Many sources claim that the American Civil War is one of the most frequently written about topic in American history, and in that, the individuals who led both sides of the epic struggle have been immortalized in print as well. A pivotal work that meets both of these criteria is “A Long Shadow: Jefferson Davis and the Final Days of the Confederacy”, by Michael B. Ballard.
In writing this book, Ballard sought not only to provide a factual account of the 1865 retreat of the government of the Confederate States of America from its capital city of Richmond, Virginia, just ahead of the conquering United States troops with particular emphasis on the leader of the CSA, Jefferson Davis. This book review will not only put forth compelling reasons why students and casual readers alike should choose this book, but also a brief summary of the book and a discussion of the themes found within the book.
It almost goes without saying that any book worth reviewing should be worth reading, Ballard’s book being no exception. The work is worthwhile for the reader- be it a student or Civil War enthusiast- because it is as much an account of an often-neglected part of a massively researched and discussed portion of American history, but also because the book is a tale of human experience, political differences, and the clashing of two ways of life which ultimately would only allow for one of the ways of life to move forward from that point intact. First, the book goes into detail about the man behind the CSA, President Jefferson Davis.
Ballard uses vivid imagery to describe the frail appearance of Davis by the spring of 1865, due in large part to the strain that was being placed on him to guide a new nation, and especially a massive army, in the face of a highly motivated and larger, better equipped US armed force , which in a very short time would crush Davis’ army and entire government, culminating in the formal surrender of the CSA on April 9, 1865. The book then moves forward with accounts of the military maneuvers, commanders and defeats that made up the waning days of the Confederacy itself.
By looking beneath the text of “A Long Shadow”, it is possible to gain a better understanding of the underlying themes of the book, leading to a much better understanding and appreciation of the work itself. Perhaps the most prominent theme of this book is the struggle of human spirit to overcome insurmountable odds to achieve a given end. For Jefferson Davis, his all consuming goal was to see his Confederate States of America gain recognition and independence not only from the United States, but also the other nations of the world, from whom Davis and his fellow officials sought diplomatic relations and nation status.
The other theme that is a common thread in Ballard’s book is perseverance when one believes that their cause is just. It can definitely be argued that both the US and CSA felt in their heart of hearts that what they were fighting for was not only right, but the absolute correct course of human events. Indeed, both sides of the conflict claimed that God was on their side and felt that He would see them to victory no matter what. Perhaps this sort of divine protection is what kept Jefferson Davis constantly trying to keep his cause going, even to the point where Davis himself was at the point of collapse and his nation lay in shambles.
In conclusion, it can fairly be said that this book is worthy of being considered one of the most relevant works on the topics of Jefferson Davis, the Confederate States of America, and the final days of the American Civil War as well as an epic tale of human endurance, struggle, triumph and defeat. Works Cited Ballard, Michael B. 1986. A Long Shadow: Jefferson Davis and the Final Days of the Confederacy. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi.