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
Caroline 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.
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.