Gary W. Gallagher: How the Northern view shaped the Civil War


Source: Charlotte Observer, 5-22-11

Revisionist history argues that U.S. loyalists valued the Union itself more than the idea of emancipation or turning slaves into citizens

Historian Gary W. Gallagher writes that Northerners “believed victory over the slaveholders confirmed the nation….” COURTESY OF HARVARD UNIVERSITY PRESS

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The Union War
Gary W. Gallagher
Harvard University Press, 215 pages

Americans’ obsession with the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War brings to mind the Civil War Centennial celebration a half-century ago when Bruce Catton and Allan Nevins dominated Civil War scholarship. Then, as now, the Civil War stood as our nation’s defining national drama, our version of Homer’s “Iliad.” Yet the conflict’s causes and meanings often seem confused and controversial because, as Fergus W. Bordewich explained recently, “Passions and myths die hard.”

In his revisionist “The Union War,” University of Virginia historian Gary W. Gallagher argues, “Attachment to Union, more than any other factor by far, motivated loyal citizens bent on defeating the rebellion.” Gallagher insists that most white Northerners fought for the Union because they subscribed to the interconnection of liberty and Union and disdain for secession articulated by Sen. Daniel Webster in his famous speeches of 1830 and 1850.

Gallagher seeks to correct what historian David W. Blight terms the now prevalent “emancipationist” historical memory of the war. Northern citizen-soldiers fought to preserve the Union, not to end slavery or to transform chattels into citizens. While mindful of slavery’s complex and deleterious role in fomenting disunion, Gallagher emphasizes the centrality of Northerners’ devotion to the idea of the Union of their grandparents and their parents….READ MORE

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