Work Title: First Lady of the Confederacy: Varina Davis's Civil War
Work Author(s): Joan E. Cashin
Harvard University Press
28 b/w photographs, 416 pages, Softcover $29.95
Reviewer: Robin Farrell Edmunds
Seventeen-year-old Varina Howell had these thoughts about the thirty-five-year-old widower she met in December, 1843: "He has a way of taking for granted that everybody agrees with him when he expresses an opinion, which offends me; yet he is most agreeable and has a peculiarly sweet voice and a winning manner of asserting himself." Fourteen months later she would marry the man, up-and-coming politician Jefferson Davis.
The author, a professor of history at Ohio State University specializing in the social history of the Antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction eras, has written what's being called the first definitive biography of Varina Howell Davis.
Davis's story tracks along with the nation's history as Cashin traces her family's early roots in the northeast, especially New Jersey, where her grandfather was governor for four terms. After his own military career, her father settled in Natchez, Mississippi, where Varina was born in 1826.
Very well educated for the time, Varina corresponded prolifically throughout her life with her Northern cousins, her mother, and the many friends she acquired in Washington, D.C., in the 1850s---some of the happiest times of her life---when Jefferson served as a senator and in Franklin Pierce's cabinet. Cashin combed through these letters to give voice to Varina's thoughts.
It's the voice of a woman trying to survive the tumultuousness of the times; because she was Davis's wife, she became the First Lady of the Confederacy when the...