Clayton E. Jewett, ed. The Battlefield and Beyond: Essays on the American Civil War. Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War Series. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2012. viii + 341 pp. $47.50 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8071-4355-1.
Reviewed by Ruth P. White (University of Southern Mississippi)
Published on H-War (November, 2012)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey
Broader Perspectives on Confederate Defeat and Historical Memory
The Battlefield and Beyond is a festschrift in honor of Jon L. Wakelyn, whose work has had a tremendous impact on nineteenth-century Southern history. The collection offers fourteen chapters on such issues as shifting racial relationships, Confederate leadership, the war’s aftermath, and historical memory, as well as an essay on Wakelyn’s own contributions to the field of history. Of course, many scholars have focused on these issues, but few are able to address so many factors within one body of work. Tying them all together is The Battlefield and Beyond’s editor Clayton E. Jewett, who ensured that the book remained grounded in his central argument that “the war was not simply a matter of guns, blood, and death; it involved the critical issues of race, gender, leadership, politics, and memory” (p. 8). Thus, the strength of this volume is that it provides a broad view of the factors that shaped the war by offering multiple perspectives of acclaimed scholars, many of whom worked with Wakelyn.
Most of the essays address factors that led to the Confederacy’s demise. Michael J. Connolly’s chapter shows that a combination of Northern vigilantism and official government policies were able to suppress New England Democrats who were sympathetic to the Southern Cause. As a result, the South lost a Northern champion that may have been able to promote a peaceful compromise on its behalf. Thus, Connolly shows that external factors influenced the South’s cause. Several authors join Stephanie McCurry’s Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South (2010) in directing attention to internal problems, including Leonne M. Hudson, who discusses the Confederacy’s debate over using black men as soldiers and shows that although Robert E. Lee and others believed conscripting slaves was the South’s best option for winning the war by 1865, other southerners saw the debate as “proof that the Rebel cause was on its deathbed” (p. 40). Daniel E. Sutherland demonstrates that the guerrilla war, which eluded the government’s control, ultimately weakened the Confederacy and contributed to its defeat. Offering a balanced assessment of Jefferson Davis’s strengths and weaknesses, Paul D. Escott argues that the Confederate president’s greatest failure was in not taking the steps necessary to alleviate hunger and suffering on the home front, as he did not fully appreciate poor soldiers’ determination to aid their families. Thus, despite the strengths in his leadership, Davis failed to prevent internal dissent. Jewett’s own chapter provides an analysis of Texas Senator Williamson Simpson Oldham that ultimately shows that the senator believed civil and military despotism led to the Confederacy’s demise.
A number of chapters effectively address issues of historical memory. Kenneth Nivison describes recent efforts to shape historical reflections on Gettysburg and analyzes the factors that characterized Northern and Southern veterans as virtuous warriors while purging race from the memory of the battle and the war. Nivison concludes that even now Americans “perpetuate the process of separating race and slavery from the actions of the armies that bloodied each other from 1861 to 1865” (p. 307). Directly examining the war’s legacy, Emory M. Thomas describes the problems that have plagued the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, particularly the challenge of separating the Confederacy’s legacy from the tragedy of slavery. Herman Hattaway addresses the way popular memory of the war affects current scholarship on military leaders by showing that Stephen D. Lee, commander along the Mississippi River, received little recognition for his abilities due to his active support of Davis and his lack of fame during the war. In his reassessment of Lee, however, Hattaway concludes that he was a very effective military leader.
One weakness of this volume is that it fails to include much analysis on how gender issues affected the war despite Jewett’s promise to address “race, gender, leadership, politics, and memory” (p. 8). The Battlefield and Beyond provides one essay by Bertram Wyatt-Brown that analyzes John Wilkes Booth, including his devotion to the Southern ethic of honor and notions of masculinity. The rest of the chapters, however, offer little, if any, gender analysis of the war and beyond. Ultimately, however, The Battlefield and Beyond successfully addresses a broad range of factors that shaped the American Civil War. From leadership and the Constitution to slavery and historical memory, the collection is a testament to the complex nature of the war and its aftermath. The volume joins Wakelyn’s own work in paving the way for future studies of the Confederacy. Upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses on the American Civil War, nineteenth-century America, and Southern history would certainly benefit from including this book among their assigned readings.
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Ruth P. White. Review of Jewett, Clayton E., ed., The Battlefield and Beyond: Essays on the American Civil War.
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