Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Book News: Commonwealth of Compromise

Kentucky tends to overshadow Missouri in book and essay discussions of Civil War remembrance and commemoration in the Border States, or at least that's my impression. The Confederate identity popularly forged in Kentucky during the postwar period belied its wartime experience, when it provided critical military and political support to the Union cause that was vastly disproportionate to that supplied to the other side by the state's minority pro-Confederate faction. This turn of events eventually led to historian E. Merton Coulter's famous remark, oft repeated in the literature, that the state waited until after the war to secede. Was this also the case in Missouri?  Many antebellum Missourians came to refer to themselves as westerners rather than northerners or southerners, wishing to avoid direct participation in the divisive national politics of the day in favor of forging a politically moderate (albeit proslavery) western identity that would carry the torch of shared continental expansion. Then southern secession and Civil War threw those lofty aspirations of peaceable cooperation into disarray.

Attempting to answer the many questions surrounding how Missourians remembered the war is Amy Laurel Fluker's upcoming Commonwealth of Compromise: Civil War Commemoration in Missouri (Univ. of Missouri Press, May 2020). In it, Fluker "offers a history of Civil War commemoration in Missouri, shifting focus away from the guerrilla war and devoting equal attention to Union, African American, and Confederate commemoration. She provides the most complete look yet at the construction of Civil War memory in Missouri, illuminating the particular challenges that shaped Civil War commemoration."

Fluker's book will also highlight the unique features of Civil War commemoration in Missouri. "As a slaveholding Union state on the Western frontier, Missouri found itself at odds with the popular narratives of Civil War memory developing in the North and the South. At the same time, the state’s deeply divided population clashed with one another as they tried to find meaning in their complicated and divisive history. As Missouri’s Civil War generation constructed and competed to control Civil War memory, they undertook a series of collaborative efforts that paved the way for reconciliation to a degree unmatched by other states."

More from the description: "Understanding this process lends informative context to contemporary debates about Civil War memory. Acts of Civil War commemoration have long been controversial and were never undertaken for objective purposes, but instead served to transmit particular values to future generations."

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