Book Review: The Civil War in Popular Culture: Memory and Meaning


by Lawrence A. Kreiser, Jr., and Randal Allred, editors

Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2014. Pp. vi, 260. Notes, index.. $40.00. ISBN: 0813143071

How do We Remember the Civil War?

Editors Kreiser and Allred, who have written extensively on the Civil War and memory, have gathered more than a dozen essays by a number of scholars in several fields, that look at the ways in which public memory of the Civil War has evolved over more than 150 years, a most timely topic.

Following an introduction by the editors, the papers fall into five groups

  • “The Aftermath of Battle”, with essays addressing perceptions of physical and mental trauma, about veterans coping with the memory of killing and depictions of Confederate amputees in “history, memory, and Hollywood”.
  • “Souvenirs and Battlefield Preservation”, on reunions and on the failure of battlefield preservation to fully embrace the causes of the war
  • “The Memory of the Civil War Over Time”, on the evolution of “memory” regarding the roles of William T. Sherman and of the U.S. Navy
  • “The Civil War in Fiction and Film”, which has two papers, on Young Mr. Lincoln and Glory.
  • “The Civil War as Entertainment”, with essays on wargaming and on re-enacting.

The book concludes with a thoughtful “Afterword” by novelist and historian David Madden on “Untangling the Webs of Civil War and Reconstruction in the Popular Culture Imagination”.

A number of common threads run through many of the essays, notably the “erasures” of both slavery as the cause of the war and of the role of African-Americans and some other overlooked groups, such as PTSD sufferers.

All the essays are well written, and at times thought-provoking, though occasional comments may seem curious (e.g., should – can – a wargame be inclusive?). Likely to inflame some Neo-Confederates, this is nevertheless a good read for anyone interested in how we understand and interpret the Civil War.

Although published three years ago, The Civil War in Popular Culture is even more timely today, and an important read for anyone trying to sort through the current social and political controversy over the question of how do we memorialize the Civil War.

Note: The Civil War in Popular Culture is also available as an epub, ISBN 978-0-8131-4321-7,and an e-pdf, ISBN 978-0-8131-4322-4.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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