Book Review: Dixie Betrayed

Dixie Betrayed:  How The South Really Lost The Civil War, by David J. Eicher

It is always fascinating to see accounts of the fall of the South in the Civil War.  On what can it be blamed?  This particular book is a case of the author wanting to provide an explanation for the defeat of the South that does not involve a praise of the North to too high of a degree.  So we get some praise of Lincoln’s skill in managing the fractious politics of the North in trying to build a coalition between War Democrats who were not particularly strong in antislavery as well as antislavery radicals whose commitment to the war effort was less than exemplary and those who, like him, were both antislavery and committed to the successful maintenance of Union.  Above all, the author did not want to praise Yankee skill in military leadership, from famous leaders like Grant, Sherman, Thomas, Sheridan, Curtis, Farragut, and others.  The subject of logistics is not of great interest to the author, and so as a result what we get in this book is a look at the supposed betrayal of Dixie by its own political class and its infighting, which was a predictable outcome–predicted by no less a personage than Lincoln himself [1].

This particular book is almost 300 pages long and is divided into nineteen chapters.  The author begins with a prologue that discusses the book’s focus, a Confederate officer named John Worsham (1), who seems to represent the author’s own perspective.  After that there is a look at the birth of the Confederacy (2) as well as the portrait of Jefferson Davis (3), whom the author generally supports.  There is a discussion of the War Department (4) and the curious cabinet that Davis put together (5), as well as the military high command (6) and the struggle with states’ rights (7).  There is a chapter about the effects of the war on Richmond (8) as well as the rise of Lee and Bragg thanks to their successes in 1862 (9) as well as the uneasy brotherhood (10) and the jockeying for position (11) that happened in the Confederate elite.  The author discusses the problem of politics going out of control (12) as well as the struggle to get along between rivals (13) and the soiled reputations of those who failed in military and diplomatic efforts (14).  The author discusses the increasing divide between Dais and Congress (15), the military highs and lows of the 1864 campaign (16), the proposal to use slaves as soldiers (17), and various peace proposals (18) before the author ends with a discussion of despair (19) and includes some information about the postwar lives of notable Confederates in a postlude.

In reading this book one is convinced of the divisiveness of the Confederates themselves.  But this was a given, since the whole course of secession and the refusal on the part of radicals to submit to cooperationism as an approach as well as the refusal to wait for actual unconstitutional behavior on the part of Lincoln and his administration all made for a fractious attempt at union on the part of the Confederacy, which rather tellingly did not make a right to secession a part of its own constitution, thus conceding it was not a constitutional right under the U.S. Constitution either.  As someone who is not a fan of the Confederacy I found large parts of this book greatly entertaining as the author detailed the pettiness and in-fighting of various Confederate civil and military leaders, and where the fight for place and the recognition of one’s region and one’s personal honor and dignity was of a higher importance sometimes than doing what it took to win the war.  To be sure, this was a regrettable thing to do, but it demonstrations the very real weaknesses that were present within Southern nationalism.  The Union had not been oppressive to them, and indeed after efforts at Reconstruction failed, the South was free more or less to run itself for another century or so according to broadly tolerated if lamentably unjust principles, and so the South has until recently had little cause to want to rise up again, fortunately for us all.

[1] See, for example, this quote from Lincoln’s first inaugural address:

“For instance, why may not any portion of a new confederacy a year or two hence arbitrarily secede again, precisely as portions of the present Union now claim to secede from it?  All who cherish disunion sentiments are now being educated as to the exact temper of doing this.

Is there such a perfect identity of interests among the States to compose a new Union as to produce harmony only and present renewed secession?  Plainly the central idea of secession is the essence of anarchy.

A majority held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations, and always changing easily with deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments is the only true sovereign of a free people.”

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American Civil War, American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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