I just finished a fascinating discussion with my Civil War class on an article written by David Blight and published in North and South Magazine. The article is an overview of his book Race and Reunion published a few years ago, which examines the disappearance of African Americans from the national narrative of the Civil War that emerges at the turn of the twentieth century. Blight stresses that African Americans such as Frederick Douglas were forced to fight a rear guard action as veterans from both sides clenched hands “across the bloody chasm” by ignoring the role of slavery as a cause of the war and emancipation as the war’s most important accomplishment. This is not an easy discussion to have as it reminds us of the 180,000 African Americans who were willing to fight for the United States only to be abandoned by both the federal government and their fellow northern veterans for the larger goal of national reconciliation.
In addition to the Blight article, we also watched the movie Glory, which is in my mind the best Civil War movie out there. Unlike the movies Gettysburg and Gods and Generals which only reinforce the Lost Cause interpretation of the Civil War, Glory challenges it by reminding us that emancipation is absolutely essential in understanding the conflict.