I always begin my classes on the Civil War with a discussion of how the war is "remembered." The fact is that there are a number of competing narratives of the war, as responses to my Civil War posts make clear.
Several years ago, I reviewed Race and Reunion by David Blight, which does a good job of tracing the origins and evolution of three narratives:
1) the "emancipationist" interpretation, arising out of the Emancipation Proclamation and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, which remembered the war as a struggle for freedom, a rebirth of the Republic that led to the liberation of blacks and their elevation to citizenship and constitutional equality;
2)the Blue-Gray reconciliationist view, which focused almost exclusively on the sacrifices of the soldiers, avoiding questions of culpability or the right and wrong of the causes;
3) the "white supremacist" view, arising in part from the Democratic Party’s counterrevolution against radical Reconstruction, and reinforced by the Lost Cause narrative, the South’s response to physical destruction and the psychological trauma of defeat.
While the white supremacist view has declined in importance, the Lost Cause narrative has become entrenched. Indeed, as I have argued, the Lost Cause narrative has dominated Civil War historiography until recently.
For those who are interested, my review of Race and Reunion is here.
My next piece will be on the various controversies about Gettysburg. These include, on the Confederate side: the decision to invade Pennsylvania in the first place; the performance of Longstreet during the battle; the effect of losing Jackson at Chancellorsville; Lee vs. Longstreet on the question of defense; and Lee’s decision on the third day to attack the Union center on Cemetery Ridge; and on the Union side: the charge leveled by Maj. Gen. Dan Sickles that Meade was forced by his corps commanders to stand and fight rather than retreat after the second day; and Meade’s failure to pursue Lee after the battle.