First Lady of the Confederacy: Varina Davis's Civil War

First Lady of the Confederacy: Varina Davis's Civil War

by Joan E. Cashin

During the war she nursed Union prisoners and secretly corresponded with friends in the North.

After the war, Varina Davis endured financial woes and the loss of several children, but following her husband's death in 1889, she moved to New York and began a career in journalism.

Here she advocated reconciliation between the North and South and became friends with Julia Grant, the widow of Ulysses S.

A century after Varina Davis's death in 1906, Joan E.

Pro-slavery but also pro-Union, Varina Davis was inhibited by her role as Confederate First Lady and unable to reveal her true convictions.

In this pathbreaking book, Cashin offers a splendid portrait of a fascinating woman who struggled with the constraints of her time and place.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Biography
  • Rating: 3.83
  • Pages: 416
  • Publish Date: October 1st 2006 by Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
  • Isbn10: 0674022947
  • Isbn13: 9780674022942

What People Think about "First Lady of the Confederacy: Varina Davis's Civil War"

Let's just state it right up front: Jefferson Davis was an ass who, the second time around, married way above himself. She died not long after they married.) But this book isn't about Jefferson Davis, per se.

Near the end of Varina Davis' life, after an off-the-record conversation with journalist Horace White, the latter remarked, "If Mr Lincoln could only have had such a wife!" - and, reading this book, one cannot help but agree with the sentiment. Varina Davis would have been an ideal help-meet for Lincoln, a woman who could have supported him fully in his great work, a woman his intellectual equal, with witty and vivacious conversation skills, of unorthodox views and outlook.

Varnia Howell Davis (1826-1906) wife of Jefferson Davis was the only First Lady of the Confederacy. Cashin paints VHD as a highly intelligent, acutely observant woman, who apparently spent long years struggling to reconcile her societal duties to her personal beliefs. Cashin masterfully reveals VHD as a deeply conflicted woman, pro-slavery but also pro Union. I recently read the book Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule by Jennifer Chiaverini. The book also covered the friendship between Varnia Davis and Julia Grant.

The hardest thing, in a book like this, is keeping the reader engaged beyond the most interesting parts of the subject's life - in this case, the Civil War - and Cashin keeps the reader interested by breathing life into Varina Davis from the first page.

No one had yet done the job of writing a bio of Varian Howell Davis past a sketch or micro-biography. Knowing of commonplace love for the Confederacy and of Confederates' commonplace appreciation of the Cult of True Womanhood, I had occassionally wondered why lovers of the Confederacy do not honor Varina Davis. Varina was not the ideal Confederate wife. Writer Cashin provides her readers with everything that a good biography needs. A good biography to read if the reader wants to know about pockets and breaks in the supposed monolithic Southern Confederacy.

Cashin covers everything, from Davis' education, her outspokenness and wit, her issues with the much-older Jefferson Davis, the deaths of children, her pro-slavery but pro-Union views, her post-war life with Jeff and her later journalistic career, friendships with such disparate women as Mary Boykin Chesnut, Frances E.

I had just come off of reading Charles Frazier's novel, "Varina" and found it wanting.

Cashin's depiction of Varina Davis doesn't live up to this rule. Furthermore, Varina Davis is the wife of one of the most controversial political figures in American history, and her political views are a major aspect of her historical significance; an understanding of the period's political history is imperative. It's well researched in terms of information on Davis herself (though accompanied by a biased interpretation of those facts), and yet the author is glaringly ignorant of the world her subject lived in.