by David W. Blight. Cambridge, Massachusetts, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2001. 512 pp. $35.00 U.S. (cloth), $16.95 U.S. (paper).
The creation of Civil War memory never stops. As Americans debate the presence of the Confederate flag atop a Southern statehouse or absorb the stunning impact of documentary photographs in Ken Burn's PBS "Civil War" series, they engage in public and private acts of memory. The years 1861-65 remain alive as Americans search for their meaning in modern society. Along with the Revolution, Pearl Harbor, and the events of September 11, 2001, the Civil War acts as a defining agent of the American past, present, and future. Americans' memory of that event both reflects and shapes how Americans think of themselves today.
David W. Blight's Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory addresses the evolution of such memory between 1863 and 1913, the fiftieth anniversary of both emancipation and the Battle of Gettysburg. The memory that Blight describes is rooted both in historical time and in the manner in which both memory and the historical context in which it exists have changed over time. To Blight, Americans' memory of their Civil War can best--indeed only--be understood as a product of the history that shaped it. To attempt to remember it in any other way would be to do the opposite--to forget. As Albion Tourgee warned, "Only fools forget...."
Blight explains how the half-century after the war marked the growth and ascendancy of the Southern-turned national or "reconciliationist" memory of the Civil War. As the nineteenth century ebbed and as common goals of industrialization and imperialism commanded a growing consensus among white Americans, the latter sought to reconcile their differences on a platform of a shared Civil War memory which celebrated the bravery of both Northern and Southern white soldiers at the expense of almost everything related to African Americans. Banished was the memory of slavery as a principal cause of the war, of emancipation as its greatest accomplishment,...