Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Caroline E. Janney's "Remembering the Civil War"

Caroline E. Janney is associate professor of history at Purdue University and author of Burying the Dead but Not the Past: Ladies' Memorial Associations and the Lost Cause.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation, and reported the following:
In 1868, Union veterans gathered for Memorial Day services at the graves of their fallen comrades to commemorate their victorious cause, which had saved the union and ended slavery. Two years earlier, former Confederates had initiated their own Memorial Days to defend their actions and explain defeat in what became known as the Lost Cause. From both north and south came voices of dissent, revealing that even three years after Appomattox, the memory and meaning of the Civil War remained fiercely contested.

In this glimpse into early memorial services, page 99 captures one of the book’s central themes: the bitterness evidenced by both sides after the war diminished with time but never entirely vanished. Well into the 1930s, many Union and Confederate veterans refused to join in what one dubbed the “blue-gray gush” of reconciliation. Contrary to popular notions fed by images of aged veterans shaking hands at battlefields like Gettysburg, many of the war generation denied that there was any redeeming value in their opponents’ cause. Instead, they nurtured deep feelings of resentment toward their former foes for decades.

The divergent roles Union and Confederate women played in postwar memory are likewise apparent in this passage. In the South it was women who undertook efforts to rebury the southern dead in Confederate cemeteries and inaugurated the tradition of Memorial Days, activities that would have been deemed treasonous had they been led by men. Confederate veterans gushed about their loyal, devoted, and sacrificing women, praising their feisty defense of the cause. Having no reason to fear charges of treason, Union veterans initiated the practice of Memorial Days. Union women participated by placing flowers on the grave and attending the services, but they were deemed far less essential to both the Union war effort and its postwar memory – a fact that became readily apparent by the late-1800s.

While page 99 reveals the divergent and competing nature of Civil War memory that lingered well into the twentieth century, there is one aspect of the book not present here: the ways in which African Americans remembered the war. Through veterans’ organizations, Emancipation Days, and monument dedications, black veterans and their families sought to cement the meaning of the war for future generations just as much as their white counterparts. As with whites, competing memories of the war emerged: should slavery be remembered? How should Lincoln be commemorated? The war’s legacy was just as complicated for them as for every other group of Americans. And as my book hopefully illustrates, it still is.
Learn more about Remembering the Civil War at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue