- The Good Men Who Won the War: Army of the Cumberland Veterans and Emancipation Memory
The liberation of others has become synonymous with modern U.S. war-making since the American Civil War—from freeing Cubans of Spanish repression during the Spanish-American War, to "making the world safe for democracy" in World War I, to freeing Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II. So asserts Robert Hunt in his intriguing work, The Good Men Who Won the War. Advancing the fine historical literature on Civil War memory, Hunt examines how Army of the Cumberland veterans remembered their involvement in the emancipation process, and how they incorporated its legacy into their collective recollection of the war.
Hunt employs more than seventy published regimental histories and veterans' memoirs to argue that the Cumberlanders became "practical abolitionists" and "embraced liberation as part of a redeemed national mission" (93). Challenging the assertions put forward by Stuart McConell, David Blight, and Cecelia O'Leary, Hunt contends that veteran authors went to great pains to be comprehensive and portray their wartime actions accurately. Moreover, many Cumberlanders insisted that the Union army preserved the North's moral superiority and that their undeniable victory over the Confederacy "both sanctified and updated the country's way of war making … [and] had prepared the United States for a future on the world stage" (3).
Besides reaching out to general readers and academics alike by providing a chapter-length overview of the Army of the Cumberland's mobilization and involvement in various battles in the Western Theater—including [End Page 94] Shiloh, Perryville, Stones River, and Chickamauga—Hunt demonstrates how veterans conveyed their participation in a war of liberation. Many ordinary Cumberland authors remembered that they had grudgingly embraced emancipation, as runaway slaves seeking refuge in federal camps brought them in direct conflict with owners and slave catchers. Hunt maintains that "anger at the slave owners merged with disdain for the Confederate slave-owning society that fought against the Union, prodding the Cumberlanders during the war to free the captives of their enemy and later to make it an important part of the war of invasion as they remembered and described" (31). The conditions associated with invasion—not necessarily the politics of Lincoln—altered Cumberlanders' political sentiments.
Hunt further explains how Cumberlanders incorporated Confederate women and African Americans into their writings to legitimize the North's victory and underscore its humanitarian nature. While they commended black troops, especially those involved in the battle of Nashville, most adhered to notions of white supremacy and deployed racial imagery to exhibit their own white masculinity and prove they had fought for an "other." Augmenting Chandra Manning's conclusions, Hunt asserts that, because Cumberlanders understood the liberation as a critical objective for which they fought, "American war making became a selfless act for the first time.… The Cumberland army's war had been in so many ways a war of the American future" (100-101).
The author concludes by examining the public careers of Wilber Hinmen and Joseph W. Keifer and illustrates how Cumberlanders perceived the development of the United States as a world power in the twentieth century as fulfilling the North's liberation war. Paralleling the imagery he employed when discussing the North's mission during the Civil War, Keifer defined America's ascendancy in international diplomacy in terms of progress and the integrity of its motives. Hunt maintains that the "themes that Cumberland writers developed as vital to their war anticipated what later generations of Americans would use to imagine and describe their own massive conflicts" (103). The author's conclusions prove significant, yet one questions the prevalence of these doctrines in other Union armies. Although some readers may wonder how these cultural ideals would gain traction among ex-Confederates who had fought to maintain slavery, Hunt's study will certainly interest general readers and students of the Civil War or memory studies. [End Page 95]