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No historical event has left as deep an imprint on America's collective memory as the Civil War. In the war's aftermath, Americans had to embrace and cast off a traumatic past. David Blight explores the perilous path of remembering and forgetting, and reveals its tragic costs to race relations and America's national reunion. In 1865, confronted with a ravaged landscape and No historical event has left as deep an imprint on America's collective memory as the Civil War. In the war's aftermath, Americans had to embrace and cast off a traumatic past. David Blight explores the perilous path of remembering and forgetting, and reveals its tragic costs to race relations and America's national reunion. In 1865, confronted with a ravaged landscape and a torn America, the North and South began a slow and painful process of reconciliation. The ensuing decades witnessed the triumph of a culture of reunion, which downplayed sectional division and emphasized the heroics of a battle between noble men of the Blue and the Gray. Nearly lost in national culture were the moral crusades over slavery that ignited the war, the presence and participation of African Americans throughout the war, and the promise of emancipation that emerged from the war. Race and Reunion is a history of how the unity of white America was purchased through the increasing segregation of black and white memory of the Civil War. Blight delves deeply into the shifting meanings of death and sacrifice, Reconstruction, the romanticized South of literature, soldiers' reminiscences of battle, the idea of the Lost Cause, and the ritual of Memorial Day. He resurrects the variety of African-American voices and memories of the war and the efforts to preserve the emancipationist legacy in the midst of a culture built on its denial. Blight's sweeping narrative of triumph and tragedy, romance and realism, is a compelling tale of the politics of memory, of how a nation healed from civil war without justice. By the early twentieth century, the problems of race and reunion were locked in mutual dependence, a painful legacy that continues to haunt us today.


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No historical event has left as deep an imprint on America's collective memory as the Civil War. In the war's aftermath, Americans had to embrace and cast off a traumatic past. David Blight explores the perilous path of remembering and forgetting, and reveals its tragic costs to race relations and America's national reunion. In 1865, confronted with a ravaged landscape and No historical event has left as deep an imprint on America's collective memory as the Civil War. In the war's aftermath, Americans had to embrace and cast off a traumatic past. David Blight explores the perilous path of remembering and forgetting, and reveals its tragic costs to race relations and America's national reunion. In 1865, confronted with a ravaged landscape and a torn America, the North and South began a slow and painful process of reconciliation. The ensuing decades witnessed the triumph of a culture of reunion, which downplayed sectional division and emphasized the heroics of a battle between noble men of the Blue and the Gray. Nearly lost in national culture were the moral crusades over slavery that ignited the war, the presence and participation of African Americans throughout the war, and the promise of emancipation that emerged from the war. Race and Reunion is a history of how the unity of white America was purchased through the increasing segregation of black and white memory of the Civil War. Blight delves deeply into the shifting meanings of death and sacrifice, Reconstruction, the romanticized South of literature, soldiers' reminiscences of battle, the idea of the Lost Cause, and the ritual of Memorial Day. He resurrects the variety of African-American voices and memories of the war and the efforts to preserve the emancipationist legacy in the midst of a culture built on its denial. Blight's sweeping narrative of triumph and tragedy, romance and realism, is a compelling tale of the politics of memory, of how a nation healed from civil war without justice. By the early twentieth century, the problems of race and reunion were locked in mutual dependence, a painful legacy that continues to haunt us today.

30 review for Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory

  1. 4 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    A very eloquently written book on the aftermath of the Civil War in the United States. The author’s conclusions, backed by facts, are that reunion (reconciliation) of North and South took precedence over resolving slavery (race) in the South. Reconstruction started out with Lincoln’s address after the war, but ultimately was doomed to failure by the mid-1870s’. Southern racism and power overturned the Reconstruction forces and Jim Crow became ascendant. As pointed out by Mr. Blight, the South lo A very eloquently written book on the aftermath of the Civil War in the United States. The author’s conclusions, backed by facts, are that reunion (reconciliation) of North and South took precedence over resolving slavery (race) in the South. Reconstruction started out with Lincoln’s address after the war, but ultimately was doomed to failure by the mid-1870s’. Southern racism and power overturned the Reconstruction forces and Jim Crow became ascendant. As pointed out by Mr. Blight, the South lost slavery due to the Civil War, but not much else. Importantly, it also re-wrote history, glorifying plantations, slavery, and “almost” turning the South into the winners of the Civil War. Frederick Douglas posed the question: “When the war between the white people is over – what next?” The great strength of this book is the story of the occupation (still poignant and relevant today) and how it failed – or more precisely – how it was turned head over heels. The movie “Birth of a Nation” is about how the South regained its’ “righteous sovereignty” and that emancipation of African Americans was evil incarnate. It would take over 100 years of Civil Rights struggle before Americans were forced to come to grips to realize the grave mistakes made after the Civil War. The struggle still goes on to this day.

  2. 4 out of 5

    James Murphy

    This is a terribly interesting history. Simply put, Race and Reunion is an examination of how the Civil War came to be remembered in the 50 years following the war and how the racial equality granted during the war came to be forgotten and racism and white supremacy accepted in American society. Blight's great theme is that the need to reconcile and reunify the 2 sides--north and South--overrode the equality granted African-Americans during the war. The Panic of 1873 hastened the need to end the This is a terribly interesting history. Simply put, Race and Reunion is an examination of how the Civil War came to be remembered in the 50 years following the war and how the racial equality granted during the war came to be forgotten and racism and white supremacy accepted in American society. Blight's great theme is that the need to reconcile and reunify the 2 sides--north and South--overrode the equality granted African-Americans during the war. The Panic of 1873 hastened the need to end the oppressive Reconstruction and rebuild the South for economic strength and growth of the entire country. There was also a general feeling, north and South, that African-Americans weren't racially equal. The Spanish-American War helped to reconcile the 2 sides, but it radicalized American patriotism in an alliance of white supremacy and imperialism in opposition to the darker races of the Caribbean and the Philippines. The result of all this was an increase of Jim Crow laws and segregation. By 1915, at the time of the great 50th anniversary celebration held at Gettysburg to commemorate the end of the war, reconciliation had come at the expense of African-American equality and the nation was well on its way to an apartheid society. "The Southern victory over Reconstruction replaced Union victory in the war and Jim Crow laws replaced the Fourteenth Amendment in their places of honor in national memory." "By 1913 racism in America had become a cultural industry and twisted history a commodity. A segregated society required a segregated historical memory and a national mythology that could blunt or contain the conflict at the root of that segregation. Most Americans embraced the unblinking celebration of reunion and accepted segregation as a natural condition of racism."

