The Confederacy
The Slaveholders' Failed Venture
by Paul D. Escott
December 2009, 175pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-0-275-99409-9
$64, £48, 56€, A87
eBook Available: 978-1-57356-993-4
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

It was by any measure a failure. What began at Fort Sumter as a spirited defense of a homeland and a way of life ended in disaster. The connection between battlefield and home front sapped Confederate strength. More fundamentally, the privileged and overconfident elite went to war on false assumptions: that slavery would be a source of strength, that nonslaveholders would continue to sacrifice for slavery, and that women would accept the changes brought by war without serious complaint. The bid to preserve the proslavery South revealed a society whose nature was at odds with the demands of war.

A sharp-edged and revealing account of the transforming struggle for Southern independence and the inherent contradictions that undermined that effort.

Paul Escott’s The Confederacy: The Slaveholders’ Failed Venture offers a unique and multifaceted perspective on the United States’ most pivotal and devastating conflict, examining the course of the Civil War from the perspective of the Southern elite class, who were desperate to preserve the “peculiar institution” of its slave-based economy, yet dependent on ordinary Southerners, slaves, and women to sustain the fight for them.

Against the backdrop of the war’s military drama and strategic dilemmas, The Confederacy brings into sharp focus the racial, class, gender, and political conflicts that helped destabilize the Confederacy from within. Along the way, Escott shows how time and time again, the South’s political and economic elite made errors that further weakened a South already facing a Union army with greater numbers and firepower.


  • Photographs, maps, and graphs enrich the text and illustrate changes in military strength, the importance of the Border South, and the loss of Confederate territory over time
  • A bibliographical essay directs the reader to some of the most important and recent works in the vast historiography of the Civil War
Paul D. Escott is Reynolds Professor of History at Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC, and the author of several books on the South and the Civil War, including Praeger's Military Necessity: Civil-Military Relations in the Confederacy.


"Recommended. Most levels/libraries."—Choice, November 1, 2010

"Several fine titles have appeared in recent years in the Reflections on the Civil War Era series edited by John David Smith, and to them Paul D. Escott's The Confederacy makes a fine addition. ... An excellent and thoughtful work in brief compass, The Confederacy will be valuable to student and scholar alike."—Journal of American History, December 1, 2010

"With The Confederacy: The Slaveholders' Failed Venture, Paul D. Escott has written a clear, concise synthesis of the life cycle of the Confederacy based on an impressive array of primary sources and a review of current secondary literature"—Journal of Southern History, August 1, 2011

"Paul Escott’s exceedingly valuable The Confederacy is essential reading for students of the Civil War. Based on  impressive research in primary and secondary sources, it provides a much needed history of the Confederacy incorporating the most recent scholarship. Acknowledging the debate over the relative importance of internal or external forces underlying Confederate defeat, Escott is a judicious historian. In his judgment, despite mounting an impressive effort against a more powerful foe, the Confederacy ultimately failed in its quest for independence because of internal weaknesses and contradictions. The Confederacy will surely spur comment and undoubtedly controversy.  In sum, it is a major contribution." —William J. Cooper, Boyd Professor, Louisiana State University 

 "In this fresh synthesis, which draws impressively on recent scholarship, Paul Escott drives home the ironies and contradictions of Confederate history in a lucid, focused, and engaging narrative. Escott’s strength is his revelatory and meticulous examination of how the Confederate government functioned, and the interplay between battlefield and home front. Above all, Escott illuminates the oxymoronic nature of the slaveholders’ revolution that secessionists initiated. Instinctively conservative and obsessed with preserving slavery and their own wealth, Southern planters resisted the transformational sacrifices that President Jefferson Davis demanded. Escott argues convincingly that for all his flaws Jefferson Davis, not Robert E. Lee, was the Confederacy’s hero. Only Davis’s programs offered the Confederacy a glimmer of hope to overcome the North’s superior resources. Students of the Civil War have much to learn from this book."—Robert E. May, Purdue University Professor of History, and author of The Southern Dream of a Caribbean Empire
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