Attack and Die: Civil War Military Tactics and the Southern Heritage / the Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History / the Cause Lost: Myths and Realities of the Confederacy / Drawn

Article excerpt

Attack and Die: Civil War Military Tactics and the Southern Heritage by Grady McWhiney and Perry D. Jamieson. University of Alabama Press (http://www.uapress.ua.edu), Box 870380, Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35487-0380, 1982, 232 pages, $15.95.

The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History edited by Gary W. Gallagher and Alan T. Nolan. Indiana University Press (http://www.indiana.edu/~iupress), 601 N. Morton Street, Bloomington, Indiana 47404, 2000, 256 pages, $29.95.

The Cause Lost: Myths and Realities of the Confederacy by William C. Davis. University Press of Kansas (http://www.kansaspress.ku.edu), 2501 West 15th Street, Lawrence, Kansas 66049, 1996, 240 pages, $24.95.

Drawn with the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War by James M. McPherson. Oxford University Press (http://www.ou-usa.org), 198 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10016, 1996, 272 pages, $27.50 (hardcover), $14.95 (softcover).

Perhaps no other subject of American history has more written about it than the US Civil War. There seems to be no end to the interpretations, reinterpretations, and re-reinterpretations. Just when an author writes the definitive biography of some general or of some battle, new information becomes available that destroys long-held convictions. Most historians strive to be accurate and to explain "what happened," but a few deliberately bend the truth for personal or political reasons. The "lost cause" myth is one example of bending the truth. These four histories, which attempt to set the record straight, are a must for any person interested in the Civil War and the lost cause.

As Alan Nolan eloquently states in his essay in The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History, there are two versions of the history of the Civil War. First, there is the truth-the account of what actually happened, when, why, and how. Then there is the Southern interpretation of the truth. The editors have assembled a superb cast of leading historians to write essays that persuasively demolish the elements of the lost-cause myth. Nolan certainly sets the tone of the book and attempts to knock the Southern apologists' collective noses out of joint. Space does not permit a recounting of each argument. Quite frankly, some are stronger than others. Suffice it to say that Nolan debunks the myths that slavery was not the issue that caused the war, that the South would have given up slavery eventually, that slaves were happy, and that Southern war leaders were without fault. Each of the book's nine chapters tackles a different aspect of the lost cause. Perhaps the most interesting are Gary Gallagher's assessment of Gen Jubal Early and his contributions to the creation of the myth; Jeffry D. Wert's examination of the vilification of James Longstreet for daring to criticize Robert E. Lee in writing; and Brooks D. Simpson's summary of historical distortions of Ulysses S. Grant in order to explain away his victory over Lee.

James McPherson's Drawn with the Sword is a collection of previously published works. On the one hand, it has no true unifying theme. On the other hand, McPherson has synthesized over a decade of scholarship into one compact volume. The author divides the 15 chapters into five parts or themes. The first section, "Origins of the Civil War," contains three chapters, "The War of Southern Aggression" perhaps being the most enlightening. McPherson outlines the steps taken by the South in general and South Carolina in particular that led to the war. Although it is still popular in the South to call the Civil War the "War of Northern Aggression," McPherson turns that phrase on its head when he quotes candidate Abraham Lincoln replying in 1860 to Southern claims that a Republican administration would lead to war: "You say you will destroy the Union and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! …