Still Fighting the Civil War: The American South and Southern History

Article excerpt

Still Fighting the Civil War: The American South and Southern History. By David Goldfield. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2002. Pp. xiii, 354. Acknowledgments, introduction, illustrations, notes, index. $34.95.)

After the tragic events of September 11, 2001, I saw a car with two bumper stickers on it. Probably without any sense of contradiction or irony, the middle-aged white male driver proudly made his way down the street with a Confederate battle flag on one side of the back bumper and the slogan "United We Stand" on the other. For those who might wonder how such a thing could be possible, David Goldfield believes he knows the answer.

Goldfield, a history professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, says that this is not a book about how southerners remember the Civil War or even about southern distinctiveness. But the book has much to offer to anyone interested in southern history, especially southerners trying to understand why they and their region remain distinctive and what difference that distinctiveness makes. He tells a story familiar to many readers-how defeat in the Civil War chastened southerners, required them to examine their devotion to Old South values and their conviction that God had smiled on the South before the war, inspired their creation of an elaborate network of social and political understandings designed to rededicate the South to what they saw as divinely-ordered racial and gender relations, and gave rise to the possibility that one could love both the Confederate ideal and the modern United States. It is a familiar story, but Goldfield tells it so well, and he includes in it many aspects often neglected in general histories, including a perceptive narration of the prominent roles played by women on both sides of the Central High crisis in Little Rock.

Some might quibble with Goldfield's contention that the South was not distinctive prior to the Civil War, but he gives ample evidence that the war set the South apart from the rest of the country. Supporters of the Lost Cause ideal will appreciate his acknowledgment that the use of Confederate symbols and notions among southerners can be an expression of defiance in the face of oppression, especially that of heavy-handed power structures operating from afar, and that he gives their due to those who view the Confederate battle flag as a symbol of "heritage, not hate. …


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