Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Civil War Canon: Sites of Confederate Memory in South Carolina

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Civil War Canon: Sites of Confederate Memory in South Carolina

Article excerpt

Civil War Canon: Sites of Confederate Memory in South Carolina. By Thomas J. Brown. Civil War America. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015. Pp. [xii], 362. $39.95, ISBN 978-1-4696-2095-4.)

The battle over Civil War memory had, until recently, been subject to an uneasy truce. This armistice ended in June 2015 when a gunman entered a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, and killed nine African Americans during Bible study. The alleged perpetrator's social media accounts included white supremacy rhetoric and a picture in which he held the Confederate battle flag. In an astonishing development, South Carolina's governor and legislature agreed to remove the Confederate flag from its honored place near the statehouse. As a result of this tragedy, a new phase in the battle for Civil War memory began as Confederate flags and monuments across the nation came under attack. In a well-timed study, Thomas J. Brown, a professor at the University of South Carolina, assesses Confederate memorial sites. Instead of undertaking a systematic examination of Confederate memorialization in South Carolina, Brown chooses specific places in the state's commemorative landscape, including Magnolia Cemetery, several John C. Calhoun statues, Fort Sumter, and the CSS Hunley, and assesses their evolution in the decades since the end of the Civil War.

Because he examines these landmarks across time, from the period immediately after the war until the present, it should come as no surprise that Brown "excavates the foundations of Confederate landmarks to reveal a shifting, contested collective memory" (p. 1). According to Brown, much of this contest occurred because "successive generations of South Carolinians negotiated different forms of modernity," which explains much of the difference he finds across the decades (p. 5). What is surprising is the extent to which he asserts that race is not as dominant a concern in Civil War memory as one might believe. …

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