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Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation.

Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation. By Caroline E. Janney. (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2013. Pp. xii, 451. $35.00.)

In 2001, David Blight's Race and Reunion pioneered the field of Civil War memory, establishing one of the most robust subfields in Civil War scholarship in recent years. Blight argued that by the fiftieth anniversary of Gettysburg in 1913, white Americans had chosen to embrace a memory of the Civil War that emphasized reunion and sectional reconciliation, heralding the bravery of soldiers on both sides while marginalizing the role of race and slavery. In the dozen years since the publication of Race and Reunion, many scholars have built upon and challenged Blight's findings, including excellent work by John Neff, Karen Cox, and William Blair, among others. Caroline Janney's Remembering the Civil War presents the most robust and sustained challenge to Blight's study.

Janney argues that although reunion came easily, reconciliation did not. Former soldiers on both sides continued to harbor hostility and distrust for decades. For Union soldiers, political reunion with the former Confederacy was a fundamental component of their cause. In championing reunion, they did not necessarily forgive the Confederates for their secession and four bloody years of combat. Contrary to Blight, Janney argues that the destruction of slavery was a key component of Unionist memory. Even white Northerners who held hostile racial attitudes towards African Americans saw the destruction of slavery as a fundamental aspect of the Union cause. Southerners also rejected reconciliation. Building on her earlier book on the Ladies' Memorial Associations, Janney argues that women played an important role in fanning the flames of ongoing sectional animosity. Although Blue-Gray reunions occurred, they did so against a backdrop of continued antagonism. Though Union and Confederate veterans could shake hands, as they did at Gettysburg in 1913, they often did so with gritted teeth.

This excellent book deserves a wide readership. Its publication should serve as an indication that the field of Civil War memory has reached maturation. Its nuanced reading of the various, conflicted ways in which Americans remembered the Civil War in the seventy-five years after Appomattox demonstrates how much historians have learned since Race and Reunion. Indeed, Janney's Remembering the Civil War may replace Blight's work as the best single volume on Civil War memory. What remains to be done is to connect this narrative to later Civil War memory, bringing the story through the Civil War Centennial and the civil rights movement to the present.

David Silkenat

University of Edinburgh

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Author:Silkenat, David
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2015
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