By Gary W. Gallagher
Gallagher argues that popular understandings of the war have been shaped by four traditions that arose in the nineteenth century and continue to the present: the Lost Cause, in which Confederates are seen as having waged an admirable struggle against hopeless odds; the Union Cause, which frames the war as an effort to maintain a viable republic in the face of secessionist actions; the Emancipation Cause, in which the war is viewed as a struggle to liberate 4 million slaves and eliminate a cancerous influence on American society; and the Reconciliation Cause, which represents attempts by northern and southern whites to extol "American" virtues and mute the role of African Americans.
Gallagher traces an arc of cinematic interpretation from one once dominated by the Lost Cause to one now celebrating Emancipation and, to a lesser degree, Reconciliation. In contrast, the market for art among contemporary Civil War enthusiasts reflects an overwhelming Lost Cause bent. Neither film nor art provides sympathetic representations of the Union Cause, which, Gallagher argues, carried the most weight in the Civil War era.
This lively investigation into what popular entertainment teaches us and what it reflects about us will prompt readers to consider how we form opinions on current matters of debate, such as the use of the military, the freedom of dissent, and the flying of the Confederate flag.
- Chapel Hill, NC