THE BATTLEFIELD AND BEYOND,
THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR
Edited by Clayton E. Jewett
LSU Press, $47.50; 368 pp., eBook available
The Battlefield and Beyond provides such a variety of perspectives as to make it a pertinent contribution to LSU Press’s Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War, a series edited by T. Michael Parrish, who urged the interdisciplinary United States Civil War Center 15 years ago to initiate efforts to persuade the Congress to create a Sesquicentennial Commission.
The new essays by leading Civil War scholars that Clayton E. Jewett has gathered to honor Jon L. Wakelyn provide 14 fresh perspectives on issues that remain relevant after 150 years.
Historians Orville Vernon Burton, Daniel E. Sutherland, Herman Hattaway, Bertram Wyatt-Brown and Emory M. Thomas, among others, deal with such issues as the master-slave relationship, the role of blacks in the army, the nature of Southern violence, Confederate leadership, politicians and the public, the effect of Confederate despotism upon defeat, violations of the Constitution, the role of Jews, and the ways memory affects our understanding of Lincoln’s assassination.
Given its main title and the essays’ emphasis upon the Confederacy and upon the enduring legacy of the war, a more accurate subtitle for this collection might have been: “Essays on the Confederacy and Reconstruction.”
Battles came and went; Reconstruction’s legacy continues to explode on many fronts. Jewett points out that it is important that we continue “to understand the conflict, not only as a matter of discovering the past, but also for understanding the present.” These essays shed “light on our nation, its development, and our current predicaments,” especially, I wish to add, as we are well into the second year of an astonishingly lackluster, unimaginative, unoriginal, and underfunded sesquicentennial of the Civil War.
Given the bald-faced, multifaceted fact that “the core issues that tore the United States apart and led to Civil War” are active today — racial problems, violations of civil rights, economic trauma for the poor, and government collusion with the rich, to cite only a few — “we must ask ourselves if the United States has learned from its history or has avoided a careful consideration of its troubled past.”
Thus far, the sesquicentennial is a missed opportunity to learn. The variety and scope of these essays provide ways to begin to learn and then to behave more knowledgeably, intelligently, and imaginatively as American citizens.
Founding Director of the United States Civil War Center at LSU, David Madden is the author of a novel and several other books on the Civil War. His novel London Bridge in Plague and Fire will appear this month.
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