From Publishers Weekly
Almost all the dominant views of the Civil War and its aftermath, including Reconstruction and "reunion," prevalent in this country until the coming of the civil rights movement, were the direct result of an extensive Southern propaganda war, argues Blight (Amherst College professor of history and black studies), remnants of which are still flourishing in various racist subcultures. As W.E.B. Du Bois noted a century ago, shortly after the war, the North was tacitly willing to accept the South's representation of the conflict in exchange for an opening of new economic frontiers. Blight sets out to prove this thesis, surveying a mass of information (the end notes run to almost 100 pages) clearly and synthetically, detailing the mechanics of mythmaking: how the rebels were recast as not actually rebelling, how the South had been unjustly invaded, and how, most fabulously of all, the South had fought to end slavery which had been imposed upon it by the North. His argument that this "memory war" was conducted on a conscious level is supported by the Reconstruction-era evidence of protest, by blacks and whites alike, that he unearths. Yet these voices failed to dissuade the vast majority of Americans both North and South who internalized some version of the story. This book effectively traces both the growth and development of what became, by the turn of the 20th century and the debut of The Birth of a Nation, the dominant racist representation of the Civil War. A major work of American history, this volume's documentation of the active and exceedingly articulate voices of protest against this inaccurate and unjust imagining of history is just one of its accomplishments. (Feb. 19) Forecast: This book will be the standard for how public perceptions of the Civil War were formed and propagated in a manner directly analogous to today's doublespeak and spin control. It will be a regular on course syllabi, and will be glowingly reviewed, but the wealth and diversity of sources may keep some general readers away.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
The year 1913 saw two separate ceremonies commemorating great events 50 years previously: elderly Union and Confederate veterans shook hands at the Gettysburg battlefield, and W.E.B DuBois staged an elaborate "National Emancipation Exposition." Together they struck discordant chords of memory about the Civil War, which Blight examines in this incisive discussion of how the conflict was popularly remembered in the half-century following Appomattox. He closely examines the types of memorializations of the war, such as the creation and observance of Memorial Day, the erection of statues to Robert E. Lee and Robert Gould Shaw, soldiers' reunions, soldiers' memoirs, popular literature, and anniversary orations by such figures as Frederick Douglass. Within these modes of expression Blight recounts the strong tide in the post-war years for "reunion on Southern terms," politically by the overthrow of the Republican Reconstruction governments in the South, and ideologically in "Lost Cause" writings justifying secession and slavery. Freed blacks suffered the consequence of the ascendance of a sentimental view of the war and amnesia about its central issue. Gilbert Taylor
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