  3. 5 out of 5

    Colleen Browne

    David Blight is one of the most prolific historians alive today. In this book, Blight traces the origins and growth of the Lost Cause myth from the end of the Civil War and examines the impact it has on people all over the country. It is clear that the myth could never have achieved acceptance without the complicity of the North. It is proof beyond a doubt that the North won the war but lost the peace. This book should be required reading for all those who still labor under the illusion that the David Blight is one of the most prolific historians alive today. In this book, Blight traces the origins and growth of the Lost Cause myth from the end of the Civil War and examines the impact it has on people all over the country. It is clear that the myth could never have achieved acceptance without the complicity of the North. It is proof beyond a doubt that the North won the war but lost the peace. This book should be required reading for all those who still labor under the illusion that the South fought this war for any reason other than slavery.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Brooke

    every good citizen should read this.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    Recommended by BI (one of our rhetoric faculty)

  6. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    It might be fair to say that the South lost the Civil War but won the after war. What gets overlooked by some people in the debate about Confederate Statues, those outside of commentaries, is that it is a monument to a traitor. Sorry. But it is. Not only that but to traitors who lost a war that was fought so people could own other people. The question is how that happened. How did it that we have shown after television show with a former Confederate solider as a lead, one that we are nine times It might be fair to say that the South lost the Civil War but won the after war. What gets overlooked by some people in the debate about Confederate Statues, those outside of commentaries, is that it is a monument to a traitor. Sorry. But it is. Not only that but to traitors who lost a war that was fought so people could own other people. The question is how that happened. How did it that we have shown after television show with a former Confederate solider as a lead, one that we are nine times out ten supposed to feel sorry because Union solider, those devils, killed his wife and family? Think about that. Then we have politicians who talk as if the removal of a statue to Lee will lead to a total forgetting of history. What history this is, is never stated, but I doubt that it is Lee deciding to fight for the Confederacy instead of the Union. We don’t see statues honoring Benedict Arnold or John Andre, so why do we have ones to Stonewall Jackson and Lee? Blight’s book attempts to answer this question, and it does a pretty good job.

  7. 4 out of 5

    robin friedman

    Reconstruction Versus Reconciliation Following the end of the Civil War, there was a tension between those who favored a strict reconstuction of the governments of the defeated South and those who favored a reconciliationist approach. The reconstructionists, led by the Radical Republicans in Congress wanted to protect,implement, and perhaps expand the rights of the newly freed blacks. The reconciliationists favored putting the Civil War behind the United States and creating a sense of nationalism Reconstruction Versus Reconciliation Following the end of the Civil War, there was a tension between those who favored a strict reconstuction of the governments of the defeated South and those who favored a reconciliationist approach. The reconstructionists, led by the Radical Republicans in Congress wanted to protect,implement, and perhaps expand the rights of the newly freed blacks. The reconciliationists favored putting the Civil War behind the United States and creating a sense of nationalism among sections that, up to 1865, had been bitter enemies. Professor Blight traces the tension between these two competing visions from 1863, when President Lincoln gave his Gettysburg address, through 1913, which witnessed a reunion of Civil War veterans at Gettysburg and a commemorative speech by the then-President, Woodrow Wilson. Professor Blight drawns heavily on the work of recent scholars such as Eric Foner (and his predecessors) which has changed the way many historians view the Reconstruction Era. Professors Blight and Foner reject the view that Reconstruction was primarily an era of carpetbaggers, corruption and victimization of the South. The see it instead as a necessary attempt to protect black Americans. Reconstuction was gradually rejected and came to an end in 1876. The end of Reconstruction saw the rise of Jim Crow and segregation in the South with tragic consequences that would not be redressed until the Civil Rights Era of the mid-twentieth Century. The consequences remain with us. According to Professor Blight, the Reconciliationist picture relegated the treatment of Black Americans to secondary significance. This picture focused instead on the common threads that existed between North and South and particularly between their fighting forces. The militaries of both sides were motivated by patriotism, valor and courage, as they saw it. They fought for what they believed in, with, in the Reconciliatist approach, the cause of the War in slavery carefully omitted or marginalized. The Reconciliationist approach led in time, Professor Blight argues, to the myth of the Lost Cause and to the romanticization of the Old South. Professor Blight has amassed a great amount of learning and familiarity with primary source material to discuss the Reconstuctionist and Reconciliationist approaches to American History subsequent to the Civil War. He treats in detail much important American literature, including writers such as Walt Whitman, Steven Crane, Joel Chandler Harris, and Ambrose Bierce, among many others. He discusses Civil War writing by battlefiled participants that appeared in great quantity beginning in the late 1870's together with the memoirs of Civil War Generals, particularly Grant and Sherman. He discusses the work of Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Booker T. Washington and other black leaders. And he discusses works from politicians and apologists in both North and South. The book is an excellent study of the American experience following the Civil War. I think it is persuasive for the most part. In places, I think Professor Blight creates too much of a dichotomy between the Reconstructionist and Reconciliationist pictures. I think there was and is room for both visions. More importantly, the sources Professor Blight discusses show that there were many competing versions of the Civil War and its meanings, not all of which fall readily into the camp of either Reconstruction and Reconciliation. Following the Civil War, the United States needed to both secure the Civil Rights of Black Americans and also provide for a new American union and sense of Nationalism. Neither purpose was achieved fully or entirely well. We are working on them both today. Professor Blight has shown the tragedy of the War. He has also shown the serious consequences to our country of the long delay in fully addressing the Civil Rights of all American people. This is a worthwhile, thoughtful study of the legacy of the Civil War, but it does not provide the only word on the subject. Robin Friedman

