Book Review: Civil War Places: Seeing the Conflict through the Eyes of Its Leading Historians


by Gary Gallagher and J. Mathew Gallman, editors

Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2019.. Pp. x, 216. Illus., notes. Index. $32.00. ISBN: 1469649535

Place and Civil War Memory

Civil War histories are often about battles and people. However, Civil War Places, comprises 25 fascinating essays concerning places and distinct memories connected to the war. The papers are all by well-known individuals who have spent their lifetimes researching the Civil War. These men and women have carefully chosen one place connected to the clash between the North and the South, and explained why they selected it. Each site was photographed by Will Gallagher, enhancing readers’ understanding of each location and supporting the narrative. Each paper offers a concise, and approachable view of what happened at each meaningful location. The contributors bring new insights and offer original observations of their personal, historical, and political relationship to each place where history happened. The essays are grouped into four parts.

“Battlefields: Places of Fighting” consists of eight essays. “The Church in the Maelstrom”, by Stephen Berry, on the chapel at the Shiloh battlefield, to help people think about the horrors of war. In “My Cave Life in Hospital”, Sarah Gardner considers the recollections in the journal of a Vicksburg lady who was restricted to hospital during the siege. J. Mathew Gallman’s, “The Triangular Field and Devil’s Den”, allows readers to realize that important locations on the Gettysburg battlefield do not necessarily look today the same as they did in 1863, and the ramifications of the terrain for the combatants. In the outstanding paper “Camp Allegheny”, A. Wilson Greene takes people on a tour of the site, asking us to consider the importance of elevation and weather to the intricacies of the Civil War combat environment. Carol Janney’s interesting essay “Bridge to the Past”, discusses the role and the importance of a photograph of the Rohrbach (“Burnside’s”) Bridge to her life and career as well as its effects on Emancipation, soldiers, and the war. The outstanding Peter Carmichael of Gettysburg College, offers one of the highlights of the book with “An Unknown Grave”, an exploration of the role of Culp’s Hill within the bigger picture of the Battle of Gettysburg and the humbling experience visitors gain from viewing the burial pit, allowing the long-dead soldiers to provide a teaching moment for visitors to gain empathy and a greater understanding of modern questions concerning the Southern cause and Confederate monuments to the political left and the right. In “Boundaries of Memory at the Sand Creek Site”, Ari Kelman discusses differences among the U.S. Government, the National Park Service, and Native Americans over how and where the massacre happened, as well as how the events should be observed. Aaron Sheehan-Dean‘s “Ceding the High Ground of Hindsight”, looks at the importance of not only the reasons behind an important Union victory but an understanding of the experiences of Southern combatants and Vicksburg residents.

The second part of the book, “Cemeteries: Places of Mourning”, consists of four essays. Joan Waugh’s “Hidden in Plain Sight: The Los Angeles National Cemetery”, uses the numerous gravesites there, including that of her great-grandfather, to discuss the meaning behind commemoration and memory. In “‘A Rightful Place’: The Graves of George and Lasalle Pickett, Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia”, Leslie Gordon considers the hows and whys of changing views of the Confederate general and his wife over time. William Blair’s fascinating, “Black Lives at Arlington Cemetery: From Slavery to Segregation”, is truly enlightening, as he reviews the history of Arlington and the reasons why certain “citizen” grave stones are located where they are. “At Nathaniel Bowditch’s Grave”, Frances Clarke takes buffs to Cambridge’s Mount Auburn Cemetery to ponder what Nathaniel Bowditch’s grave suggests about such a brief and conflicted existence as well as the way we memorialize individuals and war.

The third section of the book, “Memorials: Places of Memory”, consists of six interesting papers dealing with authors’ memories tied to their own childhood experiences and the meaning of physical places to academic students. Carol Reardon in “Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall: A Place for Quiet Reflection”, recollects how a youthful visit to this Pittsburgh memorial contributed to her interest in the Civil War and eventual chosen field. In “Sherman at the Plaza”, Stephen Cushman writes about his youthful journeys to Augustus Saint Gaudens’s statue of William Sherman at the Grand Army Plaza in Central Park and his point of view of the 19th century victory sculpture. In “Memory Past and Future: Harvard’s Memorial Hall”, Drew Gilpin Faust writes about the meaning and lessons of the past, present and future. Gary Gallagher’s “In the Thickets of History and Memory: Using Charlottesville’s Confederate Memorial Landscape”, considers one of today’s most important and controversial Civil War related issues, the question of monuments and their relevance to American History. In “The People for Whom He Saved the Union: The Lincoln Memorial”, Judith Giesberg tells a personal story dealing with the role the Lincoln Memorial had on her life and issues of why commemorative spaces are contested for many different people and groups in the past and the present. Brenda Stevenson writes in “The Emancipation Oak: Commemorating Freedom, Family, and Intellectual Pursuit”, about her memories of the regal Emancipation Oak at Virginia’s Hampton University and its significance to the African community and the global migration.

The final part, “Buildings: Enduring Places”, consists of seven outstanding papers, on perspectives and places where individuals visit and meet, to consider what happened at these important locations. “Forging the Confederacy, by Edward Ayers discusses the significance of the Tredegar Ironworks to the Confederacy and its history. In “Cedar Hill: Frederick Douglass’s Personal Museum for a Public Man”, David Blight expands on his current biography of Mr. Douglass. Elizabeth Varon in “Surrender Grounds: The McLean House at Appomattox”, goes beyond the fairytale that the surrender was a place of healing, but points out how it has served as a site for education, recreation, and commemoration. In “The Crimes of This Guilty Land Will Never Be Purged Away but with Blood: John Brown at the Charles Town Court House”, Stephen Engle reminisces about his hometown and how people can relate our history from the past to modern times. James Marten in “My Soldiers’ Home”, identifies how victorious Union veterans returned home to Milwaukee, only to be treated as people who needed a handout rather than as heroes. In “The Green-Meldrim House”, Jacqueline Jones covers the important moment on January 12,1865 when twenty-eight African American leaders from Savannah met Union General William Sherman and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to discuss economic opportunities for families during the period of Reconstruction. Finally, Catherine Clinton in her essay, “A Room of His Own”, recalls how her perspective on the Petersen House and Abraham Lincoln changed drastically from visits to Washington, during her youth through her time as a doctoral student at Princeton University.

Civil War Places is not the usual work on the Civil War, but rather a series of scholarly looks at different places and their meaning to many leading historians and the wider public. Each essay is tremendously valuable in presenting an understanding of the topics they cover, and significantly add to the literature of the Civil War. Each essay is accompanied by helpful notes. The writing is first rate and balanced, and the research and readability is excellent.

Scholars, students, and buffs will gain from reading Civil War Places.


Our Reviewer: David Marshall has been a high school American history teacher in the Miami-Dade School district for more than three decades. A life-long Civil War enthusiast, David is president of the Miami Civil War Round Table Book Club. In addition to numerous reviews in Civil War News and other publications, he has given presentations to Civil War Round Tables on Joshua Chamberlain, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the common soldier. His earlier reviews include The Petersburg Regiment in the Civil War and The Union Assaults at Vicksburg: Grant Attacks Pemberton, May 17–22, 1863.



Note: Civil War Places is also available in several e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: David Marshall   

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