The Good Men Who Won the War: Army of the Cumberland Veterans and Emancipation Memory
by Robert Hunt, University of Alabama Press Robert Hunt deserves praise for boldly venturing into territory where few of his fellow Cliometricians have dared to tread and forging a valuable contribution to military history, Emancipation ideology and memory studies. His The Good Men Who Won the War posits a new interpretation of a long-accepted historical truism.
Between 1880 and 1930, so orthodoxy would have it, a desire for reconciliation between aging vets trumped the Civil War’s emancipationist legacy, delaying the social equity won for African Americans on the battlefield until well into the 20th century. Examining regimental histories and memoirs of Midwesterners, Hunt argues that these men transformed their understanding of Emancipation into a heritage highlighting their role in forming an idealized Union. Cumberlanders didn’t ignore the fact that black liberation had been an explicit Union war aim, he says—rather “they incorporated emancipation and its legacy into their war by absorbing it into their search for innocence. Specifically, the liberation of others became understood as a critical objective for which an American military fights.” Hunt’s close reading of primary sources leads him to conclude that “once liberation became part of the Union cause…the destruction of the Confederacy became a humanitarian act.”
Originally published in the October 2010 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.