"THE CONFEDERATE WAR: How Popular Will, Nationalism, and Military Strategy Could Not Stave Off Defeat" by Gary W. Gallagher

"THE CONFEDERATE WAR: How Popular Will, Nationalism, and Military Strategy Could Not Stave Off Defeat"

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

A revisionist examination of the Confederate experience, as much concerned with historians and their methods as with history itself. ""Any historian who argues that the Confederate people demonstrated robust devotion to their slave-based republic, possessed feelings of national community, and sacrificed more than any other segment of white society in US history,"" frets Gallagher (American History/Penn. State Univ.), ""runs the risk of being labeled a neo-Confederate."" He's right to worry. Making precisely that argument, his history of Confederate military and civilian experience veers dangerously close to hagiography of an entire culture. Challenging the current historical consensus that lack of will, absence of national unity, and flawed military strategy doomed the Confederacy, Gallagher presents contemporary letters, diaries, and newspaper accounts that rhapsodize about the true grit of rebel soldiers and civilians. To his credit, he resists the urge to backtrack from Appomattox when explaining military failure (as he accuses other historians of doing) and instead puts the Confederate war effort in a larger historical framework--namely the successful rebellion of the American Revolution. He poses a number of intriguing questions for fellow historians, suggesting most notably that scholars ask not why an uprising viewed as ""a rich man's war but a poor man's fight"" failed, but why so many non-slaveholders fought for so long. But his parade of testimonials to the nobility of the Lost Cause, unchallenged by critical questioning, sticks in the craw. Soldiers' letters, reenlistment figures, and editorials--which all suggest high morale when taken at face value by Gallagher--could easily be viewed as propaganda. At least their bombastic language enlivens an otherwise stiffly formal academic text. A work of more interest to historians than general readers, and more important for the questions it raises than any it answers.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1997
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Harvard Univ.