Past is Prologue

Clint Schemmer writes about history, heritage preservation and the American Civil War.  On Facebook: Past is Prologue  On Twitter: @prologuepast  ContactEmail Clint or call 540/374-5424.

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Hollywood, Grant, Lincoln and emancipation

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Hollywood, Gary Gallagher says, doesn’t often portray the Union army favorably.

In the film “Cold Mountain,” there’s only one scene that features Union soldiers–and it’s not pretty. That happens in movie after movie, says Gallagher, author of a recent book on the subject.

Hollywood too often relies on post-Vietnam stereotypes, frowning on U.S. military service.

In the same sort of distorted way, secessionism is an idea that won’t die. It’s regularly mentioned in recent years’ political conversation, championed by elected officials such as Rick Perry, he says.

But historical context is crucial to understanding the Civil War.

American democracy in the 1850s is a far cry from today’s political system, Gallagher says. Women didn’t have the vote, for instance.

But “the sense of hope is greater here than anywhere else” in the world, he says.

“If we don’t’ understand that, we don’t get the 2 million men who put on blue uniforms and the millions of people behind the lines who did pay income taxes,” Gallagher says.

Moving on to talk about President Lincoln, he marvels at the man.

In late 1864, Lincoln urges passage of the 13th Amendment prohibiting slavery.

In a great war, the president says, there must be agreement on the primary goal of the effort. Preserving the union of states is that goal, Lincoln says.

Emancipation is one of the tools that will help us achieve that end, Lincoln tells the country in December 1864.

“It’s a war for union that’s going to kill slavery,” Gallagher says, summarizing Lincoln’s argument for the amendment, which had passed one chamber of Congress but not the other.