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Henning

    I first became interested in reading Professor David Blight after listening to his course on the Civil War and Reconstruction on iTunes University. This year’s intense racial strife in America and the recurring arguments over displaying the confederate flag in the south caused me to move “Race and Reunion” to the top of my reading list. The book is an exhaustive examination of the American memory of the meaning of the Civil War in the first 50 years following the south’s defeat. Blight recounts I first became interested in reading Professor David Blight after listening to his course on the Civil War and Reconstruction on iTunes University. This year’s intense racial strife in America and the recurring arguments over displaying the confederate flag in the south caused me to move “Race and Reunion” to the top of my reading list. The book is an exhaustive examination of the American memory of the meaning of the Civil War in the first 50 years following the south’s defeat. Blight recounts how the meaning of the war was framed differently by southern whites, freed African Americans, northern businessmen and politicians everywhere. It is in these early years that the concept of the “Lost Cause” was conceived and subsequently promulgated by vanquished southern whites. Understanding this history helps explain the tragedy of how over 150 years later southern GOP politicians continue to insist the Civil War was not fought over slavery. If you want to understand present day race relations in the US, a perfect place to start is by reading “Race and Reunion” and learning about this important period of American history.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Steve Smits

    Two occurrences in recent years drew me to think about how the meaning of history influences modern conceptions widely held in the national mind. While at a funeral in Richmond I sat by an elderly, very Southern, woman. I mentioned how rich is Richmond in museums and remarked on its famous boulevard of monuments to Confederate notables. She told me she was distantly related to Kirby Smith, a lesser known Confederate general. She said it is important to revere "our Southern heritage". I thought, Two occurrences in recent years drew me to think about how the meaning of history influences modern conceptions widely held in the national mind. While at a funeral in Richmond I sat by an elderly, very Southern, woman. I mentioned how rich is Richmond in museums and remarked on its famous boulevard of monuments to Confederate notables. She told me she was distantly related to Kirby Smith, a lesser known Confederate general. She said it is important to revere "our Southern heritage". I thought, "what on earth does that mean?" What is to revere about a political revolt that sought to dissolve the union and whose motivating aim was preserving of slavery. What about the 100+ years of overt white supremacy with its lynchings and social and political suppression? The second occurrence was (and still is) the controversy roiling about the "Silent Sam" statue on the campus of UNC. How is it that 150+ years after the end of the Civil War this issue generates such intense hostility on both sides? Reverence of "Southern heritage" as a desirable virtue? What would we think of reverence for history in modern Germany that resulted in statues of Nazi military and political leaders placed in every village square? History is memory. Memory is inherently a matter of interpretation, never neutral and quite often shaped powerfully by contemporaneous social, political and cultural forces. David Blight gives a masterful analysis of how memories of the Civil War were hugely influenced by its losing side and with the nearly cavalier acceptance nationally by academia and literature/journalism. His themes can be succinctly summarized as: the drive toward reconciliation, sentimentality and romanticism replacing revulsion of the horrors of the war, reaction to the perceived oppression of Reconstruction, a false portrayal in literature that in its halcyon days slavery a benign institution, the threat to white supremacy resulting from emancipation, and distortions to the point of falsehoods about the causes of the conflict and the South's defeat. All of this infused the so-called "Lost Cause" mythology. It may be legitimate to conclude that what the South in the war, it regained (to some degree) after the war. Its defeat forcibly rejoined the southern states to the union. But, how would the hostilities and bitterness of the bloodiest war in history ever be resolved? Blight argues convincingly that within years after the end of the war the two sides drifted toward reconciliation, that bitter animus began to diminish and disappear. We see this, do we not, after every war. The opponents accept each other on new terms and even become allies. For many Southerners, however, this did not entail wiping away their beliefs in the righteousness of their cause. (Do today's Germans think that Nazi ideology is, or ever was, proper?) The South's defeat did not produce an epiphany on the errors of its ways. Rather, notions arose that the South's casus belli was and remained morally justifiable, defeat was due only to the North's overwhelming advantages in resources. What was important for memory to extol was valor, what was to be suppressed were morally and politically dubious instigating factors. The conflict, thus, became in Southern eyes the "War Between the States" or the "War of Northern Aggression". How, then, to deal with the view that the decades-long tension over slavery was a primary cause? Southerners evoked the idea that slavery was a beneficent relationship between the races that the masters and slaves cherished, that the disruption of this natural state of relations was detrimental to both races. In this view, Negroes were helplessly child-like who benefited from the guidance and protection of the beneficent masters. Underlying this theme, of course, was the imperative to Southerners to preserve absolute supremacy over the emancipated slaves, politically, culturally and socially. This, as we know, resulted in the "Jim Crow" era of political repression in all its ugly manifestations. If its ethos was virtuous, if its defeat was due only to a far more powerful enemy, then efforts of the victors to reorder the South politically and socially were heinously wrong. So emerged the distorted historical theses on Reconstruction. I recall from my now distant high school days the teaching on those reviled characters -- the "carpetbaggers" and "scalawags" -- who imposed corrupt regimes on the Southern states. The image of blacks as incompetent and nearly savage in their new found political voice was a prominent feature of textbooks of the day. Blight points out that a major strategy of promoters of the "redemption" of the South's was to capture the minds of the young. It is astonishing to realize that a great number of purportedly professional historians adopted this perspective. As the wag said, "History is the way by which we betray the past." Is revisionism sometimes a product of rethinking stimulated by contemporary views? Yes, of course, history should never ignore its ongoing obligation to correct its errors, to get things right. Perhaps, then, we should not wonder why, in 21st century America, there is renewed attention to the meaning of memorials that commemorate an ideology based on racism and oppression. When our president spews forth his "dog whistle" messages on racism, when he posits the virtue of a racist-themed film like "Gone with the Wind" as a we should admire, when hostility and violence erupts over removing symbols of racism from the public square, we know that history must remain deeply responsible to fulfilling its responsibility to the its place in the public psyche.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Stieb

