Civil War Memory 101 (Week 2)

Next Class: Sunday April 5 at 8pm.

We are going to continue this week with chapter 2 in Janney’s Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation. This chapter explores the major events at the end of the war that shaped Reconstruction, but also provided a foundation for the early formation of competing memories of the war. Those events included Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox and defeat of the Confederacy, the assassination of President Lincoln, and the Grand Review.

So much of our Civil War memory is currently wrapped up in the debate about Confederate monuments, but these early chapters in Janney’s book are a reminder that the question of how the war was to be remembered was far from settled in the spring of 1865. We know which broad narratives of the war were eventually embraced and given legitimacy and which narratives were pushed aside, but Americans in 1865 could not have known this. Something to keep in mind as you read through this second chapter.

Questions:

  • How did General Lee’s General Orders No. 9 help to frame a Lost Cause narrative that celebrated the bravery and honor of the Confederate soldier?
  • So much of our memory of Appomattox is centered around reunion and reconciliation. In fact, the city describes itself as the ‘place where the nation reunited.’ In what ways does Janney challenge this assumption?
  • How did African Americans in the United States army as well as enslaved people in Appomattox interpret Lee’s surrender?
  • How did Lee’s surrender become politicized in the North? How did Democrats contribute to the early legitimacy of the Lost Cause emphasis on brave and honorable Confederate soldiers? This is one of those interpretive points that Janney makes in this chapter that really pulls the rug out from how we tend to think about this particular aspect of the Lost Cause narrative.
  • According to Janney, how did most white northerners understand the relationship between Union and emancipation?
  • Janney spends a good deal of time exploring the bitterness that lingered among surrendered Confederates and those on the home front, especially women. How did this conflict with northern hopes of reunion and how did they initially attempt to navigate this divide?
  • How did Lincoln’s assassination undercut those in the North who hoped to encourage sectional reunion?

Additional Readings

  • Elizabeth Varon on Lee’s surrender at Appomattox (NYT Disunion)
  • Martha Hodes on the African-American response to Lincoln’s assassination (op-ed, LAT)

Primary Sources

About the author: Thank you for taking the time to read this post. What next? Scroll down and join the discussion in the comments section. Looking for more Civil War content? You can follow me on Twitter. Check out my latest book, Searching For Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth, which is the first book-length analysis of the black Confederate myth ever published. Order your copy today.

2 comments… add one
  • Pat Young Mar 29, 2020 @ 19:15

    Good first day of class!

    • Kevin Levin Mar 30, 2020 @ 1:10

      Hi Pat. Thanks for the feedback. Great to have you on board. I learned a few things that hopefully I will be able to apply next week.

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