The Civil War as Global Conflict: Transnational Meanings of the American Civil War

The Civil War as Global Conflict: Transnational Meanings of the American Civil War

The Civil War as Global Conflict: Transnational Meanings of the American Civil War

The Civil War as Global Conflict: Transnational Meanings of the American Civil War


A collection of essays highlighting the war not only as a North American conflict but as a global one.

In an attempt to counter the insular narratives of much of the sesquicentennial commemorations of the Civil War in the United States, editors David T. Gleeson and Simon Lewis present this collection of essays that examine the war as more than a North American conflict, one with transnational concerns. The book, while addressing the origins of the Civil War, places the struggle over slavery and sovereignty in the United States in the context of other conflicts in the Western hemisphere. Additionally Gleeson and Lewis offer an analysis of the impact of the war and its results overseas.

Although the Civil War was the bloodiest conflict in U.S. history and arguably its single most defining event, this work underscores the reality that the war was by no means the only conflict that ensnared the global imperial powers in the mid–nineteenth century. In some ways the Civil War was just another part of contemporary conflicts over the definitions of liberty, democracy, and nationhood.

The editors have successfully linked numerous provocative themes and convergences of time and space to make the work both coherent and cogent. Subjects include such disparate topics as Florence Nightingale, Gone with the Wind, war crimes and racial violence, and choices of allegiance made by immigrants to the United States. While we now take for granted the nation's values of freedom and democracy, we cannot understand the impact of the Civil War and the victorious "new birth of freedom" without thinking globally.

The contributors to The Civil War as Global Conflict reveal that Civil War–era attitudes toward citizenship and democracy were far from fixed or stable. Race, ethnicity, nationhood, and slavery were subjects of fierce controversy. Examining the Civil War in a global context requires us to see the conflict as a seminal event in the continuous struggles of people to achieve liberty and fulfill the potential of human freedom. The book concludes with a coda that reconnects the global with the local and provides ways for Americans to discuss the war and its legacy more productively.


David T. gleeson and simon lewis

The American Civil War is one of the most written-about events in history, and in many ways it is one that is the most thoroughly “known” already. If you go almost anywhere in the United States where there was a battle, you are almost certain to encounter someone who knows the terrain of that battlefield to within the last inch and who can tell you the precise development of the fighting to within a minute. Professional historians of the Civil War will all tell you stories of encountering phenomenally knowledgeable (and equally opinionated) audience members at public lectures they have given. in addition to having exhaustive knowledge of battles, campaigns, and strategies, we also know a very great deal about the individuals involved, particularly the political and military leaders. Prior to 2009, it was already claimed that Abraham Lincoln was the subject of more biographies than any other person in world history, and yet the bicentenary of his birth produced even more scholarly and popular analysis, notably Eric Foner’s ἀ e Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (which won the Pulitzer Prize, the Lincoln Prize, and the Bancroft Prize) and O. Vernon Burton’s ἀ e Age of Lincoln (which won the Heartland Prize). There is a similarly unquenchable interest in the foot soldiers, too, resulting, among other things, in extensive reenactment organizations. All too often in public consciousness, though, the laudable focus on soldiering leads to comparisons between the moral character and military skill of Billy Yank and Johnny Reb that can still in some circles feed into cycles of justification and recrimination. Periodic flare-ups of controversy over such perennially potent symbols as the Confederate flag illustrate just how deep sectional feeling can still run. Current antigovernment attitudes in the United States have given new life to anti-Union rhetoric all over the country as seen, for instance, in an op-ed by the veteran environmentalist and secession advocate Kirkpatrick Sale in the Charleston Post and Courier arguing that the war “was not a civil war, second that it was the Union that started it, and third that it was not started over slavery.”

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