History Teaches Us to Hope: Reflections on the Civil War and Southern History

History Teaches Us to Hope: Reflections on the Civil War and Southern History

History Teaches Us to Hope: Reflections on the Civil War and Southern History

History Teaches Us to Hope: Reflections on the Civil War and Southern History


Before his death in 1870, Robert E. Lee penned a letter to Col. Charles Marshall in which he argued that we must cast our eyes backward in times of turmoil and change, concluding that "it is history that teaches us to hope." Charles Pierce Roland, one of the nation's most distinguished and respected historians, has done exactly that, devoting his career to examining the South's tumultuous path in the years preceding and following the Civil War. History Teaches Us to Hope: Reflections on the Civil War and Southern History is an unprecedented compilation of works by the man the volume editor John David Smith calls a "dogged researcher, gifted stylist, and keen interpreter of historical questions."Throughout his career, Roland has published groundbreaking books, including The Confederacy (1960), The Improbable Era: The South since World War II (1976), and An American Iliad: The Story of the Civil War (1991). In addition, he has garnered acclaim for two biographical studies of Civil War leaders: Albert Sidney Johnston (1964), a life of the top field general in the Confederate army, and Reflections on Lee (1995), a revisionist assessment of a great but frequently misunderstood general. The first section of History Teaches Us to Hope, "The Man, The Soldier, The Historian," offers personal reflections by Roland and features his famous "GI Charlie" speech, "A Citizen Soldier Recalls World War II." Civil War--related writings appear in the following two sections, which include Roland's theories on the true causes of the war and four previously unpublished articles on Civil War leadership. The final section brings together Roland's writings on the evolution of southern history and identity, outlining his views on the persistence of a distinct southern culture and his belief in its durability. History Teaches Us to Hope is essential reading for those who desire a complete understanding of the Civil War and southern history. It offers a fascinating portrait of an extraordinary historian.


On April 23, 2006, a tour bus neared the General Albert Sidney Johnston Monument on the Shiloh Battlefield. For those aboard, a long-anticipated moment was at hand. The driver parked the bus, opened the door, and lowered the steps. It was raining and chilly, but no one thought of remaining on board. Quietly we followed the guides to the base of the monument. Then, as they moved aside, Dr. Charles P. Roland stepped onto the monument’s pediment, to stand squarely above the name “Johnston” emblazoned on the stone footing. The biographer of Albert Sidney Johnston had come to speak about the great “soldier of three republics” at the site of his death. Holding his umbrella overhead, Dr. Roland began to speak. He held no notes, speaking instead from heartfelt knowledge. He began by telling us that he had at home in Lexington, Kentucky, an old photograph of himself, at age eight or nine, sitting then where he stood now.

Then Roland spoke of his subject’s life, Johnston’s crowning moment, and his untimely death on this battlefield on April 6, 1862. Roland spoke for perhaps forty minutes. The rain never ceased. For those of us there the time was as brief as a snapshot—a moment frozen in time.

Professor Roland’s life and work are marked by superb historical scholarship, writing, and teaching. His professional skill and artistry are enriched by his participation in great historical events. The historian’s calling is framed in his engaging manner and humane liberality. He is a true doctor of letters.

As a youth he witnessed some of the last of the “old South.” He saw the Depression and the coming of war. He was in the ranks of the great generation of citizen-soldiers of World War II. In the U.S. Army, in England, France, Belgium, and Germany, he was Captain Charles Roland, 99th Infantry Division. He saw the worst of the Battle of the Bulge, and he crossed the Rhine on the captured bridge at Remagen. At war’s end he began what he calls his “odyssey” from war to academe. His journey brought . . .

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