James M. McPherson
The Penguin Press, 2014, 301 pp., $32.95
Image courtesy of washingtonpost.com
There are hundreds upon hundreds of books written about Abraham Lincoln and his successful presidency who managed the Civil War and was victorious. However, there have not been as many books on the president who failed in the venture of commanding the Confederacy. James M. McPherson, one of the most decorated Civil War historians, has decided to tackle this interesting character of the war. What McPherson does in this work is attempt to analyze the president of the Confederacy as his abilities as the Commander in Chief. Was he successful in analyzing this man? Let’s find out.
James M. McPherson is well known among Civil War historians and readers alike as the writer of the most famous one volume history of the war, Battle Cry of Freedom. He is the George Henry Davis ’86 Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton University and is the author of thirteen works on the Civil War. His most recent work was War on the Waters which looked into the Navy during the war. He has also written Tried by War, The Mighty Scourge, and What They Fought For, 1861-1865. There are some who would still say that he is the most recognizable name in all of the Civil War.
There is a feeling among the general public of the Civil War that this book was a product as a response of his work on Lincoln, Tried by War. I am inclined to think that this assumption is correct due to the way this work was written. As I read through the book, I found myself moving quite fast through the pages and realized that the book was thinly formatted as to “beef up” the page count. I do not blame McPherson for this since it was a decision made by the press in which the book was published. What can be pointed to for a fault is the content throughout this work. I felt as though the book was just a rehash of the Confederate material in Battle Cry combined with most of his other works. I felt that much of the beginning of the book dealt with the military motions of the Confederacy instead of the President himself. I was looking for a look into the way in which Davis ran the government but what I got in the end was just a look into the Civil War from the Confederate view of the events. Knowing that this book was supposed to analyze Davis as the Commander in Chief, I still left wanted to know more about his life previous to the war including his time at West Point and even his time in the army. But I was disappointed. This book seems to be a good introduction to the Confederate view of the war for beginnings of the Civil War, but for seasoned veterans, this book offers nothing new to the study of the war or the politics of the machine.
There is a stigma among readers of the Civil War that just because the book is written by McPherson, it must be good. In the case of his work on Jefferson Davis, I was greatly disappointed by it. I am not sure what was expected as I read through this work, but what I finally read was not what I found here in these pages. I only recommend this book to people who are new to the realm of the Civil War, but I do not recommend this book to people who are seasoned veterans of Civil War reading.