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William C. Davis, author of Duel Between the First Ironclads, is a well-respected American historian who spent time as a Professor of History at Virginia Tech from 2000 – 2013; and he has spent most of his career doing research on the American South. He has written around forty books focused on southern U. S. history around the time of the Civil War, been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize twice, and has won the Jefferson Davis Prize for Confederate history three times.
Davis was born in 1946 and graduated from Sonoma State University in California with a Masters of Arts in History in 1969. He is most known for his studies revolving around the American Civil War, with his most notable titles centered on the conflict itself. His historical background calls for such a balance. For years, Davis edited and published a nineteenth-century focused magazine called the Civil War Times Illustrated, which has since transferred hands as the Civil War Times to Weider History Group, which operates ten other popular military history based magazines both online and in printed format. He has also been called into an immense number of interviews to discuss the Civil War on every medium, from local newspapers to massive television bits.
Professional academics aside, William C. Davis has dabbled in the public side of the field. He was called in to serve as a consultant for the creation of a United States postage stamp, one that paid homage to disgraced Confederate President Jefferson Davis as the 130th anniversary of the Civil War came around. He also played a rather crucial role in the creation of the Museum of the Civil War in Petersburg, Virginia. He currently lives in Montgomery County, Virginia, where he spends most of his “retirement” from academia as a source of information for television documentaries and orating at book festivals and history conferences along the eastern coast. When it comes to history, everyone has their own subjective interjections, no matter how subtle they may be. Davis does a fantastic job of limiting bias in his work, despite his go-to topic being one of the most controversial conflicts in American history.
In 1996, Davis tackled the “myths” of the southern states in one of his critically acclaimed book The Cause Lost: Myths and Realities of the Confederacy. In this book, Davis flat-out destroyed any level of “the south will rise again and the war was fought over states’ rights” subjectivism that one might put against a man who has dedicated his life to southern history. “It is impossible to point to any other local issue but slavery and say that Southerners would have seceded and fought over it”, Davis wrote, going on to highlight the differences between the goals and motivations of the Confederacy’s government versus the individuals who would later become statistics in the war itself.
Davis has a rather interesting style of writing in Duel Between the First Ironclads. While some historians focus too much on insignificant points and others lack the basic details to explain their main point, William C. Davis seems to have an intriguing writing style that works in his favor. To briefly describe his style of writing, one could call it ‘quick and to the point’ while also giving more than enough details to set up the stage in a way that doesn’t make the ‘smaller, finer points’ intrusive to the overall main purpose. The history in this book is written in such a way that it reads not as an academically and scholarly report but instead sells itself as a narrative that anyone can access and understand. He portrays an average-length when it comes to sentence structure, throwing in the occasional paragraph of details such as dimensions of the ships he further explains throughout the book; and, when it comes to chapters, Davis has an easy-to-read and easy-to-understand format that focuses on both sides of the conflict at Battle of Hampton Roads. The chapters swap back and forth, with one focusing on the Confederate’s building of the C. S. S. Virginia and the next focusing on the Union’s construction of the U. S. S. Monitor. The pattern continues until the two ships meet, and even then, an equal amount of time is given to the two poorly designed ironclads. I found that this style of setting up the history made it more accessible than if he had dedicated six consecutive chapters to the South and six more consecutive chapters to the Union, as it allowed for a more chronologically-based timeline that showcased both sides at the same time. Davis begins his structural writing with a back-and-forth method of discussing both sides. Rather than indulging a reader with a lengthy section of text on one perspective and then rapidly diverging to another point, Davis offers brief and subtle narrative on both sides.
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