HM - June 2019 - Book Review
Review: Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory by David Blight
Jess R. Gagliardi, Adams State University
The Civil War ended over 150 years ago, but issues of inequality continue in the United States. Much of what remains contentious stems from the Lost Cause narrative and its adherents’ attempts to rewrite history to lessen the outcome of the Confederacy’s defeat, not only from the war, but its pride and resources. David W. Blight’s masterful work, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, explores the rise of the Lost Cause and reconciliation from 1862 to 1915. In analyzing the fifty years after the Civil War, Blight explores how Americans remembered the most divisive and tragic experience in American history, from the development of Memorial Day as a way to remember fallen southern soldiers, to how Confederates such as Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee returned to society. This work also deciphers through Reconstruction Era politics, the rise of relics and monuments to foster a romantic memory of the war, along with the attitudes of southern reconciliation, and the rise of domestic terrorism from the Ku Klux Klan.
This work seems especially relevant today in a time where remnants of the Confederate cause still exist. Although the pivotal work on this topic comes from Gaines M. Foster’s Ghosts of the Confederacy (1987), Blight’s work updates and augments the discussion over the lasting issue of race relations, such as the political attempts to circumvent the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments. More recently, debates over removing Confederate Civil War statues throughout the south serve as attempts to break the lasting legacies of the Lost Cause; after all, as Blight notes, these monuments were put in place to glorify and honor Lost Cause ideals in the first place. This work provides history educators with an opportunity to understand what the Lost Cause is and how it continues to resonate within society. As well, this work provides many answers in dealing with finding truth from within accepted myths as realities and the realism of unresolved issues from the Civil War.
*David W. Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory. Harvard University Press, 2001.