April 7, 2008 — Gary W. Gallagher, the John L. Nau III Professor of History at the University of Virginia, will read from and discuss his latest book, "Causes Won, Lost and Forgotten: How Hollywood and Popular Art Shape What We Know About the Civil War," on April 9. His talk, free and open to the public, will be held in the U.Va. Bookstore mezzanine at 5 p.m., followed by a book signing.
More than 60,000 books have been published on the Civil War. Most Americans, though, get their ideas about the war — why it was fought, what was won, what was lost — not from books, but from movies, television and other popular media. In an engaging and accessible survey, Gallagher guides readers through the stories told in recent film and art, showing how they have both reflected and influenced the political, social and racial currents of their times.
Too often these popular portrayals overlook many of the very ideas that motivated the generation that fought the war, Gallagher said, with the most influential perspective for the Civil War generation almost entirely absent from the Civil War stories being told today.
Gallagher argues that popular understandings of the war have been shaped by four traditions that can be traced back to the 19th century: the Lost Cause, in which Confederates are seen as having waged an admirable struggle against hopeless odds; the Union Cause, which frames the war as an effort to maintain a viable republic in the face of secessionist actions; the Emancipation Cause, in which the war is viewed as a struggle to liberate 4 million slaves and eliminate a cancerous influence on American society; and the Reconciliation Cause, which represents attempts by Northern and Southern whites to extol "American" virtues and mute the role of African-Americans.
Gallagher traces an arc of cinematic interpretation from one once dominated by the Lost Cause to one now celebrating emancipation and, to a lesser degree, reconciliation. In contrast, the market for art among contemporary Civil War enthusiasts reflects an overwhelming Lost Cause bent. Neither film nor art provides sympathetic representations of the Union Cause, which, Gallagher argues, carried the most weight in the Civil War era.
This investigation into what popular entertainment teaches us and what it reflects about us will prompt readers to consider how we form opinions on current matters of debate, such as the use of the military, the freedom of dissent and the flying of the Confederate flag.
Gallagher is author or editor of numerous books, including "Lee and His Army in Confederate History" and "The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864." His latest book, "Causes Won, Lost and Forgotten: How Hollywood and Popular Art Shape What We Know About the Civil War," was published by the University of North Carolina Press this month.