Making history BY Ana604 The Memory of the Civil War in American Culture is a collection of essays that all revolve the central theme of the “geography of Civil War memory. ” As editors Alice Fahs and Joan Waugh explain in their introduction, that geography incorporated both “physical and symbolic spaces” (2). The memory of the Civil War has been contested in numerous arenas and over the course of time; the strengths of this volume are the wide array of subjects it covers and how it shows change over time.
In broad terms, the ten essays (and epilogue) reveal how generations since the Civil War have ebated and constructed memories of the war in three areas: in Civil War memorializations and monuments, through history books and literature, and through political campaigns. Four of the essays deal with the construction of Civil War memory through memorial rituals and celebrations and the construction of monuments. An essay by David Blight on the evolution of Memorial Day celebrations traces how “the reconciliationist legacies of the war eventually overtook the emancipationist ones” (95).
This is a thesis that persists throughout the volume. Blight explains that, in the immediate aftermath of the war, the vast numbers of war ead required some sort of explanation and meaning. Reconciliation proved to be the most common form of healing on a national level. Whites successfully relegated to the background the role of slavery in the war and the achievement of emancipation during the war, thus helping perpetuate the South’s Lost Cause interpretation of the war. Lost Cause mythology endured for a century before it was seriously challenged by the civil rights movement, the subject of an essay by Jon Weiner.
Weiner explains how the celebration of the war’s centennial in the context of the burgeoning movement helped to challenge conventional memory of the war but lso bolstered neo-confederate attitudes and symbolism (most notably the use of the Confederate flag as a symbol of southern pride). Two essays on monuments, one by Thomas Brown on the legacy of John C. Calhoun and one by LeeAnn Whites on a University of Missouri Confederate memorial, also show how the debate over physical memorials reflected popular memory and reveal how people began to challenge the war’s legacies.
The construction of both monuments exemplified the strength of the southern memory of the war and showed the extent to which a culture war permeated American society in the decades following the war. Over time, the South started to lose the culture war. For example, Whites shows how the enrollment of black students at the University of Missouri began to seriously challenge Confederate memory by the middle of the twentieth century. The eventual removal of the monument in the 1970s was evidence of the gradual chipping away of Lost Cause mythology surrounding Civil War memory.
The written word??”through memoirs, history books, and popular literature??”makes up another key area of debate over Civil War memory. Essays by Joan Waugh on Ulysses Grant’s memoirs and by Gary Gallagher on the deification of Robert E. Lee in literature both reveal how each side fought for control over Civil War memory. The popularity of reconciliation in both case is indicative of the power of the Confederacy to wage a culture war following military defeat.
James McPherson’s essay on southern textbooks and Alice Fahs’s organizations like the United Daughters of the Confederacy, were determined to take ownership of the memory of the war and to pass it along to children in both formal and informal education. Finally, two essays in this collection discuss the role of olitical campaigns in construction of Civil War memory. In the election of 1872,J. Matthew Gallman shows how the popular and radical Republican orator Anna Dickinson challenged popular memory of the war through her confrontation of President Grant. Similarly, Patrick J.
Kelly argues that the memory of the war continued to play an important role in the election of 1896, during which Republicans played on the memory of the sectional crisis by linking it with class conflict. Republicans asserted Democratic candidate William Jennings Bryan challenged the unity of the country with his pro-silver platform. The Republican Party, therefore, “brand[ed] political protest against America’s growing social and economic inequalities as unpatriotic threats to national unity’ (184). The essays collected in this volume provide good examples of the types of scholarship being done in the field of Civil War memory.
They show how the Confederate construction of events dominated the culture war that followed the Civil War, but not without some significant challenges. This is an enlightening and readable volume that makes an important contribution to Civil War historiography. Speaking of his childhood education n the 1920s, a North Carolinian man after moving North to fill the position of Dean at the Yale Divinity School noted, “l never could understand how our Confederate troops could have won every battle in the war so decisively and then have lost the war itself” (76).
This antidote illustrates the primary theme in this collection of essays edited by Alice Fahs and Joan Waugh. The memory of the Civil War has been hotly contested issue since Appomattox. Through the use of academic histories, textbooks, and monuments Southerners have worked to preserve the “Lost Cause” version of the Civil War in public memory. On the other hand, Northerners employed memoirs, children’s books, and political platforms to extol their version of the past. The essays collected in this volume originated from a conference held at the Henry E.
Huntington Library in San Marino, California. The objective of the studies presented in this tome is to illustrate how the memory of the Civil War has been used in American life and the process by which meanings of the war are developed. Excluding the introduction and epilogue, the editors have organized the ten essays into pairs providing added depth creating a sense of cohesion in the work. The first set of essays examines the ways histories of the war were used to promote specific memories of the past.
Joan Waugh demonstrates how Ulysses S. Grant used his memoirs to maintain the North’s cause in the midst of attacks of his own reconstruction policy and attempts to venerate Robert E. Lee. Conversely, Gary W. Gallagher demonstrates how Jubal A. Early and Douglas Southall Freeman deified Lee and promoted the “Lost Cause” interpretation in their histories of the war. The second set of essays also examines the use of book publishing as a means of developing a specific view of the war. James M.
McPherson details the creation of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and Children of the Confederacy and the successful crusade they initiated to challenge, alter, and recreate the content of textbooks used in Southern public schools and colleges. The essay by Alice Fahs examines how children’s authors reconciliation by depicting Northern and Southern soldiers as having admiration for each others sacrifice. In the third set of essays the use of public commemoration in shaping collective memory is evaluated. David W.
Blight argues that the practices of “Decoration Day’ later to become Memorial Day created a venue or conflicting notion of the meaning of the war, Northerners celebrating the preservation of the Union while Southerners commemorated their version of the war and their resistance to reconstruction. The contrasting meanings attached to a statue of John C. Calhoun in Charleston, South Carolina in 1896 are the subject of Thomas J. Brown’s essay. He demonstrates that though Calhoun played a significant role in the origin of secession, Southerners preferred to remember the war time experiences rather than the defeat of their cause.
On the other hand, Southern blacks have iewed the statue as an emblem of white supremacy. The fourth pair of essays examines the use of the political stump to create specific Civil War memories. J. Matthew Gallman details the efforts of Anna Dickinson, a union feminist, to shape an anti-Grant memory of the war to support Liberal-Republican Horace Greeley in the election of 1872. In Patrick J. Kellys essay he describes the efforts of the Republican Party and William McKinley to abandon the traditional sectionalist “bloody shirt” platform for a conciliatory and nationalistic racially neutral platform during the 1896 elections.
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