- Dixie Betrayed: How the South Really Lost the Civil War
Why did the Confederacy lose the Civil War? That is a question that has intrigued historians for years and has led to the publication of many fine works such as Why the South Lost the Civil War (1986) by Richard E. Beringer, Herman Hattaway, Archer Jones, and William N. Still Jr., and The Confederate War: How Popular Will, Nationalism, and Military Strategy Could Not Stave Off Defeat (1997) by Gary W. Gallagher, to name but two. Now David J. Eicher has joined the discussion with a well-written new book.
Eicher sides with the school of thought that concludes that the Confederacy lost largely due to internal pressures and divisions. That conclusion is not a new one, but he has added to our understanding by fleshing out the people and personalities involved. At times, the book tends to drift off into distraction, such as an early section that spends too much time describing the fight at Fort Sumter. But Eicher finally gets back on point by showing how the confusion at Sumter over who was able to offer terms to Major Anderson was perhaps a preview of the infighting to come. From there he continues and discusses the tensions within the Confederate War Department, the Cabinet, general officers, conscription, the city of Richmond, and so forth. As far as new information, Eicher includes [End Page 91] little, but again his focus on so many aspects and his creative telling of the story is interesting, such as in the case of food shortages in Richmond and the high-handed tactics of Gen. John Winder, Provost Marshal, and his agents in arresting people, which he describes with telling effect.
The author's telling of the story from various vantage points, such as from the highest levels (Jefferson Davis, Robert Toombs, etc.) to the lowest (Sgt. John Worsham of the 21st Virginia), gives the work a more complete dimension and makes the familiar arguments such as Jefferson Davis's "thin skin" and tendency toward micromanaging more human and understandable. Indeed, the book at times seems to be composed of little biographies that Eicher skillfully weaves together and holds in place by his theme. In the end, he shows how men of great ego and personality worked against the Jefferson Davis government due to their own short-sighted self-interests.
Finally, the book ends on a strong note in the epilogue, where Eicher discusses the revisionism that took place almost immediately after the war ended. That revisionism promoted a view of unity within the Confederacy, as well as the theme that the South lost only because of overwhelming Yankee numbers, conclusions supported by the Southern Historical Society Papers and the Sons of Confederate Veterans. And the postlude is enlightening as well because it describes what happened to the key participants after the war, a story not always told.
As noted, the strength of the book is the great character sketches of familiar and not-so-familiar politicians and generals, and Eicher tries to show the tensions, squabbles, and debates that caused internal divisions within the Confederacy. One wonders, though, could not the same be said of the Union side? Perhaps one should read Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln for that answer.