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Across the Bloody Chasm

The Culture of Commemoration among Civil War Veterans

Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War

232 pages / 5.50 x 8.50 inches / no illustrations

ebook available

Civil War | Southern History

  Hardcover / 9780807157725 / November 2014
Long after the Civil War ended, one conflict raged on: the battle to define and shape the war’s legacy. Across the Bloody Chasm deftly examines Civil War veterans’ commemorative efforts and the concomitant—and sometimes conflicting—movement for reconciliation.
Though former soldiers from both sides of the war celebrated the history and values of the newly reunited America, a deep divide remained between people in the North and South as to how the country’s past should be remembered and the nation’s ideals honored. Union soldiers could not forget that their southern counterparts had taken up arms against them, while Confederates maintained that the principles of states’ rights and freedom from tyranny aligned with the beliefs and intentions of the founding fathers. Confederate soldiers also challenged northern claims of a moral victory, insisting that slavery had not been the cause of the war, and ferociously resisting the imposition of postwar racial policies. M. Keith Har-ris argues that although veterans remained committed to reconciliation, the sectional sensibilities that influenced the memory of the war left the North and South far from a meaningful accord.
Harris’s masterful analysis of veteran memory assesses the ideological commitments of a generation of former soldiers, weaving their stories into the larger narrative of the process of national reunification. Through regimental histories, speeches at veterans’ gatherings, monument dedications, and war narratives, Harris uncovers how veterans from both sides kept the deadliest war in American history alive in memory at a time when the nation seemed determined to move beyond conflict.

M. Keith Harris is an independent historian.

Praise for Across the Bloody Chasm

“Well written and accompanied by 84 pages of notes, a bibliography, and an index, the study . . . stands as a major contribution to a discourse still central to the polity of the US. Highly recommended.”—CHOICE

“Harris’s research has yielded a thoughtful consideration of Civil War memory as veterans sought to create it, while also providing a nuanced reconsideration of the layered meanings of reconciliation. . . . A compelling rendering of Civil War veterans and their role in creating contested postwar memories.”—Civil War History

“A thoughtful and well-researched analysis of veterans’ collective memory and their undercurrent of tension under the veneer of reconciliation.”—Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

“[An] uncommonly well written and concise book. . . . M. Keith Harris is to be commended for clarifying why the process of national reconciliation took much longer than we have previously recognized and the role that Civil War veterans played in it.”—Civil War Book Review

“M. Keith Harris’s Across the Bloody Chasm is a welcome addition to the growing body of scholarly literature on the experience of Civil War ‘veteranhood.’ . . . The book is well organized and handsomely produced. . . . [A] splendid book.”—H-Net Reviews

Across the Bloody Chasm raises many such interesting points. It is a thoroughly researched, well-argued, nuanced treatment that will quickly establish itself as an important work in what might be termed 'the persisting resentment and sectionalism' school of interpreting Civil War memory.”—Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era

“Harris makes a persuasive case that in the battle for Civil War memory neither Union nor Confederate veterans were willing to concede much to their former enemies. . . . Across the Bloody Chasm makes a worthwhile addition to growing literature on historical memory of the American Civil War by demonstrating the limits of postwar reconciliation among veterans.”—Journal of American History

“One of Harris’s chief contributions is his recovery of lost ambiguities, intentions, and memories, which fairly quickly were obscured by national self-interest and the ignorance of Americans who did not fight or who were born after the war.”—American Historical Review

“Through five tightly woven and clearly argued chapters, Harris highlights the sectional differences that derailed reconciliation. . . . Harris has produced an important work about the problematic road to reconciliation.”—North Carolina Historical Review

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