Conclusion
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Conclusion Six months after ­ Davis’s desperate call for conditional emancipation, the Confederacy was on the brink of losing its capital at Richmond, Virginia. By April 3, 1865, the Confederate government was on the move as Grant’s forces were poised to capture the city that had been at the center of the East­ ern Theater of war for close to four years. ­ Davis escaped to Danville, Virginia, where the next day he issued his last official address as president of the Confederacy. It was only five paragraphs long, and in it ­ Davis embraced the defiant, if not delusional, optimism that had become a hallmark of his late wartime addresses. Although the address did little to persuade anyone to press on, it does represent a final answer to the questions : what was ­ Davis willing to give up in the name of independence, and what would the Confederacy stand for without states’ rights and the institution of slavery? Based on his last address as president, the answers are everything and nothing. Rather than admitting that the loss of Richmond foretold the imminent collapse of the Confederacy, ­ Davis argued that the event was a crucial military blunder by the Union that would only improve the chances of a Confederate victory in its bid for independence as the pride of the Confederacy , Robert E. Lee, would now finally be free to attack wherever he wished without the burden of protecting the Confederate capital.1­Davis’s weak argument relied on redefining victory and defeat so that the only path to Union victory was to break Confederate will to fight in every instance . Ironically, according to ­ Davis, as long as there was a strong sense of Confederate nationalism then the Confederacy itself would live on regardless of what cities were occupied and what capitals were lost.2­Davis’s call, then, was for the Confederate people to demonstrate their resolve by continuing to support the war effort despite losing Richmond. According to ­ Davis, this collective act of defiance would not only have tangible 90 / Conclusion military benefits but would likely break the will of the North­ ern people to continue fighting in the face of such strong Confederate nationalism. The problem for ­ Davis was that, even if his audience agreed that nationalism was the standard of victory, there was little Confederate nationalism left. The people of the Confederacy had sacrificed so much to the pragmatic demands of war that the call to fight on was an empty call to a vanquished audience. ­ Davis’s rhe­ tori­ cal options were limited, and his final speech demonstrates that when nationalism was all that was left, ­ Davis still did not have a vision for the Confederacy outside of the well-­ trodden claims of independence in the face of a fierce enemy. After losing states’ rights, the institution of slavery, territory, and now the capital of the Confederacy , there was simply nothing left to fight for.­ Davis’s final address represents a series of mistakes that culminated in his struggles as a rhe­ tori­ cal leader. First, ­ Davis took his audience’s unwavering commitment to the Confederacy for granted from start to finish. Throughout his interpersonal fights and his pub­ lic addresses, one theme that seemingly infuriated ­ Davis more than any other was opposition to his policies grounded in purely sectional interest. Early in the war, ­ Davis was constantly asking governors for more troops to address problems outside their states; nothing angered him more than resistance to those requests in the name of state interest. For ­ Davis, the decision to secede may have been made on a state-­ by-­ state basis, but after the Montgomery convention his life’s mission became the independence of the Confederacy as a whole. He assumed that everyone else would be just as motivated to achieve that goal; of­ ten he demanded it.The record reflects that ­ Davis’s commitment to “all for one and one for all” was shared in the early days when resources were plentiful, battles had not been fought, and the Union was not occupying large swaths of territory. As resources grew tighter and difficult decisions had to be made, people could not help but act on sectional interest. As the war progressed toward total devastation and ­ Davis orchestrated a military strategy that ceded large portions of the Confederacy in order to concentrate forces in criti­ cal areas, people could not help but think that they had been abandoned. For many, ­ Davis’s final address must have been a...