- Battles and Leaders of the Civil War. Volume 6
In 1888, Century magazine editors Clarence Clough Buel and Robert Underwood Johnson began publishing Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, collections of memoirs and reminiscences written mainly by officers. In 2002, Peter Cozzens revived the work with Battles and Leaders, volume 5. Like the original editors, Cozzens includes chapters from magazines and newspapers unadorned by editorial comment, but he also introduces two innovations. Volume 6 pays "greater attention" (five of forty-seven chapters) to the enlisted "soldier's view of the war," and it pursues the "war's undying controversies" with "greater vigor" (xvii, xviii). The type of controversy is telling. Volume 6 helpfully recalls the importance of contingency with chapters about tactics, campaigns, and disagreements between generals. At the same time, the chapters uniformly avoid hard questions about the war's causes, and they omit many of the war's participants. As a result, volume 6 of Battles and Leaders is at least as valuable for what it reveals about postwar reconciliation as for its commentary on the war.
Many chapters treat military episodes the author feels have been neglected and also revisit long-standing quarrels. Gen. Orlando B. Willcox's account of the 1861 capture of Alexandria, Virginia, argues that the death of Union colonel Elmer Ellsworth as he hoisted a Union flag played an unheralded role in fanning the "spark" lit by Fort Sumter into the "flame" of a four-year war (37). Daniel E. Sickles, John Newton, Daniel Butterfield, and John Gibbon argue in print over General George Meade's performance at Gettysburg. Meanwhile, John S. Mosby contests unflattering portraits of J. E. B. Stuart at Gettysburg.
While they might argue with and about officers on their own side, many of the authors write fondly about their former foes. In 1878, Union major Benjamin Crowinshield praises Confederate troops in the Shenandoah in 1864. Confederate Colonel Prentiss Ingraham in 1902 urges Congress to grant belated Medals of Honor to Union troops who fought courageously at Port Hudson. Former Ohio musician John Cockerill's 1893 account, "A Boy at Shiloh," remembers that when the young Cockerill came upon the fallen body of a Georgia teenager, "I burst into a regular boo-hoo" (137).
The reconciliatory flavor of these writings reveals something important about the war's aftermath. Renewed good feeling between former-enemies-turned-fellow-citizens had obvious benefits. When Cockerill's piece appeared in Blue and Gray in 1893, the editors called his sentimental tears "more valuable today to a reunited nation than any act of bravery done during that dreadful day in April" (594). Yet the reunion came at a cost. As David Blight demonstrates in Race and Reunion (2001), after the war white Northerners and Southerners agreed on a particular version of [End Page 174] the war that overlooked causes, ignored slavery, emphasized shared heroism and valor, and excluded black Americans. The articles in Battles and Leaders reflect habits of amnesia and exclusion prevalent from the 1880s through the 1910s, and in so doing remind us that the war's memory has its own important history.
Volume 6 continues the Battles and Leaders tradition by making the words of some of the war's participants available to a wider audience. It also provides important evidence about the nationwide emergence of the Lost Cause. Finally, it suggests a direction for future volumes. Like its predecessors, Volume 6 portrays an insistently white war, drawing its articles from periodicals that catered only to white audiences. The only passage of the book to treat substantively the issue of race consists of a white Union officer's description of wounded black Union troops captured during the Battle of the Crater, stripped of most of their clothing, and marched through the streets of Petersburg. Including accounts from African American publications such as The African Repository or the Christian Recorder could help end the distortionary exclusion of a major group of war participants from the memory of the war and indeed would enrich...