Thursday, January 28, 2016

Booknotes: Kill Jeff Davis

New Arrival:

Kill Jeff Davis: The Union Raid on Richmond, 1864 by Bruce M. Venter (Univ of Okla Pr, 2016).

Controversy has long stalked the failed 1864 Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid on Richmond. Young Ulric Dahlgren himself was killed during the operation but the most shocking development was the discovery of documents in his possession directing his command to kill President Davis and his cabinet and also burn the city of Richmond. Both the authenticity of the orders [I believe the current consensus is that they were indeed genuine] and their exact origin have been debated ever since. Bruce Venter has been studying the affair for a decade and in that time he's discovered important new sources that alter previously published interpretations (including his own). His book Kill Jeff Davis promises the fullest account of the raid itself to date as well as the best answers to the remaining questions.

From the publisher description: "In this detailed and deeply researched account of the most famous cavalry raid of the Civil War, author Bruce M. Venter describes an expedition that was carefully planned but poorly executed. A host of factors foiled the raid: bad weather, poor logistics, inadequate command and control, ignorance of the terrain, the failures of supporting forces, and the leaders’ personal and professional shortcomings. Venter delves into the background and consequences of the debacle, beginning with the political maneuvering orchestrated by commanding brigadier general Judson Kilpatrick to persuade President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to approve the raid. Venter’s examination of the relationship between Kilpatrick and Brigadier General George A. Custer illuminates the reasons why the flamboyant Custer was excluded from the Richmond raid.

In a lively narrative describing the multiple problems that beset the raiders, Kill Jeff Davis uncovers new details about the African American guide whom Dahlgren ordered hanged; the defenders of the Confederate capital, who were not just the “old men and young boys” of popular lore; and General Benjamin F. Butler’s expedition to capture Davis, as well as Custer’s diversionary raid on Charlottesville

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