    A book that definitely has earned its place as a classic historical work. At its heart I think this book is a warning about the moral ambiguity of reconciliation. Blight's basic argument is that there were 3 computing memories of the Civil War between Reconstruction and about 1920. The first was the emanicipationist vision in which African-Americans and Republicans viewed the war as a struggle for freedom and a redefinition of the meaning and values of the nation. The second was the white suprem A book that definitely has earned its place as a classic historical work. At its heart I think this book is a warning about the moral ambiguity of reconciliation. Blight's basic argument is that there were 3 computing memories of the Civil War between Reconstruction and about 1920. The first was the emanicipationist vision in which African-Americans and Republicans viewed the war as a struggle for freedom and a redefinition of the meaning and values of the nation. The second was the white supremacist or full on lost cause vision, which treated the Civil War as a justified southern attempt to resist Yankee political and economic domination and preserve a way of life that fit blacks and whites better. The third was the reconciliationist vision, which Blight says sort of fused with the white supremacist vision to dominate the memory of and scholarship on the Civil War until well into the 20th century. Under reconciliation, the focus shifted from the war's political and racial significance to the shared sacrifice and valor of the soldiers and the tragedy of death and loss. The reconciliationist vision was geared toward healing and national reunification after the war, and it was epitomized by soldiers' reunions on battlefields where white soldiers walked the old killing fields together in amity. Does that kind of reconciliation really sound so bad? Well, the lesson of this book is that reconciliation is almost always political, and it often requires leaving some group out. There are always terms to reconciliation. Blight convincingly shows that the south basically demanded that the war be remembered on their terms: that they didn't fight for slavery, that the north was responsible for the war as well, that the old south was preferable to the chaos of Reconstruction, and that the north was right to essentially bail on black civil rights. The glue that held this memory-deal together was, quite frankly, racism: the belief that African-Americans were either incapable or not yet ready for full and responsible participation in political and economic life. After a brief period of moral reform, most white Americans slipped back into racism and cynicism, and also into making lots of money and creating a deeper sense of nationalism, which made them even less keen to hash out seemingly outdated fights over the status of AA's. Thus ends one of the strangest episodes of memory and history I can think of. The side that won the Civil War lost the battle for its memory and meaning, and the meaning that Lincoln and Douglass assigned to it wasn't recaptured until well into the 20th century. Jim Crow hinged on the reconciliationist memory of the Civil War, enforced by the activism of the UDC and the UCV. Blight covers a ton of cultural and political ground in this book, and the discussion of magazines, literature, speeches, etc isn't always compelling. In fact, the intro and conclusion are so concise and well-argued that you could just read those and be good on his argument. Still, this is the kind of argument that all Americans should be familiar with in terms of its broad strokes. I often think that there are too many memory studies out there these days, but this book shows how important and relevant they can be. Oh, and he should be further complemented for telling this story in plain English!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lucas Miller

    I went with my mother to a local books a million when I was a senior in High School to special order David W. Blight's essay collection Beyond the Battlefield. I knew that I wanted to study history and that I was particularly interested in historical memory, but didn't know what that actually was. Blight seemed the writer who had the key. I read the essay about Ken Burns's Civil War (something I had watched multiple times at that point), and the rest were way above my head. I eventually sold the I went with my mother to a local books a million when I was a senior in High School to special order David W. Blight's essay collection Beyond the Battlefield. I knew that I wanted to study history and that I was particularly interested in historical memory, but didn't know what that actually was. Blight seemed the writer who had the key. I read the essay about Ken Burns's Civil War (something I had watched multiple times at that point), and the rest were way above my head. I eventually sold the book out of frustration and will likely buy it back this year, now that I have some understanding of the literature of the Civil War. This book has been on my radar since I first started to study history seriously. It was always a little too long or a bit too expensive, and I never made time to read it. It was in a used book shop in the French Quarter (that I have not returned to since) that I found a decent hardback edition for $5. A year or so later I have read it and it is one of my all time favorite historical monographs ever. I imagine a book about the Civil War like this would annoy many history buffs. No minutiae and very little of the battlefield is included, but the way Blight streamlines a great deal of theory on collective and historical memory, memoir, and cultural history into a readable and eminently quotable history that has a clear narrative arc that is intuitive and never nearly as weighty as I expected. So much of my interest in history has been try to articulate, with my own poor powers, what Blight sets out here. There is always a sense of excitement and disappointment when you find the idea that's always been lurking at the back of your work so clearly and plainly done well by some one 16 years earlier. Regardless, this book has reaffirmed my faith in historical memory as a valuable lens to study history. We'll see if my students will tolerate me now, but I would recommend this book to anyone who has a decent background in Civil War history who wants a different type of discussion on it's larger meanings in American history and culture. Highly recommended.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Tony

