Legacy of Disunion: The Enduring Significance of the American Civil War

By Kohl, Lawrence Frederick | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), March 2005 | Go to article overview

Legacy of Disunion: The Enduring Significance of the American Civil War


Kohl, Lawrence Frederick, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Legacy of Disunion: The Enduring Significance of the American Civil War Susan-Mary Grant and Peter J. Parish, Editors. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2003.

This collection of twelve essays on The Enduring Significance of the American Civil War has a strong British flavor to it. Most of the essays originated as papers given at a conference on that subject at the University of London in 1997, and two thirds of the contributors teach at British universities. Six years passed between this conference and the publication of the collection, years tragically marred by the illness and death of the coeditor of the volume (and contributor of two of the essays), Peter J. Parish. Parish's works on slavery and the Civil War are some of the best that have originated on his side of the Atlantic. Despite the passage of time, the essays collected in this volume, like their subject, have enduring significance. It is a wide-ranging collection that first examines the war in memory, in mythology, and in the movies. A second group of essays examines Civil War political parties and various aspects of Abraham Lincoln's continuing legacy. A final section includes essays that analyze the impact of the war on civil-military relations, the Constitution, nationalism, and America's status as a world power.

American scholar Charles Joyner contributed one of the best of the memory essays. In "Forget Hell!: The Civil War in Southern Memory," Joyner confronts the problem of loving the South without ignoring or loving the darker aspects of the region's past. It is an answer to today's neoConfederates who refuse to forget the Civil War, but who choose to "remember" only an incomplete and distorted picture of the past. This true son of the South accepts that the war was fought by men "who sought to reap what they did not sow" (22). He knows the realities of racial and class injustice, and believes that southerners cannot move into the future without confronting these aspects of their past. "Forget Hell!" he declares, "The past is within us, part of us; we forget its lessons at our peril. But we ought to learn its lessons before we refuse to forget them" (23).

Bruce Collins also offers an intriguing piece that places the current revival of interest in the Confederacy into a broader context. He demonstrates that today's appreciation of some elements of the Confederate past has been selective and piecemeal compared with "the sentimental and enthusiastic commemoration of the Confederate experiment that occurred m the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries" (46). …

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