Prof on how 150th anniversary of Civil War will, could be remembered

March 31, 2015  


WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The 150th anniversary of the surrenders at Appomattox and Durham Station that marked the end of the Civil War are approaching, and a Purdue University historian says to truly commemorate the war, the rebuilding and reconstruction that followed in its wake needs to be a part of its remembrance.

"The armies might have put down their guns in April 1865 but that doesn't mean it was all over; they had a country to put back together," says Caroline Janney, a professor of history and the president of the Society of Civil War Historians. "Part of commemorating the meaning of the war requires us to assess both its causes and consequences."

April 9 marks the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox, and many people recognize that as the conclusion of the four-year war that took place 1861-1865.

"Reconstruction is so complicated, and it's easier to talk about battles, and winners and losers, and good guys versus bad guys, rather than the events that led to the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, the struggles of four million newly freed men and women to find their place in the nation, and of course the North and South reconciling," she says. "We don't have specific dates after the spring of 1865 that makes it easy to commemorate the reconstruction process. It's often forgotten."

Janney is an expert in Civil War memory and has written extensively about the process by which the divided nation reunited and reconciled. She is the author of "Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation" and "Burying the Dead but Not the Past: Ladies' Memorial Associations and the Lost Cause."

"Every generation understands the past, whether it be the Civil War or another event, through a different lens that is filtered through their own contemporary issues or time," she says.

For example, the war's centennial anniversary, which coincided with the Civil Rights movement in 1961-1965, was marred in controversy especially over the question of the role of slavery played in the war. In comparison, slavery has been a focus during the sesquicentennial.

"Because every generation's lens is different there is no way to tell how we will reflect on the Civil War in the years to come," Janney says.

Janney will be speaking at "Causes Won and Lost: The End of the Civil War" on April 18 in Virginia, and she is the keynote speaker on April 30 for the Tennessee Civil War Sesquicentennial Signature Event "Reconstruction Tennessee."

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Source: Caroline Janney, cjanney@purdue.edu 

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