David W. Blight. Beyond the Battlefield: Race, Memory, and the American Civil War. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 2002. xi + 301 pp. ISBN 155849-344-1, $70.00 cloth; ISBN 1-55849-361-1, $19.95 paper.
There is an amusing old chestnut about former Confederate cavalry commander Joseph "Fighting Joe" Wheeler, while he served as Major-General of U.S. Volunteers during the war against Spain in 1898. In an assault upon entrenched Spaniards, Wheeler, now in his sixties, urged his men forward with the cry, "Let's go boys, let's get them Yankees." His staff had to remind him that he was now a Yankee himself. Notwithstanding Fighting Joe's memory lapse, the Spanish-American War was but one of several symbolic events at the turn-of-the-century, capping the triumph of national reconciliation. A conspicuous casualty of this process was racial justice for African Americans.
By the nineteenth century's close, the memory of the earlier struggle between North and South had undergone considerable metamorphosis. Some memories had been gently massaged, others altogether forgotten, and still others, considerably altered. Most altered were those memories related to the racial tensions that were paramount in the conflict. By 1900 most Northerners were uninterested in dredging up the darker side of the war, and had acquiesced to a new generation of Southern apologists, novelists, and historians who were recasting the conflict as a non-ideological disagreement between the states. David W. Blight's Beyond the Battlefield: Race, Memory, and the American Civil War is an investigation into this curious phenomenon. Emphatically, Blight posits that both the history and the memory of the Civil War are legitimate and necessary avenues of study, and that the distinction between the two has often been blurred by partisan purpose.
Beyond the Battlefield is a compilation of previously published...