In DIXIE BETRAYED, David Eicher reveals for the first time the story of the political conspiracy, discord, and dysfunction in Richmond that cost the South the Civil War. Drawing on a wide variety of previously unexploited sources, Eicher shows how President Jefferson Davis fought not only with the Confederate House, Senate, and state governors, but also with his own vice-president and secretary of state. He interfered with his generals in the field, micromanaging their campaigns and playing favorites, ignoring the chain of command. He trusted a number of men who were utterly incompetent. Secession didn’t end with the breakaway of the Confederacy and Davis’s election as president; some states, led by their governors, debated setting themselves up as separate nations, further undermining efforts to conduct a unified war effort. Sure to be one of the most provocative and controversial books about the Civil War to be published in decades, DIXIE BETRAYED blasts away previous theories with the force of a cannonball and the grace of a gentleman.
I hate it when publishers treat the reading public as complete idiots. Now, I understand that marketing concerns are paramount, but how about a more honest description that still does justice to Eicher’s work. This internalist explanation for Confederate defeat has been around for ages. You can find it in studies by Paul Escott, William C. Davis, and most famously in the words of David Donald who concluded that the Confederacy “died of states’ rights.” More recently, Shelby Foote proclaimed that the South “never had a chance to win that war.” He then went on to note many of the points that are presented in the above description as ground-breaking. At least Foote brings that sympathetic southern drawl to the table.
In his earlier study, The Longest Night, Eicher also made the point in the introduction that he believed Confederate defeat was inevitable. Unfortunately, in the roughly 900 pages that followed he never engaged in an argument to prove this claim. This was an important oversight, especially given the fact that so many talented historians have challenged the internalist explanation by arguing that Confederate defeat is best understood by examining the way in which the battlefield contributed to the outcome of the war. After all, Lincoln and the North also experienced internal divisions. Mark Neely has recently challenged the assumption that the two-party system in the North aided the Union war effort. In fact, as Neely demonstrates the presence of two parties seriously threatened the stability of the North and its ability to prosecute the war to a successful conclusion. And of course disagreements over emancipation also threatened Northern unity. One can only hope that this time around Eicher deals head-on with this important debate.