Dixie Betrayed Review
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Dixie Betrayed: How the South Really Lost the Civil War is a fascinating look at the government of the Confederate States of America. David J. Eicher explains why the Confederate States were doomed from the start, despite so many early victories on the battlefields. His revealing look at how the Confederate Congress functioned, and the battles that it fought, contains all the intrigue associated with modern politics.

Eicher claims that the Confederacy was “born sick.” His thesis is that the states that seceded from the Union were too strongly in favor of states’ rights to form a new government strong enough to rule. He goes to great length to find first source historical records to prove this. He pieces together private correspondence from Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, Congressional leaders, and state governors to show a government in complete disarray. But he never probes into any other aspect of the Civil War.

  
 
Of course, he could have just as easily made a very similar case against the United States government. Like Davis, Abraham Lincoln had few friends in his Congress. Lincoln also suspended the writ of habeas corpus, declared martial law in major cities, and jailed citizens for months for flimsy reasons, allowing them no legal recourse. Lincoln was just as guilty as Davis of micromanaging the military, putting incompetent men in positions of power, and playing favorites throughout the government. Both presidents were also stubborn and refused to listen to anyone who disagreed with them.

The book is one of the few times that a major historian has looked beyond the battles to the inner workings of the Confederacy to find a reason for its loss. In doing so, Eicher reveals the power struggles and back biting that prevented the Confederate government from being able to capitalize on the South’s military victories. He illustrates the difficulty in waging a war when the central government doesn’t have clear power to assert itself over the individual state governments. As the war progressed, he argues, the states became more focused on themselves and less willing to contribute troops, materials, and monies to the war effort—all the time expecting more and more from the Confederate Congress.

At times it seems as if Eicher is repeating himself when he writes about the dealings of President Davis and his Congress. This is because they so often covered the same ground, never coming to a real conclusion. While that was indeed the case many times, it does cause the book to drag toward the end. Readers who aren’t historians may well wish Eicher had used fewer (or at least shorter) quotes to make his points, and that he would have kept the plot moving a bit faster.

This is not a comprehensive look at the Civil War. Eicher has chosen not discuss any battle or skirmish in detail, except to point out a particular failing of the Confederate Congress or president. He also mentions none of the problems the war created in the North or the difficulties Lincoln faced in his own congress.

Dixie Betrayed is a compelling thesis, written in clear, easy text making it accessible to today’s readers. Southern Traditionalists will be bothered that there are none of the romanticisms of the South, and military buffs will be let down by the lack of attention paid to the battles. But readers looking for something new on a very well-documented topic are going to be pleased with this book—even if it seems a bit slanted at times.

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