author Whitney explores
Union Army's Jefferson Davis in book
MADISON, Ind. (November 2002) After 20 years of
dedicated research, Madison resident Gordon D. Whitney has realized
a lifelong dream. Whitneys book, Jefferson Davis in Blue:
The Life of Shermans Relentless Warrior, which he co-authored
with Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes Jr., was released in June.
The book, published by Louisiana State University Press, is the biography
of Jefferson Columbus Davis, who besides sharing a name with the president
of the Confederacy, became notorious in own right as a general in the
Whitney, 74, said that he first became interested in Davis because he
was from Indiana and because of his intriguing career. Davis grew up
in the small town of Memphis, Ind., in Clark County and entered the
military at the age of 17. Davis soon gained notoriety from superiors
for his service in the Mexican War and was recommended for West Point.
author Gordon Whitney
Although appointment to the military academy never materialized,
Davis stayed in the military and continued with what would be a long
and, at times, tumultuous career. Whitney said that although Davis was
a loving husband and devoted soldier, his reputation was somewhat tarnished
by two major incidents that would eventually, and perhaps unfortunately,
define his historical significance.
In 1860, Davis was placed under house arrest and charged with shooting
to death General William Bull Nelson, his former commanding
officer. Amazingly, however, Davis was never tried or punished for his
crime, mainly because the two generals seeking charges against Davis
were killed in a Civil War battle shortly thereafter, Whitney said.
In fact, according to Whitney, Davis was eventually released and went
on to command forces during the war and to commit the second most notorious
act of his military career, the abandonment of a group of black refugees
to Confederate forces at Ebenezer Creek. These two incidents paint a
grim picture of the military leader. But according to Whitney, despite
character flaws Davis proved himself a competent commander who, after
the war, was appointed as commissioner of the Freedmens Bureau
and was subsequently sent to Alaska in 1879. There, he spent three successful
years helping to establish U.S. authority.
Reviews on the book have been favorable, pointing to the authors
accurate portrayal of Davis. In the October edition of North and
South, John F. Marzalek of Mississippi State University concludes,
This new book should correct Davis previously all-negative
historical reputation. What makes it particularly effective is that,
while it presents favorable information, it does not ignore or even
downplay Davis flaws and shortcomings.
Whitney said that he is pleased the book was published by Louisiana
State University Press, recognized as one of the premier publishers
of historical texts.
Whitney, originally from Hammond, Ind., where he worked as a fireman
for 25 years, moved to Madison in 1974. Whitney said that he spent many
hours researching records in such places as the National Archives and
the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and the Indiana State Library
and Indiana State Archives in Indianapolis.
Additionally, Whitney was able to obtain the original scrapbooks kept
by Davis wife, Marietta, from one of her descendants. According
to Whitney, after completing the bulk of the research, he collaborated
with Hughes who has written and edited several books on the Civil War
including his most recent, Sir Henry Morton Stanley, Confederate.
Whitney is the past-president of the Chicago and Louisville Civil War
Round Tables and the current president of the Jefferson County Civil
War Round Table, the latter two of which he founded. The Jefferson County
group meets on the second Tuesday of each month, September through May
at the Presbyterian Church in Madison.
A guest speaker is invited and the meetings are open to anyone interested
in Civil War history. Fellow Round Table member Ken Knouf said that
the Jefferson County group has been anxiously awaiting the publication
of Whitneys book and have followed his progress with interest.
Its been kind of a labor of love (for Whitney). Its
really exciting to see it come to fruition, Knouf said.
In addition to his recently published book, Whitney has written articles
for various historical and Civil War publications. The book is available
for purchase from the Jefferson County Historical Society, which will
host a book signing from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 10.
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