The Death and Resurrection of Jefferson Davis Summary

Donald E. Collins

The Death and Resurrection of Jefferson Davis

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The reputation of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America, took a nosedive following his nation's defeat, but it rose slowly over the next two decades as the South recovered from the Civil War. His death in 1889 set off a wave of regional mourning which was capped by an impressive funeral in New Orleans, where he had died. Almost immediately, however, a clamor arose over the proper final location for Davis's body, as nine southern cities vied for the honor. In 1893 Davis's widow chose Richmond's Hollywood Cemetery, the burial ground of two United States presidents and countless Confederate veterans, as the appropriate final resting place for her husband.

Donald E. Collins's The Death and Resurrection of Jefferson Davis is long on facts but short on analysis. The bulk of this book presents, in infinite, loving detail, every available fact concerning the movements of Davis during the last years of his life and the movements of his body in the years following his death. Most readers will be quite satisfied with this treatment, as Collins handles it with consummate skill. More thoughtful readers will wish that Collins had included more analysis as to why some of these movements took place in the first place. This reviewer wishes that Collins had done more to connect the near-veneration of Davis's body with the rise of the so-called Lost Cause movement. This effort was spearheaded by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to transform the status of former Confederates from losers to heroes and to sanctify the Confederate war effort as a noble enterprise. Collins attempts to do this in the conclusion, but this short, six-page chapter serves only to whet the appetite, not satisfy it. Nevertheless, readers who enjoy reading about the Civil War and its principal participants will appreciate this book.