Collective Memories of the Civil War


The Civil War collective memory was created by the generation who lived through the war and was passed on from generation to generation. Collective memory is more about emotional and political growth rather than accuracy with regards to historical events. Four dominant collective memories were supported after the end of the civil war: The ‘Lost Cause’, the ‘Union’, the ‘Emancipation’, and the ‘Reconciliation memories. The ‘Lost Cause’ memory “justified secession on constitutional grounds…and insisted that defeat in the face of impossible odds entailed no loss of honor” (Gallagher, A Contested Historical Landscape, 17). The ‘Lost Cause’ writers lionized confederate soldiers, including General R.E. Lee as “stalwart heroes engaged in a valiant but hopeless struggle” (22) hoping to provide future generations with a “correct narrative of the war” (17). The ‘Union’ collective memory sought to leave “Americans infused with a sense of national exceptionalism” (25).  This collective memory articulated that the sole reason for the war was reunion and that it was the greatest outcome of the war (26). The ‘Emancipation’ memory focused on the importance of ending slavery and how “the emancipation of more than four million slaves to be the conflict’s most important outcome” (29). The ‘Emancipation’ memory saw the liberation of the four million slaves as “an outcome that…preceded final restoration of the union” and that also provided for “a higher civilization” (30-31). The ‘Reconciliation’ memory sought to mute the divisive subjects of slavery and “avoided value judgments about the righteousness of either cause, and celebrated the valor and pluck of white soldiers in both Union and Confederate amries” (33). Writers of this memory often pointed towards the peaceful interactions between General Grant and General Lee at the surrender at Appomattox, “as the beginning of a healing process that reminded all Americans of their shared history and traditions” (33).…24086.29121.0.29373.….0……0i30k1j30i10k1.9o9QmpcwBYU#tbm=isch&q=lee+and+grant+shake+hands&imgrc=RDl-OiGWVbdPIM:



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s