The Generals’ Civil War: What Their Memoirs Can Teach Us Today

Univ. of North Carolina. Sept. 2021. 240p. ISBN 9781469666020. pap. $24.95. HIST
Cushman (English, Univ. of Virginia; Belligerent Muse) brings to bear his exceptional skill in textual analysis in this book that deconstructs, and even reconstructs, the methods and meanings of American Civil War memoirs. He closely examines the memoirs of Joseph E. Johnston, Richard Taylor, George B. McClellan, Philip H. Sheridan, William Tecumseh Sherman, and especially Ulysses S. Grant. Cushman explains that considerations of market and style figured as heavily as memory and history in these memoirs; indeed, cultivating and developing audience interest in such books was an essential part of the process of recruiting and guiding authors. Cushman puts Mark Twain at the center of all this: publisher and promoter Twain used his marketing savvy and writing skills to help Grant (among others) shape their memoirs, to good effect.
VERDICT Cushman never fully demonstrates his argument that Civil War memoirs led to the emphasis on individual actors, rather than the collective people, as the touchstones of Americans’ reflections on their “self” thereafter. Regardless, this deep analysis of the process of creating and selling the memoir’s persona and form adds new insight to the subject of the Civil War memoir. A fascinating tour de force of scholarship.
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