- Remixing the Civil War: Meditations on the Sesquicentennial
In 1961, Robert Penn Warren declared that "the Civil War is our only 'felt' history—history lived in the national imagination" (1). At the centennial, in the midst of a burgeoning civil rights movement and the reassertion of states' rights, no one could fail to feel the connection. But what about now?
Remixing the Civil War seeks to assess the place of the conflict in American culture at the sesquicentennial moment. The volume consists of seven essays as well as an introduction and afterword. "Remix" is borrowed from popular culture, where the term refers to embellishing and revising a song through diff erent sonic strategies. The remixes written about here are mainly historical, artistic, and literary, though, unfortunately, not musical. (For songs with Civil War themes, see my sesquicentennial playlist at http://blog.oup.com/2011/06/sesquicentennial-playlist/).
Two essays in the volume focus on events, as opposed to artistic and literary texts. Thomas J. Brown provides a comprehensive analysis of the controversy over the Confederate battle flag that was installed atop the South Carolina capitol dome in 1962. Calls for its removal in the 1990s led to the adoption of a heritage act that transferred the flag to the soldiers monument located in front of the state house. Brown argues that the flag was removed because the Lost Cause tradition fractured in the face of the opposition of female activists, religious groups, business leaders, and those who saw the flag not as a remnant of the Civil War, per se, but as an artifact of opposition to the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Many black legislators voted against having the flag in either location and issued calls for a celebration of emancipation. Mitch Kachun, extending his earlier work Festivals of Freedom (2003), illuminates the complications of establishing a national day that observes the end of slavery: January [End Page 294] 1 (the day Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation), February 1 (the day he signed the Thirteenth Amendment joint resolution), April 16 (Washington, D.C.), June 19 (Texas), even August 8 (the day Andrew Johnson freed his slaves in Tennessee) are all celebrated. Kachun argues for National Freedom Day on February 1 but points out that thirty-six states already list Juneteenth as an official holiday. The complexities of these commemorative issues are highlighted in the brief afterword by Kirk Savage, who points out that on his first Memorial Day in office, President Obama continued the executive tradition of sending a wreath to the Confederate Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery; but he also sent one to the African American Civil War Memorial.
The Obama-Lincoln connection permeated the election of 2008. C. Wyatt Evans explores its rhetorical contours, and Elizabeth Young probes the presence of Lincoln in twenty-first-century photography. She off ers an astute discussion of Ron English's Abraham Obama (2008), which fuses old and new visual aesthetics to reposition Lincoln "as a foundational figure in the story of black freedom that culminates in Obama" (133). Young's noteworthy essay brings attention to such exceptional works as John Huddleston's Killing Ground: Photographs of the Civil War and the Changing American Landscape (2002), in which Huddleston rephotographs the scenes of well-known Civil War images and juxtaposes the old images with the new.
Art is the subject of two additional essays. In "Reenactment and Relic," Gerard Brown shows how today's visual artists off er work that reflects upon the Civil War, oftentimes, as in the sculptures of Dario Robleto, by assembling found objects that are part of the war's reliquary. In his superb essay "African American Artists Interpret the Civil War in a Post-Soul Age," W. Fitzhugh Brundage demonstrates that "the Civil War is now as potent a catalyst for African American creativity as at any time since the war itself " (157). Brundage shows how such artists as Alice Randall, Kara Walker, Natasha Trethewey, and Kevin Willmott, among others, have sought...