Review of Caroline Janney’s Remembering the Civil War

JanneyHere is my review of Caroline Janney’s book, Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation, which will appear in the next issue of the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (pp. 389-90). It goes without saying that I highly recommend this book.

In 2001, David Blight published Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory. The book won numerous awards and helped to shape a wave of academic studies that soon followed. Blight’s depiction of a nation that by the turn of the twentieth century had largely embraced sectional reconciliation at the expense of a legacy of emancipation also found a voice outside academic halls on National Park Service battlefields and in museum exhibitions. Many have embraced the narrative of emancipation and its emphasis on African American soldiers throughout the sesquicentennial commemorations as part of an effort to overcome a nation’s willful amnesia. Continue reading “Review of Caroline Janney’s Remembering the Civil War”

While I Was Out

Just returned from a wonderful trip back to Montreal for the Jazz Festival. This was our third trip to the city for this festival and it is one of our favorites. I love the fact that you can drive roughly five hours from Boston to a city that offers a taste of Europe. We ate ourselves silly and caught a couple of excellent shows. Here are a few links to tide you over until I get back into the swing of things.

Upcoming Talks: On Thursday I head out to the Framingham History Center to work with area teachers on how they can introduce students to the study of Massachusetts Civil War veterans and Civil War memory. The center utilizes the city’s GAR Hall as a museum and lecture hall and includes a soldier statue by Martin Milmore out front. Given the subject of my presentation I couldn’t ask for a more appropriate setting and we will certainly make good use of it.

Those of you in the Boston area can catch me at the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation area on July 21. I am going to talk a bit about the Civil War Sesquicentennial and local sites related to Civil War memory. Should be fun.

Hope all of you are enjoying the summer.

Stirring Up Civil War Memory on Memorial Day Weekend

Union Soldier in Forrest Hills Cemetery by Milmore
Union Soldier in Forrest Hills Cemetery by Milmore

This editorial by Jamie Malanowski, which appeared today in the New York Times, reminds me of Edward Sebesta’s petition to have President Obama end the practice of sending a wreath to the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.  In the end it stirs up emotions, but fails to produce anything constructive.  Malanowski’s contribution to our collective conscience this Memorial Day weekend is to remind the public that 10 military bases located around the country are named after Confederate generals.  And you guessed it, those names need to be changed.

Malanowski begins with the questionable assumption that the “humble idea” of decorating graves “quickly spread throughout the country, and the recognition of common loss helped reconcile North and South.” It didn’t. Decoration Days were incredibly divisive throughout the period between the 1860s and the early twentieth century. Recent studies by Caroline Janney, William Blair, and John Neff suggest why this was the case.

It’s not that I am against changing the names of public places, but in most cases the push is local.  For example, consider the recent controversy in Memphis, Tennessee surrounding the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest Park. These are questions that need to be resolved by the members of the community. Continue reading “Stirring Up Civil War Memory on Memorial Day Weekend”

An Important Work of Civil War Memory

JanneyCaroline Janney’s new book, Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation (University of North Carolina Press, 2013) arrived this past Saturday.  You should be able to pick it up in a few weeks.  I usually wait until I have four or five new books before listing them, but given the focus of this book I wanted to single it out.  This title is the latest release in the Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, which is edited by Gary Gallagher and T. Michael Parrish.  I’ve been looking forward to it for a couple of years now.  The few times I was able to talk shop with Carrie definitely helped as I was researching my own book as did a number of her journal articles published along the way.

It should come as no surprise that I’ve pushed practically everything aside to make room for this one.  Remembering the Civil War promises to be the most comprehensive treatment of Civil War memory since the publication of Blight’s Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory back in 2002.

Continue reading “An Important Work of Civil War Memory”

Toward a New Synthesis of Civil War Memory

David Blight’s Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory has dominated the historiography of Civil War memory studies since its publication in 2001.  Beyond academic circles, Blight’s emphasis on the triumph of reconciliation over an “emancipationst narrative” can be found in documentaries, news articles, and even historical tours.  Rarely do historical interpretations enjoy such popularity.    In recent years, historians have chipped away at various aspects of Blight’s view.  Two books that stand out in this regard are John Neff’s Honoring the Civil War Dead: Commemoration and the Problem of Reconciliation and Barbara Gannon’s recent study, The Won Cause: Black and White Comradeship in the Grand Army of the Republic.

While both books are important contributions to the field they do not approach the scope of Blight’s study, both in terms of the time frame and topics covered.  These and other studies, along with an even larger number of scholarly articles, have shown that reconciliation did not always triumph, bitterness remained among veterans, and memory of slavery and emancipation may have been more vibrant throughout the postwar period than we thought.  At the same time we do need to explain why our memory of the war since the 1960s has emphasized reconciliationist themes that go back to the turn of the twentieth century.  In other words, we don’t want to err by minimizing the pull of reconciliation.

Caroline Janney’s forthcoming book, Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation promises to be the first broad study of Civil War memory since Race and Reunion.  She’s been chipping away at various topics, including the Appomattox Peace Monument, the Heyward Shepherd Memorial, and the establishment of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.

For a taste of what you can expect in this book check out Carrie’s recent talk from the 2012 Civil War Institute.