Friday, December 18, 2020

Booknotes: The Enduring Civil War

New Arrival:
The Enduring Civil War: Reflections on the Great American Crisis by Gary W. Gallagher (LSU Press, 2020).

I've just now received the Sept-Oct slate of releases from LSU, with the much-anticipated Hess book on Civil War supply still forthcoming. Since I unfortunately do not possess the speed reading with full retention abilities of the late Harold Bloom, these obviously can't be considered for my year-end list, but they will be reviewed (hopefully) sometime during the early part of next year. First up in the Booknotes entries is Gary Gallagher's The Enduring Civil War: Reflections on the Great American Crisis.

From the description: This collection of 73 previously published essays "highlights the complexity and richness of the war, from its origins to its memory, as topics for study, contemplation, and dispute. He places contemporary understanding of the Civil War, both academic and general, in conversation with testimony from those in the Union and the Confederacy who experienced and described it, investigating how mid-nineteenth-century perceptions align with, or deviate from, current ideas regarding the origins, conduct, and aftermath of the war. The tension between history and memory forms a theme throughout the essays, underscoring how later perceptions about the war often took precedence over historical reality in the minds of many Americans."

Of course, most readers will recognize these Gallagher pieces as part of a regular Civil War Times feature, but a couple were published elsewhere. Fitting to their presence in a popular history magazine, the essays are self-described as bridging the gap between "the academic and popular worlds of Civil War interest." Operating under a 1000-word limitation, the essays are necessarily succinct. In this volume they are grouped into six themes: "Framing the War," "Generals and Battles," "Controversies," "Historians and Books," "Testimony from Participants," and "Places and Culture." The pieces pretty much remain as they were originally published, though Gallagher notes that a small number were further revised for this volume. He also added endnotes to the entire collection and restored the titles of many of the essays to their original form.

The description summarizes well the range of the essays. In them, Gallagher "examines notable books and authors, both Union and Confederate, military and civilian, famous and lesser known. He discusses historians who, though their names have receded with time, produced works that remain pertinent in terms of analysis or information. He comments on conventional interpretations of events and personalities, challenging, among other things, commonly held notions about Gettysburg and Vicksburg as decisive turning points, Ulysses S. Grant as a general who profligately wasted Union manpower, the Gettysburg Address as a watershed that turned the war from a fight for Union into one for Union and emancipation, and Robert E. Lee as an old-fashioned general ill-suited to waging a modern mid-nineteenth-century war. Gallagher interrogates recent scholarly trends on the evolving nature of Civil War studies, addressing crucial questions about chronology, history, memory, and the new revisionist literature."

Though I've skimmed some of these essays while magazine browsing at the local B&N, I'm not a subscriber to CWT so most will be new to me. I'm looking forward to checking them out.

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