Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Paul Buck and the Road to Reunion

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Historians speak often about the storied "road to reconciliation" after the Civil War. I, as you all probably know, have spent the last ten years talking about it, and I do not think that I will relenting any time soon.

The scholarly approach - at least how many understand it - is part of the foundation of the history and memory cottage industry that has been a hot topic for the last couple of decades.

The approach (most famously argued by Yale historian David Blight) boils down to a few simple lines. Reconciliation came at the expense of what was promised by Union victory. Black people - slavery and emancipation - were essentially whitewashed out of the war's memory. The Civil War was thus commemorated on southern terms. You can find out why I do not necessarily agree with this idea by doing a simple search for "reconciliation" right here on Cosmic America.

But Blight's take is only new in that is casts a negative light on effort by both by sides to reconcile. Others...earlier in the twentieth century, drew similar conclusions - although they were celebrating reconciliation in the process.

Among the first to assess the implications of reconciliation, Paul H. Buck tendered an affirming appraisal of veterans’ efforts despite the overt racism apparent at commemorative gatherings. In 1937, his The Road to Reunion, 1865-1900 lauded the “positive influences” paving the way for the “promise of ultimate peace” and applauded the breakdown of sectional animosity during the postwar years. He nevertheless admitted that reconciliation ushered in a “period where [black people] would no longer figure as the ward of the nation to be singled out for special guardianship or peculiar treatment.” Buck paid tribute to reconciliation but observed “the tremendous reversal of opinion” regarding freed people.

Just a few thoughts, I'll talk more about historiography earlier in the twentieth century later this week...then - a trip to Gettysburg for the Civil War Institute conference! Stay tuned for that one!



1 comment:

  1. Keith, good post. There has been a great deal of negative commentary about reconciliation in recent years. It is definitely true that African Americans were treated poorly in the decades after the war. Still the country had to be put together, however imperfectly. Imagine if it were otherwise. Rick Atkinson, the historian of WW2, has pointed out that the American army that won the Second World War was predominantly a Southern army. To take just two examples: George Marshall was a Virginian who went to VMI; Patton was the grandson of a Confederate colonel. People who come out against reconciliation, even a flawed reconciliation, should ask themselves what our country and even our world world look like without it.