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

As we make our way through the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, it is timely to reexamine the long trajectory of Civil War remembrance and memorialization. Caroline E. Janney’s new book, Remembering the Civil War, does this in detail for the period spanning the years 1861 to 1939. In the process, Janney reconsiders some of the key conclusions that other works on the topic have proposed. Specifically, Janney refutes the theory that over time white northerners capitulated to white southerners’ Lost Cause version of the war narrative, with its downplaying of the horrors of slavery and wholesale rejection of the idea that secession was treason. Previous historians have argued that this alleged capitulation laid the foundation for an enduring reconciliation between northern and southern white Americans, which in turn resulted in their shared disregard, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, of the promises for black Americans of emancipation and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution. In contrast, Janney insists that white northerners—especially veterans—never capitulated to the Lost Cause and that Americans after the war never actually achieved true reconciliation over the causes and meaning of the war. [End Page 304]

Janney covers a tremendous amount of ground in this book, which begins with the war itself and ends with a discussion of Gone With the Wind. Along the way, Janney presents a small mountain of evidence that incontrovertibly demonstrates Americans’ failure to achieve sectional reconciliation: Union soldiers at Appomattox who chose to “parade triumphantly” in front of their defeated enemies (p. 44); white southerners—especially women—who organized their local Memorial Day activities to serve as “blatant displays of Confederate patriotism” (p. 96); Union veterans whose regimental histories and public statements consistently emphasized the moral supremacy of the Union cause and, not infrequently, emancipation; textbooks in the states of the former Confederacy that recast slavery as a benevolent institution and secession as nothing more than a constitutional dispute; black veterans and their descendants who “infused” their Emancipation Day celebrations “with political activism” (p. 214) and who openly and vehemently “excoriated the Lost Cause” (p. 222); and much, much more. No student of the Civil War can come away from Janney’s book believing in the absolute triumph—at any point since the Civil War—of the Lost Cause or, for that matter, of any single perspective on the causes and meaning of the war. Reunion, yes, reconciliation, no.

I have two minor complaints. The first is that the book’s organizational scheme pulls in two directions: the arc is chronological, but the content of most of the chapters coalesces around a theme (e.g., the Lost Cause, women and memorialization, Blue-Gray reunions). This structure produces some confusion (and repetitiveness), as closely related material sometimes appears in different chapters without clear regard to chronological development. I suspect, however, that this is a virtually inescapable consequence of the vast and truly impressive scope and depth of Janney’s research. My other quibble is with Janney’s claim, about halfway through the book, that “Confederate veterans would not have had to be so vocal if Union veterans were not constantly declaring that they had the righteous cause, that the moral worth was on their side. If true reconciliation had occurred—reconciliation [End Page 305] in which both sides agreed to remain silent on the causes of the war—these fierce debates would not have existed” (p. 186). Perhaps I misunderstood what Janney means to say here about who is to blame for what, and perhaps I have also spent too many years studying Joseph Holt, but this passage made me uncomfortable on many levels. Is her underlying notion that Union veterans should have remained silent about the profound implications of northern victory in the war so as not to provoke former Confederates, and that out of this shared silence would have come “true reconciliation?”

Regardless, Remembering the Civil War is an excellent resource for deepening...