This memoir of Senator Williamson S. Oldham is a primary source on the Civil War from the perspective of a member of the Confederate Senate. Oldham represented Texas in the Confederate Senate for the entire time the Confederacy existed. He was privy to many of the behind the scenes events of the government and of the war and one of the few in the Confederate Congress who would oppose President Jefferson Davis: he saw Davis moving the Confederacy from a collection of states into a strong central government like the Federal government.
Oldham tells of his escape from Richmond when it fell to the Union Army, making his way with others from that city across the South back to Texas, hiding their identities for fear they would be turned over to Federal soldiers in the areas they traveled through. They found sympathetic Southerners to house them and help them escape; Oldham had traveled that route many times in his travels from Texas to Richmond and back to serve in the Senate.
Oldham criticizes Davis and many generals and Confederate officials for their involvement in the failure of the Confederacy - military officials who took advantage of martial law and became tyrants, and those who created such situations by taking away the rights of the citizens, like having passports to travel. Some farmers and cotton growers were swindled out of their money when they were forced to sell their goods to the government. Those “buying” goods for the government and the military often failed to do their jobs properly, instead stealing the goods and selling them for their personal gain, or even stealing the money meant to buy cotton or goods. He castigates the corruption rampant at all levels of the Confederate government and military.
Oldham analyzes the blunders of the Confederate Army and its generals. He criticizes the abuse of promotion, saying that there were too many officers who used their rank to avoid hardships. He criticizes the Conscription Act for being unfair to the poor; wealthy men could buy their way out or pay someone else to take their place. Many poor men deserted from the army or even ran from enrollment officers before they could be enrolled in the army because their families needed them to take care of them.
Oldham strongly suggests that the Confederacy could have won the war if its government and military had been more honest and if states’ rights had been maintained. This book is a great help in the study of the Civil War on the Confederate side as to why the South lost the war, important as a memoir from a member of the Confederate Senate and an opponent of Jefferson Davis. Oldham was a Confederate patriot who opposed the corruption that prevented the South from winning its independence.
Editor Clayton E. Jewett provides an introduction and notes about people and events Oldham discusses in the text. This book is part of the University of Missouri Press’s Shades of Blue and Gray Series. Jewett teaches history at Concordia University and Austin Community College and is the author of Slavery in the South (2004) and Texas in the Confederacy: An Experiment in Nation Building (2002).