    This book is a polemic disguised as history. Its cornerstone is Blight's revision of the meaning to be taken from the close of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address: "of the people, by the people, for the people." Blight claims this was a demand for racial equality, and in a timeline sleight of hand he construes the war itself, which commenced in April 1861, as rooted in this sentiment (found nowhere outside Abolitionist writings) supposedly expressed by Lincoln in November 1863. Only racial equality, whi This book is a polemic disguised as history. Its cornerstone is Blight's revision of the meaning to be taken from the close of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address: "of the people, by the people, for the people." Blight claims this was a demand for racial equality, and in a timeline sleight of hand he construes the war itself, which commenced in April 1861, as rooted in this sentiment (found nowhere outside Abolitionist writings) supposedly expressed by Lincoln in November 1863. Only racial equality, which in our ears rightly rings as a good and true note, is not at all what Lincoln meant by that phrase. Rather, he was asserting his belief that the foundation of the U.S. government's legitimacy rests on the will and votes of individual citizens, not continuing ratification by the states. He was making yet again, in other words, his argument that the southern states had no right to secede. Why does Blight misconstrue the meaning of this passage? Because he wants the Civil War to be a story of noble Northerners laying down life and treasure to free the slaves against Southerners uniformly in favor of slavery. Lincoln's statement here (as well as his numerous statements elsewhere, all of which Blight, despite a penchant for heavy quotation, ignores) substantiates the long-held understanding that the Civil War was primarily a conflict over states rights and federal authority, with slavery serving as the inevitable kindling. The remainder of his book is more of the same: selective quotations, omissions that ought to embarrass an academic historian (even one from Yale), and bold, unfounded assertions about the meaning and intent of words yanked from their context. The fact that the popular debunking site Snopes had to weigh in on Blight's false claims about the origins of Memorial Day, also advanced in this brick-like screed, ought alone to dissuade serious people from citing him, but his sanctimonious elevation of Northerners to sainthood, and Southerners to near-demonic status, makes him a predictable source for the likes of Salon, The Atlantic, etc.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    “If war among the whites brought peace and liberty to the blacks, what will peace among the whites bring?” --Frederick Douglass A thorough exploration of the fifty years following the Civil War and how reconciliation between white Americans was sought at the expense of freedom and justice for black Americans. At times frustrating to read knowing that the battle over remembrance continues 150+ years later. My mind constantly wandered to flashbacks of small-town Georgia where Lost Cause ideology st “If war among the whites brought peace and liberty to the blacks, what will peace among the whites bring?” --Frederick Douglass A thorough exploration of the fifty years following the Civil War and how reconciliation between white Americans was sought at the expense of freedom and justice for black Americans. At times frustrating to read knowing that the battle over remembrance continues 150+ years later. My mind constantly wandered to flashbacks of small-town Georgia where Lost Cause ideology still thrives, as captured in statements like "the Civil War wasn't about slavery." Highly recommend to anyone who wants to have a better understanding of how the Lost Cause ideology came to proliferate in the decades following the Civil War, and why abolitionist/emancipationist voices receded to the background. Also an excellent examination of the varying responses of African American leaders to the consequences of white reunion.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mike Williams

    An amazing book. The thesis is how we remember things as defining our reality now and in the future. This had huge impacts for our history and race relations in this country. Not for the best. Blight is an amazing historian.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Rohn

    Amazing. This is the best book I've read this year. A definite must read for anyone interested in Civil War history, history of race in the US, or generally how public understandings of history are constructed Amazing. This is the best book I've read this year. A definite must read for anyone interested in Civil War history, history of race in the US, or generally how public understandings of history are constructed

  16. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    Incredibly dry at times but a very important read. Read for a class on the American Civil War and Memory.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Grace

    It's that time of year when I only read articles and books for school. This one I really enjoyed and prompted some interesting questions as well as told me a lot of stuff I did not know. It's that time of year when I only read articles and books for school. This one I really enjoyed and prompted some interesting questions as well as told me a lot of stuff I did not know.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    I learned about this book while watching yet another of those PBS programs about Abraham Lincoln. By the way, why hasn't some cable TV genius launched a "Lincoln" channel by now? Someone writes a book about the guy every 20 minutes, so there must be a market out there for round-the-clock Abe-mania. But I digress. So David Blight is on this Lincoln doc, and he has some really intelligent things to say, including this: "History is not just about the remembering, but also the forgetting." And he wro I learned about this book while watching yet another of those PBS programs about Abraham Lincoln. By the way, why hasn't some cable TV genius launched a "Lincoln" channel by now? Someone writes a book about the guy every 20 minutes, so there must be a market out there for round-the-clock Abe-mania. But I digress. So David Blight is on this Lincoln doc, and he has some really intelligent things to say, including this: "History is not just about the remembering, but also the forgetting." And he wrote this book, subtitled "The Civil War in American Memory," in which he forgets, well, nothing -- but writes with a great dela of insight about how many of the brave words that inspired the war were quickly forgotten in its aftermath. The events leading up to the Civil War are fascinating, the war itself is dramatic, the war's aftermath -- with its irresponsible winners, its really, really sore losers and its millions of victims -- is mostly just depressing. But Blight tells a good story with rare insight about the nature of American society and the endless struggle for survival, let alone equality, of African Americans throughout the South of the 1860s, 70s, 80s, 90s...and, well you get the idea. No, it's not the most uplifting chapter of our history, but it remains an influential one -- and Blight's book is commendable in reminding us of that fact.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    Political Correctness For White Southerners This was one of the best books I ever read. While today we often misuse the term "political correctness" to label actual moral positions, this book demonstrates that true "political correctness" was applied to make white Southerners feel good about their monstrous stand to die to preserve slavery and later to coverup their deadly inhumane actions to deny African-Americans the right to live as full citizens of the United Staes. What a shameful history t Political Correctness For White Southerners This was one of the best books I ever read. While today we often misuse the term "political correctness" to label actual moral positions, this book demonstrates that true "political correctness" was applied to make white Southerners feel good about their monstrous stand to die to preserve slavery and later to coverup their deadly inhumane actions to deny African-Americans the right to live as full citizens of the United Staes. What a shameful history the South has had since the founding of this country. It refuses to acknowledge its brutal treatment of African-Americans because it wants to be proud of its "traditions" and "heritage." It has little to be proud of and the racist attitudes in the North has allowed the South to perpetuate its Lost Cause ideology. For example, the Confederate Battle Flag is a symbol that the South should be ashamed of but its white citizens fly it because it represents their true feelings of white supremacy.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Drick

    This book looks at US cultural history from 1863-1913, the 50 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Three forces were at odds and needingto be resolved: The impulse to reunite the country after the Civil War, the full realization of freedom and citizenship for black Americans, and the continuing white supremacy at work throughout the North and South. Blight's thesis is that black American freedom was sacrificed for the cause of reunion by tolerating and continuing white supremacy. The book This book looks at US cultural history from 1863-1913, the 50 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Three forces were at odds and needingto be resolved: The impulse to reunite the country after the Civil War, the full realization of freedom and citizenship for black Americans, and the continuing white supremacy at work throughout the North and South. Blight's thesis is that black American freedom was sacrificed for the cause of reunion by tolerating and continuing white supremacy. The book is extremely well documented, which makes for tedious reading at points, but the evidence is overwhelming, compelling and sobering.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jaclyn

