Volume 8 of The Papers of Jefferson Davis brings the Confederate president to the second year of the War Between the States and shows that during 1862 Davis was almost completely overwhelmed by military matters. Indeed, early that year, in an address to the Confederate Congress, he admitted that in trying to defend every part of its far-flung territory, the “Government had attempted more than it had power successfully to achieve.”
During 1862, Judah P. Benjamin was replaced as secretary of war by George W. Randolph, who was then succeeded by James A. Seddon. As the year advanced, Davis’ relationships with certain key generals continued to sour. Chief among them were P.G.T. Beauregard, who was finally removed from his last significant command, and Joseph E. Johnston, whose fall from grace precipitated Robert E. Lee’s rise to influence as commander of the Army of Northen Virginia. Lee proved to be as adept in communicating and coordinating plans with the president as Johnston had been inept.
At the inconclusive Battle of Shiloh, Davis lost Albert Sidney Johnston, a trusted friend and the general he had most admired. Like Shiloh, many other campaigns of 1862 ended in stalemate and withdrawal, including Henry H. Sibley’s New Mexico campaign, Braxton Bragg’s Kentucky campaign, Earl Van Dorn,’s battle at Elkhorn Tavern, and the Confederacy’s greatest gamble—Lee’s Invasion of Maryland.
Correspondence with Davis’ brother, Joseph E. Davis, reveals the ever-worsening situation in Mississippi. The Federal occupation of New Orleans, the fall of new Madrid and Island No. 10, and Grants repeated attempts to capture Vicksburg heightened anxiety about the area and persuaded the president to tour the western theater in December.
Because the Union’s springtime invasion of Richmond prompted Davis to send his wife and children away, Volume 8 contains an unusually rich collection of letters exchanged during their separation. This correspondence offers a rare glimpse into the minds and hears of Davis and his wife.
Altogether, more than 2,000 documents, many never before published, are included in Volume 8; 133 are printed in full. Culled from fifty-nine repositories, twenty-one private collections, and numerous printed sources, they reveal that despite the many setbacks he suffered in 1862, Davis maintained a deep devotion to duty and an unbending will to win.
The books in the Papers of Jefferson Daivs series were made possible with assistance from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.
Lynda Lasswell Crist has edited The Papers of Jefferson Davis since 1979.
Mary Seaton Dix edited The Papers of Jefferson Davis from 1968 until July, 1995.
Kenneth H. Williams is director of publications for the Kentucky Historical Society and editor of the Register.
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