First Lady of the Confederacy: Varina Davis's Civil War
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First Lady of the Confederacy: Varina Davis's Civil War

3.59 of 5 stars 3.59  ·  rating details  ·  71 ratings  ·  17 reviews

When Jefferson Davis became president of the Confederacy, his wife, Varina Howell Davis, reluctantly became the First Lady. For this highly intelligent, acutely observant woman, loyalty did not come easily: she spent long years struggling to reconcile her societal duties to her personal beliefs. Raised in Mississippi but educated in Philadelphia, and a long-time resident

Paperback, 416 pages
Published February 15th 2009 by Belknap Press (first published October 1st 2006)
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Janet Kincaid
Let's just state it right up front: Jefferson Davis was an ass who, the second time around, married way above himself. (His first wife was the daughter of Pres. Zachary Taylor. She died not long after they married.) But this book isn't about Jefferson Davis, per se. It's about his wife, an intelligent, cultured, outspoken woman who struggled to balance her intellect and independence against the expectations of Southern, and especially Richmond, society regarding her duties and roles as wife and...more
Not a particularly enjoyable book in the sense of titillating political gossip - Varina Howell Davis' life was one of deep contradictions and not altogether happy circumstances (how could it have been happy - she was married to the man who was president of the failed Confederacy, and there was only grief to be had from that). Instead, this is an enjoyable book for the historian who desires to know the truth, however that revelation may contest popular theory.

Cashin's style is not to denigrate he...more
This book was awesome. Ever since about 2003 when my husband and I toured the cotton South and went on a tour of the Confederate White House, I've been intrigued by the life of Varina Davis. In many ways she was a product of her time, and she did fulfill the expected duties of a politician's wife, yet she also rebeled against those roles as well. What struck me consistently throughout the book is how much profound sadness she suffered in her lifetime. While much of that was common for the time (...more
Interesting read about a woman somewhat forgotten in history. She had mixed feelings about the Confederacy although married to the President Jefferson Davis. He was a difficult stubborn man. She spent the last years of her life in New York City, much to the digust of many in the South and in the end believed the right side had won the Civil War.
Excellent read....very readable account of a woman that I knew almost nothing about, Varina Davis, wife of the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. Varina was a very well educated, well read woman and the author makes the case that she was not well prepared to be the First Lady of the Confederacy. She suffered much hardship and lost children (similarly to Mary Todd Lincoln). They also shared a seamstress, Mrs. Elizabeth Keckley. I would also recommend a very good tour of the White Hous...more
Laura Beasley
Aug 11, 2011 Laura Beasley rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Laura by: Book Club selection
I have mixed feelings about this book. Before I read this book I new nothing about Jefferson Davis's wife. I liked the book in that I learned a lot about Varina Davis in this book but the authors writing turned me off. I felt like she just kept repeating 3 topics over and over again. --her appearance, her personality and her feelings about the war. The book could have been condensed to half the 300 pages. Learning about her life was very interesting and she was a remarkable woman. The things she...more
Pete Sharon
This was interesting, but frustrating for one reason: Here is a biography of a woman who maintained a voluminous correspondence with the notable people of her day, and later made her living as a professional writer. Yet you are scarcely ever, in the whole book, given a complete sentence of her own. For example: 'She was glad "the long agony" was over and that she had "relapsed" into her "normal obscurity," even if she was in "abnormal poverty"...' On and on like this, with her voice never coming...more
Margaret Skrivseth
I was amazed by the life events of Varina Howell Davis, the subject of this book. Prior to reading it, I had no idea that Davis was so conflicted about the Civil War. Born in the south and educated in the north, she had many friends and family members on both sides of the conflict.

This book is very well researched. I can't imagine the work that went into this. Joan Cashin has created a very readable book which allows us to see the very human side of one of histories great ladies.
Bought this because I am interested in the Civil War and also because there has been a family rumor for years now that we are related to Mrs. Davis and I wanted to see if the book could help in that quest. Don't have all the puzzle pieces to know if said rumor is fact or fiction, but I enjoyed learning about the woman though the text is somewhat dry. Every subject has to have its starting point and I would rather it be based in fact than in conjecture.
It was very interesting to read that, although they are two very different women, there were so many similarities between Varina Davis and Mary Todd Lincoln. Both led lives that were infinitely harder because they were caught up in decisions made by the men in their lives. I have much respect for Varina Davis after reading more about her life.
Caryn Hederman
Aug 21, 2007 Caryn Hederman rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history fans
History and Biography. A refreshingly different perspective on the Civil War generally and Jefferson Davis, from the vantage of his wife. The author has put together a well-researched account based on Varina Davis's correspondence with friends, family, and others. Groundbreaking in many ways and well worth the reading.
I'm learning a lot about Varina Davis, wife of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America from 1861-1865. And it's interesting to read about the war from the perspective of a Southerner. But the book is very academic in tone and really dry, so I would only recommend it to hard-core Civil War junkies.
Nancy Ponder
I learned about Varina and Jefferson Davis so that I enjoyed. However, the author's style was difficult: long sentences (50 words?), disjointed paragraphs and obvious biases. It was not well written but the topic was somewhat redeeming.
Three stars for historical content, but it was pretty dry, very hard to read and well didn't really convey anything about the first lady that was from her own writings. I really doubt I'll ever pick this one up again.
Red Fields
Before I read this biography I knew nothing about Varina Davis, not even her name. I found it quite interesting and will probably make a visit to the Confederate White House, which is now a museum.
This history book read like a novel to me it was so amazing. Fascinating personal history of Varina Howell Davis, wife of Jefferson Davis.
I became interested in her, especially the fact that I'd really heard nothing about her, after visiting Richmond. Fascinating biography.
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