Tuesday, July 18, 2017

New and Noteworthy---Jefferson Davis, Confederate Nationalism and the Possibility of Arming Slaves

Jefferson Davis's Final Campaign: Confederate Nationalism and the Fight to Arm Slaves, Philip D. Dillard, Mercer University Press, 286 pages, eight photos, 8 maps, footnotes, bibliography, index, 2017, $35.

 Jefferson Davis's Final Campaign: Confederate Nationalism and the Fight to Arm Slaves focuses upon the Southern public's debate over the enlistment of free blacks and slaves into the military forces of the Confederacy. Virginia, Georgia and Texas newspapers are closely examined as well as Davis' statements and correspondence. Also the author relies on Davis' annual address of 1864 and his letters to to Confederate States officials.

The chief conclusion the author reaches is that the closer the Federal armies came to Southern communities the more prevalent and vocal came the call from those communities to consider the enlistment of African Americans. The proposition to arm the slaves came from those most threatened by Federal armies.

 Jefferson Davis's Final Campaign begins with  a survey of current work done on the topic of the enlistment of slaves. Dillard's research takes into consideration the various social classes in the Confederacy.  His narrative suggests the consideration of the question: what would an independent Confederate nation look like if it contained former slaves  who were veterans or if it contained slaves who were once armed but not emancipated.

Dillard discusses three phases which the debate of arming the slaves passed through: during the second half of 1863 (post Gettysburg and Vicksburg); the summer and autumn of 1864 with Sherman approaching Atlanta, Grant approaching Richmond and Thomas waiting at Nashville for Hood to arrive; Davis' annual address at the end of 1864 and the February 1865 Hampton Roads conference.

The author derives most of the support for his  arguments from newspaper editorials and letters to the editor from soldiers and civilians. Contrary to popular understandings of Davis effectiveness, Dillard finds that Davis successfully marshaled support for his views, though the support he received may have been too little and too late.  Jefferson Davis's Final Campaign: Confederate Nationalism and the Fight to Arm Slaves is a thought provoking study of the Confederate nation at the brink of its extinction and what possible life-saving remedies were acceptable to its leaders and citizens.

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