- Seven Myths of the Civil War ed. by Wesley Moody
In Seven Myths of the Civil War, Wesley Moody has assembled a team of Civil War scholars in an attempt to identify and dispel key myths of the American Civil War. Moody puts their work in context with a thought-provoking eleven-page introduction and a brief epilogue. The body of the book contains seven scholarly essays. The first, by Michael T. Bernath, argues that the Confederacy did not value states' rights except when the concept could be used to protect the institution of slavery. The second, by Ian Patrick Hunt, contends that President Abraham Lincoln was not a racist. The third, by Brooks D. Simpson, clarifies that there was never a significant number of African Americans in the Confederate military. The fourth, by Barton A. Myers, asserts that the Civil War was much less of a conventional battlefield war than is commonly held. The fifth, by Benjamin Cloyd, examines the myths associated with Civil War prisoner of war camps. The sixth, by Edward H. Bonekemper III, argues that General Ulysses S. Grant's success was not due only to manpower and resources. The seventh, written by Moody himself, argues that General William T. Sherman's March to the Sea was not, and was not intended to be, a campaign of total war.
All of the essays are meticulously supported, citing the key scholarly works to help frame their arguments. Indeed, one of the major strengths of this book is that each essay provides historiographical references to the most important works on its respective topic from the 1860s to 2017. Each essay provides an excellent and needed examination of the identified myths. That said, the topics tackled do not come without controversy, even 150 years after the war and even [End Page 170] as Moody admits that these topics should continue to "be examined and reexamined … well into the future" (p. xxii).
In that spirit, some of the essays are more convincing than others. For example, Hunt's essay, arguing that Lincoln pursued antislavery goals for moral reasons (not only practical ones), was convincing, but the evidence does not prove one way or the other that Lincoln believed in the equality of black and white people. In "African Americans in Confederate Military Service: Myth and Reality," Simpson deals with black participation in Confederate service. That some black people served in the Confederate military should be acknowledged, Simpson suggests, but he posits that their service was not of the type or level that would change the nature of how the war is viewed, as some argue it should. One aspect missing in Simpson's examination is the service of people of color in the navies of the Civil War, which was allowed by both sides from the outset of the war. "Marching through Georgia: The Myth of Sherman's Total War" is thought provoking, but it leaves some questions unanswered. Did not Sherman's march have an impact on desertion rates farther north, meaning, whether or not it was intended, that it was perceived as a war on society even during the campaign? Also, since Sherman used a war-on-society approach as commander of the U.S. Army during the Indian Wars, was that a change in his strategic thinking instead of a continuation, as military history scholars have often held?
To reference a couple of highlights, Cloyd's essay, "Civil War Prisons: The Legacy of Responsibility," is refreshing because the author deals with the northern and southern myths separately, instead of trying to pigeonhole the issue into one encompassing national myth, which is problematic for many Civil War topics. "The Lost Causers' Favorite Target: Grant the Butcher," by Bonekemper, is perhaps the most convincing reexamination of a myth because the author uses both scholarship and data to show that Grant actually lost a smaller proportion of soldiers in the war than did General Robert...