Historian to lecture tonight on one of Ky. ‘famous sons’

Mackenzie Mathews

The history department is sponsoring the second annual Civil War Lecture with historian William C. “Jack” Davis’ presentation, “John C. Breckinridge, Kentuckian and American.” Davis will speak tonight at 7 p.m. in 2113 Snell Hall.

Davis, former executive director of the Virginia Center for Civil Studies at Virginia Tech, has written and edited more than 40 books on the Civil War and southern history.

Davis worked as the on-camera senior consultant for 52 episodes of A&E and the History Channel’s “Civil War Journal.” He was also the history consultant for several other productions, and his book, “The Battle of New Market,” will be made into a film next year.

WKU’s Institute for Civil War Studies plans to host a speaker every year. Robert Dietle, head of the history department, said that Davis was chosen for his distinction in historical studies and authorial connections with Kentucky.

William Davis is a very prominent historian and author on the Civil War… and he wrote, probably, the definitive biography on Breckinridge,” he said.

John Breckinridge, a Lexington native, was a two-term congressman and vice president under former President James Buchanan. Following a failed presidential campaign in 1860, he was expelled from the Senate for supporting the Confederacy.

Davis said Breckinridge is one of Kentucky’s most famous sons and a champion for peaceful reconciliations between the North and South, so it was interesting how he was viewed as a traitor after becoming a Confederate General.

“I hope they [the audience] get an impression of the reasonable man caught in unreasonable times,” Davis said.

A native of Missouri, Davis took a special interest to the social and political implications of the Civil War.

“It’s an internally fascinating question as to what can make brothers go to war with each other,” he said.

Davis has now been a professional historian for 44 years.

“The past has a way of showing us how people behave in times of stress and crisis. The kinds of reactions in public affairs now are no different to people 150 years ago,” he said. “History can give you a perspective, or at least a little understanding, as to why we act the way we do now.”