I must admit that I found this book some pretty tough going. And that the “tough going” was in large part due to what I’d almost consider an excess of the sort of thing I usually appreciate. Namely, details. Viz:
>>> 98 pages of endnotes, in a book where the text by itself ran to just over 400. I think this is first time I’ve ever felt diverted by the superscript to the endnotes. Most pages had at least one reference, many had, well, many.
>>> A downright microscopic view of the daily life of the delegates sent to Montgomery, as in their hotel rooms, their rivalries, their dining habits, and so forth.
>>> A text that was choc a block full of curious anecdotes of the denizens of the Montgomery, from mayors to prostitutes to dogs. The mayor obviously wanted the CSA capital in Montgomery, the prostitutes did what prostitutes have done from time immemorial and the dogs yammered and snarled at passersby just about 24/7. (Though this being the tail end of the antebellum South, the author’s description of an attempt at a duel between two rival “madams” was not as odd as it might seem at first glance, at least to this pair of twenty-first century eyes. Even if it was every bit as amusing to those eyes as it seemed to be to most in the nineteenth.)
All of which I’d usually take to like a pig to, errm, mud. But there was just so MUCH of it. To the point where this little piggy felt in danger of being engulfed and overwhelmed by said mud. Thus, I’m left with a haunted sense that I may have missed one or several truly vital themes in the text as I wended my way through discussions of oysters on the half shell, bedbugs, train schedules, muddy streets and the editorial policies of the Charleston Mercury.
In sum, I’d have to put this one down as being interesting, perhaps very interesting, but, as that irritating song says, also “strictly for the hard-core.”
Notes on the text. What follows may or may not be fair, and may or may not qualify as a “spoiler.” Read at yer own risk. This is some stuff I’m noting more for myself than as part of a review.
Narrative – Doubtless using the time the provisional and actual CSA government spent in Montgomery, AL makes sense as both a starting and end-point from a narrative perspective, but for all that it strikes me as a somewhat artificial way to approach a work of history. Though I could be wrong, I thought the CSA constitution and its provisions were kicked back and forth throughout the entire existence of the CSA. Meaning, did the CSA ever truly and in a final sense ever “form?” Or was it always a work in process, a “forming?” Can’t say from the text.
Jefferson Davis – He comes across more like a stereotypical Yankee than a son of the South. Cold, forbidding, downright anal. Does this make sense? Contra that, Lincoln. (Just a thought.)
Judah Benjamin – Speculation on his sexual preferences, I’m not sure this is truly fair. But I’m also not sure it is unfair, either, since it was commented upon several times by contemporaries. What is curious is that, fair or not, true or not, it did not seem in the final analysis to bother his contemporaries much. Leading to the curious thought that the antebellum South was far more tolerant of such things than current South.
William Barnwell Rhett – If there was a villain of the piece, ’twas him. But is this fair? From the text, yes. But did the author give the reader a complete picture? Perhaps, perhaps not. Rhett did note — and the text credits him for it — that Jefferson Davis had effectively rendered useless his foreign emissaries through his micro-managing ways. But the text also gloated in an unseemly way about Rhett’s later reduction to poverty and his disfigurement from skin cancer. Seems a bit beyond the pale from where I’m sitting, even if he had ghastly ideas about resuming the African slave trade, etc.