Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis And The Confederate Civil War

Paperback | September 15, 2015

byJames M. McPherson

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From the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom, a powerful new reckoning with Jefferson Davis as military commander of the Confederacy

“The best concise book we have on the subject… McPherson is… our most distinguished scholar of the Civil War era.” —The New York Times Book Review

 
History has not been kind to Jefferson Davis. Many Americans of his own time and in later generations considered him an incompetent leader, not to mention 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 that it is too easy to diminish him because of his cause’s failure. Gravely ill throughout much of the Civil War, Davis nevertheless shaped and articulated the principal policy of the Confederacy—the quest for independent nationhood—with clarity and force. He exercised a tenacious hands-on influence in the shaping of military strategy, and his close relationship with Robert E. Lee was one of the most effective military-civilian partnerships in history.

Lucid and concise, Embattled Rebel presents a fresh perspective on the Civil War as seen from the desk of the South’s commander in chief.

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From the Publisher

From the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom, a powerful new reckoning with Jefferson Davis as military commander of the Confederacy“The best concise book we have on the subject… McPherson is… our most distinguished scholar of the Civil War era.” —The New York Times Book Review History has not been kind to Jefferson ...

James M. McPherson is the George Henry Davis ’86 Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton University. He is the bestselling author of numerous books on the Civil War, including Battle Cry of Freedom, which won the Pulitzer Prize, as well as Tried by War and For Cause and Comrades, both of which won the Lincoln Prize. 

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:320 pages, 8 × 5.3 × 0.6 inPublished:September 15, 2015Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0143127756

ISBN - 13:9780143127758

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History has not been kind to Jefferson Davis. As president of the Confederate States of America, he led a cause that went down to a disastrous defeat and left the South in poverty for generations. If that cause had succeeded, it would have broken the United States in two and preserved slavery in the South for untold years. Many Americans of his own time and in later generations considered him a traitor. Some of his Confederate compatriots turned against Davis and blamed him for sins of ineptitude that lost the war. Several of Davis’s adversaries on the Union side agreed with this assessment. Writing twenty years after the Civil War, General Ulysses S. Grant claimed that “Davis had an exalted opinion of his own military genius. . . . On several occasions during the war he came to the relief of the Union army by means of his superior military genius.” A number of historians have concurred with this harsh judgment. On the centennial anniversary of the Civil War, David M. Potter famously declared that as commander in chief, Davis compiled “a record of personal failure significant enough to have had a bearing on the course of the war. . . . If the Union and Confederacy had exchanged presidents with one another, the Confederacy might have won its independence.”Comparisons of Abraham Lincoln and Davis as commanders in chief usually favor Lincoln, though rarely to the extent suggested by Potter. The one undeniable truth in such comparisons is that Lincoln’s side won the war. But that fact does not necessarily mean that Davis was responsible for losing it. Many factors help explain the ultimate Union victory, including the North’s greater population and resources, a stronger economy, a powerful navy, resourceful military leadership, and battlefield victories that blunted Confederate momentum at key points and prolonged the conflict until the weak economic infrastructure that underpinned the Southern war effort collapsed. Lincoln’s evolving skills as commander in chief may also help explain Northern victory. I have written about that subject elsewhere. But whether Lincoln was superior to Davis in this respect is impossible to say in the categorical manner stated by David Potter. Comparing Lincoln and Davis as commanders in chief is like trying to compare apples and oranges. They confronted different challenges with different resources and personnel. In the chapters that follow I have tried to avoid the temptation to compare the two leaders. I attempt to describe and analyze Davis’s conception and execution of his duty as commander in chief on its own terms and merits, without reference to Lincoln.

Editorial Reviews

Steven Hahn, The New York Times Book Review: “The best concise book we have on the subject… McPherson is… our most distinguished scholar of the Civil War era.”The Wall Street Journal:“Mr. McPherson…mounts a defense of Davis is provocative; the book in which he argues it is quietly persuasive…. Mr. McPherson covers a great deal of ground. And there is an economical grace to his prose that makes the book a lightning-quick but lingering read that will appeal not only to Civil War buffs but also to those curious about the Southern presidency and government.”The Washington Post:“[A] fine study of Davis’s military leadership….To this day it is difficult for many Americans to view Davis with dispassion, but McPherson has made a noble attempt to do so….Davis himself does not make that easy.”Christian Science Monitor:“Open minds are in short supply today, so it is refreshing that Civil War scholar and Pulitzer-winning author James M. McPherson has taken a fresh look at a subject with which is he eminently familiar: the life and times of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. With more than a dozen books about America’s greatest crucible to his credit, the 78-year-old author is still challenging past postulations.”North South Magazine:“Superb... McPherson succeeds admirably in recreating the world of 1861-1865 as seen through the eyes of a Southern nationalist and ardent defender of the established social order, and provides readers with a more balanced view of Davis than that handed down by many of his contemporaries."History Book Club:“The first work to discretely consider Davis as head of his armies and navy... Crisply written, thoughtfully considered, and ultimately persuasive, Embattled Rebel is McPherson and biography at their best.”