Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Review - "Civil War Places: Seeing the Conflict through the Eyes of Its Leading Historians" by Gallagher & Gallman, eds.

[CIVIL WAR PLACES: Seeing the Conflict through the Eyes of Its Leading Historians edited by Gary W. Gallagher and J. Matthew Gallman, photographs by Will Gallagher (University of North Carolina Press, 2019). Cloth, 37 B&W photos, notes, index. 216 pp. ISBN:978-1-4696-4953-5. $32]

Earlier this decade, Gary Gallagher and Matt Gallman had the bright idea to invite a group of professional historian colleagues to contribute to an anthology of Civil War image commentaries. The resulting book Lens of War: Exploring Iconic Photographs of the Civil War (2015) was well received and undoubtedly encouraged the pair to give the same general format another go, but with a different topical theme this time and also a new publisher. For Civil War Places: Seeing the Conflict through the Eyes of Its Leading Historians, Gallagher and Gallman challenged their fellow historians* to "select a single meaningful place related to the war and narrate its significance."

In discussing the historical and cultural significance of the two dozen places examined in the volume, each chapter includes elements of scholarly and personal perspectives (their relative weight left entirely up the writer). With varying degrees of input from each writer, a professional photographer (Gallagher's son Will) was also assigned to compose a representative image of each place. Without prompting, the contributors selected a diverse range of sites with no overlap. Their essays are organized into four major categories—I. "Battlefields: Places of Fighting", II. "Cemeteries: Places of Mourning", III. "Memorials: Places of Memory", and IV. "Buildings: Enduring Places". Many sites are closely associated with the writer's professional work but others instead hearken back to early memories associated with what first sparked their interest in history as a vocation.

Books formatted like this one, in combination with the fact that the 23 contributors (plus the two editors) to Civil War Places were afforded wide latitude in framing their own chapters, don't really lend themselves particularly well to being reviewed as a whole, so perhaps some sampling will suffice. For the purposes of this review, one chapter from each category will be briefly discussed.

In chapter 4, A. Wilson Greene vividly describes his slippery drive to the criminally undervisited Camp Allegheny. An appreciation of the unique micro-climate that exists at the 4,400 ft. peak, the essay's entertaining description of Greene's travails in getting there interestingly mirrors the similarly dismayed reactions of Confederate soldiers forced to camp there. In addition to being an environmental oddity with unseasonable weather extremes, the remarkably pristine site offers visitors both breathtaking vistas and well-preserved camp and fortification remnants.

One of the many 'hidden in plain sight' places of Civil War significance in the country is discussed in Joan Waugh's Chapter 9, which recounts her familial and professional attachments to Los Angeles National Cemetery. In addition to tracing the site's Civil War connections, she explains her use of the cemetery and its monuments as open-air classroom. For the personal element to the piece, Waugh cites the incorporation her own family history into her lesson program following her discovery of an ancestor buried there. Her initial disappointment at his ordinariness was soon replaced by recognition that the war could not have been won without the collective efforts and sacrifices of 'common' soldiers like him.

Carol Reardon's Chapter 13 conveys a heartfelt appreciation of the Allegheny County Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh, a place that helped guide her personal journey from uninterested youth to distinguished military historian. Like Waugh's chapter, Reardon's essay also exhibits a strong familial element, in her case an early lesson in the value of persistence in navigating the winding course and frequent frustrations associated with serious historical inquiry.

In the last example, Jacqueline Jones revisits the magnificent Green-Meldrim House in Savannah, which was the site of a historic visit between General Sherman, Secretary Stanton, and a delegation of black leaders. In addition to briefly discussing the results of that meeting along with some background history of the house and its more distinctive architectural features, Jones laments the limited nature and scope of the official "script" upon which guides at this place and many other southern historical sites base their tour information.

The volume concludes with commentary from photographer Will Gallagher about his experience with the project. In the section he also shares some thoughts regarding shot composition and favorite places he visited.

Readers who enjoyed Lens of War will like Civil War Places just as much. There's no mention that more volumes of this kind might be in the offing, but Gallagher and Gallman have certainly come up with a workable series concept. Hopefully, this particular book will also spark increased visitation at the many lesser-known Civil War sites examined within it.


* - In addition to the editors themselves, the large contributor list includes Edward L. Ayers, Stephen Berry, William A. Blair, David W. Blight, Peter S. Carmichael, Frances M. Clarke, Catherine Clinton, Stephen Cushman, Stephen D. Engle, Drew Gilpin Faust, Sarah E. Gardner, Judith Giesberg, Lesley J. Gordon, A. Wilson Greene, Caroline E. Janney, Jacqueline Jones, Ari Kelman, James Marten, Carol Reardon, Aaron Sheehan-Dean, Brenda E. Stevenson, Elizabeth R. Varon, and Joan Waugh.

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