The Civil War in Popular Culture: Memory and Meaning

The Civil War in Popular Culture: Memory and Meaning

The Civil War in Popular Culture: Memory and Meaning

The Civil War in Popular Culture: Memory and Meaning

Excerpt

Perhaps no other event has captured the national imagination to the extent the Civil War has. Portrayals of the war in songs, books, and movies, among other cultural and media outlets, continue to draw widespread attention. Gone with the Wind, the 1939 epic that follows Scarlett O’Hara through the tragedies and triumphs of the Civil War era, remains one of the top-grossing and most influential films of all time. More books have been written about Abraham Lincoln than any other figure in world history, with the exception of Jesus Christ. In 2012 historians constructed a tower consisting of books on Lincoln; it rose three and a half stories tall and contained fewer than half the published titles on the sixteenth president. Type “Civil War” into an Internet search engine, and nearly 24 million results are returned—nearly double the results from the nation’s three other major nineteenth-century conflicts combined. In a “meditation” published in 2002, Kent Gramm, a nationally recognized novelist with a focus on Abraham Lincoln, offers a frank but not surprising confession on behalf of all who are absorbed by the Civil War: “Presumably we are not sociopathic maniacs. Many of us—probably most of us—abhor war. Yet we love this one. And ‘love’ is not too strong of a word. We pretty much give ourselves to this war. We spend not only our leisure on it, but also all our spare change. And we think about it all the time, even when we are with someone else. You might even say that the Civil War itself is somebody’s darling: ours.”

Attention has increased all the more during the sesquicentennial celebration. Two reenactments during the spring of 2012 marked the fighting at Shiloh, Tennessee, and the commemoration at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in 2013 is expected to draw record crowds. Not all the highlighted events are connected to the battlefield. A ball held in Charleston in late 2010 celebrated the secession of South Carolina, while a series of operas commemorated the 1862 Emancipation Proclamation. As reenactors and musicians memorialize . . .

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