    Blight looks at the struggle between three legacies of the American Civil War in the production of public memory. Reunion is ultimately deemed more important by those with the means of production at the sacrifice of race. While intersectional reconciliation is achieved within 50 years following the war, interracial reconciliation has been largely silenced in the "mass-media market culture" that arose at the turn of the century. With great clarity and insight, Blight gives the reader moments to p Blight looks at the struggle between three legacies of the American Civil War in the production of public memory. Reunion is ultimately deemed more important by those with the means of production at the sacrifice of race. While intersectional reconciliation is achieved within 50 years following the war, interracial reconciliation has been largely silenced in the "mass-media market culture" that arose at the turn of the century. With great clarity and insight, Blight gives the reader moments to pause and consider the roads of collective public memory not taken, and what effect those might have had.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Art

    Eye opener about race and attitudes before, during and after the Civil War. Goes well w/ Revolutionary Black Leader and a Reluctant Liberator Struggled to End Slavery and Save the Union by Kendrick, Stephen; Kendrick, Paul. Also w/The House I live in by Robert J. Norrell.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Debbie

    Blight gives us all new ways to think about the Civil War in historical memory. The North may have won the battle, but it's pretty clear that the South won the war for the memory of the war. Blight gives us all new ways to think about the Civil War in historical memory. The North may have won the battle, but it's pretty clear that the South won the war for the memory of the war.

  24. 4 out of 5

    AskHistorians

    Great study of how the civil war was remembered and how memories/interpretations changed over time.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Gary Reger

    How does public and private historical memory develop? How does memory shape our understanding of the past? And how does that memory of understanding set courses for the future? Such questions stand at the center of David Blight's "Race and Reunion," a monumental study of the evolution of and competition among different, sometimes antagonistic, memories of the Civil War and its aftermath. Blight sees a set of understandings emerging from the immediate post-war period. An emancipationist memory to How does public and private historical memory develop? How does memory shape our understanding of the past? And how does that memory of understanding set courses for the future? Such questions stand at the center of David Blight's "Race and Reunion," a monumental study of the evolution of and competition among different, sometimes antagonistic, memories of the Civil War and its aftermath. Blight sees a set of understandings emerging from the immediate post-war period. An emancipationist memory took hold among many former slaves and fiercely abolitionist whites, who saw the central achievement of the war as the destruction of slavery and freeing of the African-American population. Deep hostility to the South, on which the blame for the war was lain, combined with a fervent passion to leverage full Black citizenship through the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments and the political and social transformation of Reconstruction. Out of the South itself, and clasped by increasing numbers of northerners, was a competing view: the "Lost Cause" narrative. This was a complicated memory, which took a great deal of effort to fashion, because it was in large part false. It was confected out of the post hoc claim that "states' rights," not slavery, was the fundamental issue of the war; that men who fought on both sides were honorable and deserving of respect; that they accepted the premises of their respective societies and defended them, as any responsible citizen would; that slaves were content in bondage and so devoted to their owners that the protected home, hearth, and white womanhood in the terrible years of the war. The Lost Cause came to serve another reshaping of memory: the impulse to reconciliation. As the later years of the nineteenth century passed, more and more Americans came to support a push toward reconciliation, a burying of past animosities, an equalization of veterans both North and South, that took the form of reunions in which both side participated, culminating in an extraordinary, massive anniversary celebration of Gettysburg in 1913 on the very site of the battle. In the reconciliation movement and the Lost Cause myth, Blacks lost out. People like Frederick Douglass and, later, W. E. B. Du Bois fought fiercely and tirelessly to argue the emancipation narrative should be front and center in any memory of the war, and that unfinished was the business of securing for African-Americans the full rights of citizenship and personhood promised by the war and its immediate aftermath. Their voices were never silenced; rather, they were ignored. Blight notes sardonically that no Black veterans seem to have been present or even invited to the fete at Gettysburg; indeed, their presence, once common in northern reunions, had been leached out bit by bit and year by year. "Race and Reunion" puts Black activism at the center of its story, recovering a post-Reconstruction memory of Black impact on history that gives another color to those decades in which the rise of Jim Crow and the spread of lynching fixed the place of white supremacy in southern and American culture. Blight does not, however, ignore the white roles, nor the very important contributions to especially the Lost Cause narrative of figures like Thomas Nelson page, whose stories and novels popularized the "happy slave" stereotype. "Race and Reunion" relies a good deal on high culture sources. Du Bois, Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and other prominent Black intellectuals (including many famous at the time but whose names have faded) recur repeatedly, called upon to testify to various aspects of the historical developments he narrates. The same is true on the other side; Page is a central figure. Blight hasn't ignored persons whose names have not entered our consciousness; he combs newspapers and archives for telling vignettes and striking reminiscences. I would have liked to hear rather more from such voices; when he does quote them, they often add complexity and ambiguity. But this is a quibble. "Race and Reunion" tells a story that, sad to say, is not over even today. The last four years have made it quite apparent that Lost Cause aficionados and convinced white supremacists are more numerous than one might have guessed. That it was still shocking to see the Confederate battle flag unfurled in the halls of Congress on January 6, 2020, proves that the struggle over the memory of the Civil War is far from finished.

