Monday, June 19, 2017

Booknotes: Jefferson Davis's Final Campaign

New Arrival:
Jefferson Davis's Final Campaign: Confederate Nationalism and the Fight to Arm Slaves by Philip D. Dillard (Mercer UP, 2017).

With Confederate armies and the home front both teetering on collapse by November 1864, President Jefferson Davis "called on Congress to reconsider the role of the slave in the Southern war effort. His goal was not simply to find more men for Lee's army but rather to create a new Confederate identity based in the experience of war rather than in the shadows of the Old South."

Philip Dillard's Jefferson Davis's Final Campaign examines the debate over arming slaves "as it unfolded in Virginia, Georgia, and Texas," his research finding distinct "differences between the Upper South, Deep South, and Trans-Mississippi South." "Davis waged his final campaign in newspapers as he challenged the Southern people to define a new role for the slave. Discussion of black men in gray uniforms brought forth long-hidden divisions between planters, yeoman, and poor whites. By looking for common Southerners who held neither high government office nor military position, this work paints a more complex picture of the importance of slavery within the Civil War South."

According to Dillard's findings, by spring 1865 "(t)he vast majority of Virginians, Georgians, and even some Texans discovered that slavery could be sacrificed more easily than Southern independence." Though the last-ditch effort to revive and redirect Confederate nationalism to save the nation proved meaningless in the context of staving off defeat, Davis "won his final campaign by convincing many Southerners that the Confederate nation was more important than the institution of slavery."

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