By David W. Blight. (Cambridge, Mass., and London: Harvard University Press, 2001. Pp. [xii], 512. $29.95, ISBN 0-674-00332-2.)
David W. Blight's book has accomplished for Paul H. Buck's Pulitzer Prize-winning Road to Reunion (Boston, 1937) what Kenneth M. Stampp's Peculiar Institution (New York, 1956) did for U. B. Phillips's American Negro Slavery (New York, 1918): recognizing and appreciating the place of African Americans in central aspects of the American past. In doing so, Blight makes clear that white southerners' defenses of their past were so effective and enduring that even Buck's mid-twentieth-century work still depended on the truncated memories and meanings that had emerged from the War for Southern Independence.
Blight describes his book as "necessarily ... a synthetic and selective work on a vast topic" (p. 1). The topic is the Civil War memories of southerners and northerners, black and white, and it certainly is vast, yet Blight has worked imaginatively and responsibly through a wide array of printed and manuscript sources, including the large collections of reminiscences published during the 1880s from both sides of the war. His book is a fascinating and impressive example of scholarship.
Blight begins his frequently eloquent interpretations of the reminiscences in 1863 with emancipation. He concludes his story in 1913 with the enormous reunion of over 50,000 Union and Confederate veterans at a huge tented camp celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg. That celebration is one of the ironies of which Blight often quietly reminds us. Gettysburg may have been the...