  26. 4 out of 5

    David Valentino

    Who Shaped Your View of the American Civil War? Even before the Civil War ended, people began forming their own memories about it, in particular about what caused it. Depending upon when and where you grew up in the U.S., it’s a good bet you may not share the same understanding of the cause. In fact, if you think about the Civil War at all, you probably focus on the battles, the generals, the valiantness of soldiers, and the like. You may not even use the term Civil War, but maybe War Between the Who Shaped Your View of the American Civil War? Even before the Civil War ended, people began forming their own memories about it, in particular about what caused it. Depending upon when and where you grew up in the U.S., it’s a good bet you may not share the same understanding of the cause. In fact, if you think about the Civil War at all, you probably focus on the battles, the generals, the valiantness of soldiers, and the like. You may not even use the term Civil War, but maybe War Between the States, or the War for Southern Independence, to name but a few. It’s worth pausing and asking yourself why many of us still to this day, more than 150 years after the guns silenced, carry around varying memories of among the most monumental periods in American History. Because, as David W. Blight, Yale prof and director of the Gilder Lehrman Center (for the study of slavery, resistance, and abolition) shows, a second struggle ensued. This involved words, societies, memorials, monuments, and a generalized racism that continues to this day. Memory, as Blight forcefully demonstrates, is quite malleable. In brief summary, three strains of thought regarding the war developed in the years following its conclusion. These were emancipationists, white supremacists, and reconciliationists. For a time, the emancipationists prevailed, primarily during Reconstruction (voting rights, approximate equal treatment under the law, and the like). But nearly after the war’s end, whites (think the Klan, separation of races, distorted histories) began terrorizing freedmen, white leaders rebelled against Reconstruction (even today many recall it as harsh retribution), and writers started constructing a mythology that cast the Antebellum South and the war in a golden hue, which, among other things, portrayed slaves as loyal and faithful to their masters, as liking their condition, and most perniciously as simple minded and barbaric (if not taken in hand and guided by the white race). You can find and read works by Thomas Nelson Page, Joel Chandler Harris, Thomas Dixon, and Margaret Mitchell, all of whom’s titles are available on Amazon, to experience these first-hand. In short, the South, with the acquiesce of reconcilationists, rewrote history and this rewrite pervaded even the North. Those interested in reconciliation and moving forward did so by ignoring the virulent racism in the South. Rather than a war to end slavery, the aftermath became something of a reversal to memorialize aspects of the Antebellum South, it became the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, and memorialization because the honoring of old traditions at graveyards, with marches, and plenty of speechifying honoring the dead, even if what was called honor came in the service of an evil cause. How this came about makes for a fascinating historical tale told well and in detail by Blight. More, though, it serves as yet another illustration of how propagandizing can distort and even change the collective memory of events, because memory isn’t necessarily factual and it can be, and has been more than once, molded.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kristin Dittmann

    The way we think and talk about the Civil War remains one of the most defining signals of who we are--reflecting how we see the world and how we vote. Many of us grew up as the Civil Rights movement disrupted a long-standing system of Jim Crow laws that took root after the failure of Reconstruction in the South. More recently, many of us began to understand that systemic racism underlies almost every aspect of life in the North as well as the South. I wanted to understand more about how we got t The way we think and talk about the Civil War remains one of the most defining signals of who we are--reflecting how we see the world and how we vote. Many of us grew up as the Civil Rights movement disrupted a long-standing system of Jim Crow laws that took root after the failure of Reconstruction in the South. More recently, many of us began to understand that systemic racism underlies almost every aspect of life in the North as well as the South. I wanted to understand more about how we got to this place--what Reconstruction was, how and why it failed, and why we still can't seem to agree on the causes and meaning of the Civil War. This remarkable book helped me better understand how badly we botched the opportunity to address the immorality of slavery as we rushed to "heal" the nation without working to achieve equality for Black Americans. Instead, we focused on the valor of the soldiers on both sides; we accepted biased accounts of the South's motives for engaging in war and even blamed the North for the "original sin" of slavery; we embraced their paternalistic notion of Black subservience and inferiority; allowed well-organized groups to build monuments to venerated Confederate heroes; and bought into nostalgic depictions of an idealized plantation life that, from the vantage point of the Industrial Age and the influx of immigrants from Europe, seemed unspoiled and simple. In this book, Blight provides the details to help readers understand the influences and influencers of the post-war era who set the terms that we continue to reckon with today. I learned about the extreme popularity of the southern writer Thomas Nelson Page--whom I'd never heard of--whose sentimental tales of the Old South shaped the Northerners' views of Southern plantation life for decades to come--with stories like "Marse Chan: A Tale of Old Virginia," where an old bondsman fondly remembers his noble master in heavy dialect. I learned that many Black leaders--and some White ones as well--fought against these views, especially Frederick Douglass and W. E. B. DuBois. W. E. B. DuBois created a lavish, extravagant pageant, "The Star of Ethiopia," depicting the five epochs of African and African American history, that played at a New York Emancipation Exposition and elsewhere several times. I wonder how I'd never heard of this, and whether anyone might think of reviving it. Perhaps it would be eye-opening to see. This book helped me understand why so many Southerners think, to this day, that the Civil War was about "States' rights" but not about slavery. It helped me understand how the North and South came back together after the war--seemingly an extraordinary accomplishment, but one that came at the expense of the people who lives should have been most improved by the outcome. It's a national tragedy that we're still living through today. I highly recommend that anyone who wants to understand more about how we got to where we are today read this book. It's a disturbing reminder of the great amount of work we still need to do to create a society that is provides liberty and justice for all.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Steven Meyers

    Regional identity and pride are a normal human condition. Right from the baby get-go we are shaped by our genetics, surroundings and experiences. We carry these attitudes into adulthood and are usually reluctant to abandon or revise them without a lot of effort. Significant events leave huge impressions on not only our identity but ripple through multiple generations. The Civil War is one of those affairs and it is still very much with us today in 2019. Mr. Blight explains how the war came to be Regional identity and pride are a normal human condition. Right from the baby get-go we are shaped by our genetics, surroundings and experiences. We carry these attitudes into adulthood and are usually reluctant to abandon or revise them without a lot of effort. Significant events leave huge impressions on not only our identity but ripple through multiple generations. The Civil War is one of those affairs and it is still very much with us today in 2019. Mr. Blight explains how the war came to be perceived over the fifty years immediately following the end of the conflict. While the author’s work was highly informative, it was also quite dry in its presentation and friggin’ discouraging for this 58-year-old Mainer. He avoids using sarcasm. ‘Race and Reunion’ shows the regional and national evolutions in the explanations given by the South, the North, and African-Americans. There was plenty of myth-making, especially by the South. The author covers such things as the creation of Memorial Day, the Lost Cause’s delusional historical revisionism, Reconstruction, nostalgic heroism, the Ku Klux Klan, the Compromise of 1877, the denial or whitewashing of awful Civil War prisons such as Andersonville, the erecting of Confederate statues, the commercialization of the Civil War, how literature for whites presented such poppycock stereotypes as the happy loyal slave, lynchings, blackface minstrelsy, segregation, white supremacy, and the Supreme Court’s 1883 ruling which helped usher in Jim Crow. It includes many familiar names and quite a few others I had never heard. ‘Race and Reunion’ is about how national reunification came to trump African-American civil rights. The book ends with the release and huge success of D.W. Griffin’s racist movie ‘Birth of a Nation.’ There are about a dozen or so black-and-white photos scattered throughout the work. I did not expect to be so upset from reading ‘Race and Reunion.’ I’ve read much worse such as Leon Litwack’s ‘Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow.’ Mr. Litwack’s book had my blood pressure workin’ at unhealthy levels. ‘Race and Reunion’ was not as bad but it did give me a few cases of the grumpies. The book was published in 2001. It’s now 2019 and you don’t have to look very hard to see daily examples of racism and regional discrimination such as voter suppression by powerful whites against minorities, mass minority incarceration, blacks frequently being gunned down or assaulted with no justification except being “uppity,” and President Foghorn Leghorn’s race-baiting antics. ‘Race and Reunion’ gives a clear picture of where the Lost Cause beliefs originated and became gospel to many unenlightened individuals even today. That’s depressing. (If you do read the author’s book and like it, I suggest two other works about the effects of the Civil War. They are ‘Marching Home” Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War’ by Brian Matthew Jordan and ‘This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War’ by Drew Gilpin Faust.)

