-10-08 20:32

    If you want to understand Jefferson Davis, this is the book to read. The author dispenses with the usual litany of military battles, giving the reader only what is necessary to provide context, and instead focuses solely on Jefferson Davis, the man. I never understood why Lincoln was the heroic representative of the North but Jefferson Davis did not fill that role for the South. (That fell to Robert E. Lee.) Now I understand why. Jefferson Davis was a complex man. The author does a good job of fairly representing both the flaws and goodness of Jefferson Davis. In addition to better understanding Jefferson Davis, I have a much better understanding of why the South seceded from the Union and why they lost the war.

  • Chris N. Sieler
    2018-10-06 17:11

    I it was a very interesting study of someone that I knew next to nothing about. I have read many books from that period of history but never one with this perspectiveI it was a very interesting study of someone that I knew next to nothing about. I have read many books from that period of history but never one with this perspective

  • Do
    2018-10-14 20:23

    A completely different view of the opposition. Very timely, given the problems at Charlottesville .

  • Brenda Kellow
    2018-10-17 15:11

    Wrong leader for President of the ConfederacyJefferson Davis was a complex person. In my opinion, he was not a particularly likeable person. He was highly opinionated, narcissistic, and thought that his views on any subject were the right ones. He made many enemies during his political and military career. He was most certainly the wrong person to govern the Confederacy during the Civil War. This book is a good read, however. Learned lots of details I had never read before.

  • Troi
    2018-10-11 16:32

    I found this to be a solid addition to my study of the Civil War. We didn't learn about the confederate cause when I was in school, or about who Jefferson Davis really was. This provides a fascinating peek onto the other side. I appreciate the way the cause and Jefferson Davis were neither glorified nor vilified, but rather presented as a different point of view. Jefferson himself was a pretty non-great man, but he was put in pretty daunting position. I have gained such a richer perspective and understanding of this most tragic era of America history. Definitely worth a read if you are interested in the Civil War era and haven't read anything that focuses on the confederacy and South from the Southern perspective. It didn't make me sympathetic to the Southern cause in any way, but it did make me understand it better. One thing that will remain with me is the fact that the decision to succeed was made by only a handful of elite Southern men (around 600 or so). This was not a mass movement by any means, though the whole nation was eventually enveloped in its fury.

  • Paul
    2018-10-18 22:15

    William C. Davis is one of my favorite authors. He writes well and with great insight into the events and people of the Civil War. In this biography, he makes a man most of us know only as the president of the Confederacy and a stern photograph a living person, one whom ultimately I felt I understood much better and held with some sympathy. The book of course covers his presidency and the Civil War, but doesn't stint on his life before or after, mathematically much more of his life. And if family stories are true, we were sort of almost kin. I have been told Zachary Taylor is my sixth cousin, and J. Davis was briefly married to Taylor's daught, Knoxie. This book actually put me back to reading biography. Trememndous - can't say enough good about it - a very successful look into this complex man's life.

  • Jay Perkins
    2018-10-18 21:22

    A good biography on the Confederacy's only president. The author does a great job of explaining the character and personality of the man. This portion especially summarizes Jefferson Davis: "To those few who knew him intimately... he presented a case of wonderful consistency in all his attitudes and acts... there was an arresting internal symmetry to the man... Where others might be dedicated, he was committed. Where others felt enthusiasm, he felt passion. Where others were determined, he was obstinate. Moreover, Janus-like, there were two faces to all these qualities in Davis, for better and worse, and it is when they approached the extremes that were a part of his personality that those around him felt baffled by seeming inconsistencies." (page 689-90)

  • Mark Singer
    2018-10-09 17:37

    This is a solid biography of Jefferson Davis and I would recommend it to anyone interested in the American Civil War. Davis had serious character flaws that definitely hurt the Confederate war effort, although to be fair one can argue that the rebellion was doomed from the start. In many ways Davis emerges as the opposite of his counterpart Abraham Lincoln; combative where Lincoln was conciliatory, vindictive and petty where Lincoln was forgiving, and unwilling to delegate authority where Lincoln did the opposite. The list could go on. I read this book in the fall of 2009 when I used it as a source for a term paper in a history class I took on the American Civil War comparing the leadership of Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln.

  • Matthew Cook
    2018-09-26 20:36

    The author is a skilled biographer, drawing his narrative from a life already played out and fairly well documented in primary correspondence, official documents and over a century of analysis. He focuses strongly on Davis's personality and how it strongly directed the direction of his life. He accounts very fluidly for changes in personality due to the big events (both acute and lifelong) in his life and paints a very believable portrait backed up by what I can only imagine is a soul crushing amount of research.

  • Tom Rowe
    2018-10-22 22:08

    A well written biography. It's hard to separate my feelings about slavers, traitors, hypocrites, and whiners who are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people from the man Davis, so I won't comment on the content. Read the book. It's good.