The Memory of the Civil War in American Culture

By Alice Fahs; Joan Waugh | Go to book overview

Shaping Public Memory of the Civil War

Gary W. Gallagher

Robert E. Lee, Jubal A. Early, and Douglas Southall Freeman

The former Confederate general Jubal A. Early and the historian Douglas Southall Freeman heavily influenced the way in which Americans have understood the Confederacy and the Civil War. Ardent Virginians and admirers of Robert E. Lee, Early and Freeman had much to do with creating the ironic situation in which the Rebel commander—rather than Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, or some other Union war hero—stands alongside Abraham Lincoln as one of the two most prominent figures of the conflict. Thomas L. Connelly, Alan T. Nolan, and other scholars have assessed Early's and Freeman's impact on the literature and on popular perceptions. These historians typically have functioned as rather harsh critics of the two Virginians, insisting that they exaggerated Lee's prowess and wartime reputation, overstated the importance of his operations within the Confederate war effort, and placed too much emphasis on Northern numbers as a factor in Union victory. In effect, runs a common argument, the work of Early and other Lost Cause writers, extended and strengthened by Freeman's scholarly publications in the 1930s and 1940s, self-consciously created an inaccurate version of the Confederacy's history and an explanation for its defeat that gained wide acceptance following the conflict and unfortunately has remained remarkably durable.1

These historians raise a number of important questions. Was Lee's heroic image a postwar creation? Did Early and Freeman exaggerate Lee's military influence? Did Northern human and material resources play the major role in defeating the Confederacy? And, finally, why do Early's and Freeman's principal interpretive points still have force? Any attempt to answer these questions leads to more important ones: Is it possible that arguments put forward to manage the memory of the Confederacy's war might be rooted in fact? If so, how can that be acknowledged without giving the appearance of also accepting the romance and apology characteristic of

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