The Union That Shaped the Confederacy

By Robert Toombs and Alexander H. Stephens; William C. Davis

April 2001; 304 pages, 2 photographs, 6 x 9
Cloth ISBN 978-0-7006-1088-4, $29.95 (t)


The Union That Shaped the Confederacy By Robert Toombs and Alexander H. Stephens; William C. Davis
The Union That Shaped the Confederacy
By Robert Toombs and Alexander H. Stephens; William C. Davis

One was a robust charmer given to fits of passion, whose physical appeal could captivate women as easily as cajole colleagues. The other was a frail, melancholy man of quiet intellect, whose ailments drove him eventually to alcohol and drug addiction. Born into different social classes, they were as opposite as men could be. Yet these sons of Georgia, Robert Toombs and Alexander H. Stephens, became fast friends and together changed the course of the South.

Writing with the style and authority that has made him one of our most popular historians of the Civil War, William C. Davis has written a biography of a friendship that captures the Confederacy in microcosm. He tells how Toombs and Stephens dominated the formation of the new nation and served as its vice president and secretary of state. After years of disillusionment, each abandoned participation in the government and left to its own fate a Confederacy that would not dance to their tune.

Davis traces this unlikely relationship from its early days in the Georgia legislature through the trials of secession and war, revealing how both men persevered during the war and developed a deep animosity for Jefferson Davis. He then chronicles their postwar lives up to the emotional moment when Toombs stood eulogizing his long-time friend at his funeral, just four months after Stephens was elected governor of the Georgia they had loved as much as one another.

Drawing extensively on primary sources, including Stephens’s voluminous letters and Toombs’s widely scattered papers, Davis tells how two men of different temperaments remained friends, out of step with all but a few and occasionally even with each other. He concentrates on their Confederate years, when the fraternity they shared had its greatest impact, to show how they embodied both the strengths and the weaknesses of the Confederacy.

While there are biographies of each man, none convey the significance–or the depth–of their friendship. Davis shows us how they loved the South as it once was, the Union as they thought it ought to have been, and the Confederacy of their dreams that never came to be. They lost all three, but through five decades of crisis, they never failed each other.

“A sympathetic but also sharply critical treatment of how two deeply flawed southern politicians both helped create and destroy the Confederacy. . . . Brings back excitement to the political history of the Civil War.”–George Rable, author of The Confederate Republic

“In this engaging narrative, Davis offers compelling portraits of the two men, describes their critical roles in Confederate history, and illuminates the process by which their friendship thrived amid increasingly difficult political circumstances.”–Gary W. Gallagher, author of The Confederate War

“A marvelous book that reads like a novel.”–Emory M. Thomas, author of Robert E. Lee: A Biography

WILLIAM C. DAVIS is the author of more than forty books about the Civil War, including The Cause Lost: Myths and Realities of the Confederacy, also published by Kansas and Jefferson Davis, The Man and His Hour. Recipient of three Jefferson Davis Awards and numerous other prizes, he is presently professor of history and director of programs at the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies at Virginia Tech.

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