  29. 4 out of 5

    Erik

    For such a dull title, this is a spicy book. It offers important insight into how America got to where it is today just as a result of the stories we decided to tell ourselves about something that happened 155 years ago, the Civil War. "Race" refers to the cause of the war, slavery, and the war's purpose for black people free and enslaved, for most white northerners, and even for some white southerners. That purpose was to end slavery forever to rid the nation of its largest source of division an For such a dull title, this is a spicy book. It offers important insight into how America got to where it is today just as a result of the stories we decided to tell ourselves about something that happened 155 years ago, the Civil War. "Race" refers to the cause of the war, slavery, and the war's purpose for black people free and enslaved, for most white northerners, and even for some white southerners. That purpose was to end slavery forever to rid the nation of its largest source of division and to free the enslaved. "Reunion" refers to the reconciliation that white people both North and South started to achieve, at the expense of black rights and opportunity, starting at the moment that Grant offered Lee such lenient terms of surrender at Appomattox. The history of the following fifty years shows that the urge of whites to reunite was so strong as to overpower memory of the cause of the war. Ultimately, the ruling story came to be that slavery may not may not have been the real cause of the war, but that the war's cause was less important than the valor that both sides had shown in an honest battle to defend what each side believed in. Such reconciliation favored the South, and was accomplished on southern terms. White northerners withdrew their troops and then their concern from the South, leaving ex-Confederates to "redeem" southern state governments and restore white supremacy through terrorist violence and political chicanery. In general, reconciliation is a good thing. But the kind of reunion embraced by those who would "grasp hands across the bloody chasm" and put the disputes of the war behind them in a common pursuit of business and profit that would unite white people both North and South belied the very real suffering of black southerners in lynchings, beatings, property destruction, and other oppressions from their old masters. The story of the Lost Cause justified leaving freedmen out to dry, as white southerners actively pushed their propaganda that Lee was a noble cavalier who led a valiant army of heroes ruling over a charming land of plantations staffed by happy slaves. To tell that story is why they put up so many statues of Robert E. Lee. Today, every statue of Lee keeps the Lost Cause alive while encouraging whites to forget the story of emancipation and black freedom that was the cause of the war. "Only fools forget the cause of war," in the words of Albion Tourgee, quoted by Blight. It's not enough to remember the Civil War through a sentimental haze where both sides were equal. Blight's book shows that the true story of the war, though obscured by decades of propaganda, is still there for us to take it up again. And that will help address our racial situation today.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Audrey

    This book is essentially the story of how white Americans reconciled after the civil war by forgetting (the north) or intentionally rewriting (the south) what really happened, and then throwing African-Americans under the bus to come together in white supremacy. Historians have long accepted this narrative, but it doesn't often get transmitted to the general public. There are several takeaways from it. 1. The reason the civil war won't go away today is rooted in how the country reconciled at the This book is essentially the story of how white Americans reconciled after the civil war by forgetting (the north) or intentionally rewriting (the south) what really happened, and then throwing African-Americans under the bus to come together in white supremacy. Historians have long accepted this narrative, but it doesn't often get transmitted to the general public. There are several takeaways from it. 1. The reason the civil war won't go away today is rooted in how the country reconciled at the time. The north had the opportunity to ally itself with freed people to rebuild based on civil rights and equal opportunity. There was no shortage of leaders of both races who shared that vision and worked towards it. If they had succeeded, our conversation about the war would be different. But that's not what happened. We reconciled based on white supremacy, and, as a result, the underlying wound never had a chance to start healing. We're still dealing with the fallout from that. 2. There are a lot of reasons that didn't happen, but a major one is, predictably, the racism of ordinary northerners. It sounds absurd for the south to have said that having African-Americans in congress was a form of punishment, but the reality is that they weren't the only ones who saw it that way. Many white northerners also saw it that way, and they eventually stopped wanting to punish the south. I wonder how many reconstruction idealists understood that retribution was an important part of their electoral coalitions, and how many genuinely believed that the people of the north wanted reform for the sake of civil rights. 3. Everyone understood that the south's objections to reconstruction were about white supremacy. They were explicit about it. 4. I will never again be able to look the same way at the statement that slavery is "America's original sin." Like many people on the left, I've always accepted it as a truism. I learned in this book that it has a confederate history. One of the arguements of the lost cause was that slavery had not been a southern institution. It had been an American institution, imposed on the south by the north almost against its will. Slavery wasn't the south's sin. It was America's original sin, for which the south had to take the consequences. Really, the south was almost to be pitied. I swear I'm not exaggerating. I realize that this is not what people mean when they talk about it these days, but it's probably also not a coincidence that the exact same words are still used. It's a testament to how victorious the south's messaging was that even progressive activists are using the south's terminology to talk about the history of slavery.

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