Proceedings within proceedings

Wars within a War is subtitled Controversy and Conflict over the American Civil War. Here at this blog we love historiography and the back and forth of revisionism, so it was a downer to find the title holds a typo: OVER should read IN or WITHIN.

Maybe two pieces in this anthology are in any sense remotely concerned with conflict OVER the ACW, i.e. history and schools of thought. I don't find a whiff of controversy here, either.

On the other hand, anything you want to say or write about the Civil War contains conflict. The North and South are fighting. People are competing for resources. There are all kinds of stress affecting everything. Even if you were to describe Civil War antique collecting, the story arc would show conflict:

Desire for antiques > lack of antiques > urgent search > mixed success > competition for antiques > outcome

I gave this example the Demetri Martin treatment, but the serious point is that conflict is easy. Its not a bona fide unifying theme and the pieces collected here are as topically scattered as can be. The insulting thing is a tortured introduction by Gary Gallagher selling us so hard on the idea that the pieces fall into exactly four categories and everything ties together and that we'll experience a wonderful thematic unity. We're looking at a random collection of standard, readymade speeches big shots felt like giving and Gallagher channels Richard Pryor for us: "Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?"

After being given as speeches at a conference, the pieces were reworked as essays. They express exactly those viewpoints you would expect from each author with no reference to competing views. At best, this is a chocolate sampler; if you like the coated caramels, you can buy a whole box of it in its own wrapper at the same store.

Scratch that - candy implies fun. These are the proceedings of a conference. Logs are indeed being rolled and backs scratched. This has nothing to do with us, and we'll be on our way.

p.s. We will briefly return to this title to consider McPherson's contribution.