Reading Journal

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Monday, May 19, 2014

The Long Surrender by Burke Davis

This excellent book follows Jefferson Davis and his family from the fall of Richmond to his capture, detention, release, and eventual postwar life. It also contains side stories about the flight of the Confederate treasury and some of the Davis's cabinet members.

Weeks after Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, Davis was still on the run. At first, he had wild plans to find his way to Texas and fight a prolonged guerrilla war, perhaps with help from Mexican troops. His generals convinced him the cause was ultimately lost, the people of the South knew it, and that prolonging the killing merely to save face was an offense against humanity.

One interesting thing was that immediately after the war, people in the South were more afraid of lawless and looting Confederate soldiers than Yankee troops. In fact most of the Confederate treasury was taken by its guards as order broke down. From many of those soldiers' perspectives, the last few years had been "the rich man's war and the poor man's fight" and now they wanted theirs.

Davis was captured close to the Florida border. He was imprisoned in Fort Monroe and treated in degrading ways by the officer in charge. His protest was eloquent "The war's over. The South is conquered. America is my only country. I plead against this degradation for the honor of America."

Secretary of War Stanton wanted to bring treason charges against Davis and hang him. He was advised by the Supreme Court's Chief Justice that if he brought Davis to trial, the defense would be that secession is constitutional. He thought Davis would likely win his case, bringing humiliation to the North. Secession had been proved impossible from a practical standpoint, and the North should let it rest at that.

By 1868 Davis and all the other Confederate leaders had been granted full pardons. Davis ended up living many more years, and possibly had some spicy affairs with wives of former cabinet members. But that's a tale for another day.


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