Book Review: The Civil War and the Summer of 2020

The Civil War and the Summer of 2020. Edited by Hilary N. Green and Andrew L. Slap. New York: Fordham University Press, 2024. Paperback, 161 pp. $24.99.

Reviewed by Samuel Flowers

When historians examine memory or the monumentation of the nation’s landscape, there is sometimes an epilogue that connects racial and social issues of the 21st century with the aftermath of the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Lost Cause. Recently, Hilary N. Green of Davidson College and Andrew L. Slap of East Tennessee State University edited and wrote a book that centers around memory during the protests over the death of George Floyd.

Through a collection of sixteen essays written by a diverse coalition of historians, both academics and public historians, The Civil War and the Summer of 2020 seeks to speak to non-historians and the public about the connections between systematic racism that protesters marched against and the memory of the Civil War era that effected the nation after the war ended. Divided into three sections, “Violence,” “Resistance,” and “Memory,” Green and Slap intertwine the relevant events of the past and how they look eerily like those in the recent decade. Though all the essays create strong cases for their arguments, one from each section stands out as representative of the book’s message. 

In the first section on violence, historian Barbara A. Gannon writes that most American militias have had roots in white supremacy since the early American republic. From being used as slave patrols and maintaining white order before the Civil War, they then were funded to terrorize Black communities during and after Reconstruction in the form of the Ku Klux Klan and other White Leagues. Gannon uses this history to draw a line from them to the modern paramilitary militias that have broadened the scope of targets, arguing that “In the centuries-old history of American militias, much has changed, and some things have stayed the same.” (18)

In the second section of the book, Resistance, Jonathan Lande’s essay looks at how in the face of white violence against their communities, Black soldiers used their agency to protest the injustices done to them. By telling the story of Black men patriotically protesting for basic rights as they fought the Civil War, he argues that this is a continuation of Black Lives Matter activists resisting similar racial injustices.

The final section focuses on how the violence and resistance of the era were remembered. LeeAnna Keith’s essay on the memory of the 1873 Colfax Massacre is particularly timely as it addresses racial violence not only being honored and openly celebrated in granite, but protected aggressively in the locality up until 2021. Keith’s own journey to visit these markers and monuments was itself not without stressful situations. Her essay illustrates that the memory of the Civil War is still controversial and, even in 2024, still holds real danger to those involved in its discussions.

This book is the next step into how the memory of the Civil War is perceived, but it moves the timeline forward. Rather than examining the Lost Cause myths of the 1890s or even the 1950s and 1960s, Green and Slap show the reader that these talks over monuments, education, and persistent myths still have a grasp on us in the 21st century. This addition to memory scholarship is essential in furthering the past/present/future conversation and finding a better way to tell history and teach it to those who are not academically trained.

Some will interpret The Civil War and the Summer of 2020 as being either written “too soon” or even label it as “woke revisionism.” The connections to white supremacy in the 1800s and white supremacy in the past ten years will make some readers uncomfortable, but that is OK. History, especially the Civil War era, is wrought with terror and violence, but also hope and patriotism. Revisionism is a natural process for historians as new sources and research expands our knowledge of the past. Revising history can be a healthy way not just to change ahistorical interpretations, but also help us heal, and in Lincoln’s words “bind up the nation’s wounds.” Those who are interested in more current affairs connections to Civil War memory and the conflict’s present social and political relevance will want to read this book.


Sam Flowers received his B.A. from UNC-Charlotte and recently graduated with his M.A from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington under the guidance of Angela Zombek, PhD. His thesis looked at the significance of the Overland Campaign from the lenses of military significance, common soldier experience, and memory and memorialization. He is currently researching the Third North Carolina Infantry as its war service transitioned into perpetuating Confederate myth and memory.

11 Responses to Book Review: The Civil War and the Summer of 2020

  1. As a long time supporter of ECW, watching its drift into a more typical “academic” organization where military history becomes less the focus and “memory studies,” “reconstruction” and “gender roles” type posts become more the focus is disappointing. There is no shortage of that material out there. (Virtually every Civil War Institute at every university.) This platform was so valuable because it was public historians focusing on military history. Not academics—most of whom ignore the “war” part of “Civil War Studies”— pushing their social history and narratives. Hopefully the Annual Symposium will not turn into this too. I suspect attendance will drop significantly if it does.

    1. I could not agree more. The current trend is quickly turning me against “modern” studies of the subject.

    2. The war was more than its military aspect though and there is no denying that. How you can you fully understand history without examining the social, economic, political, gender, and religious aspects of the time?? You cannot. There are still those cites that focus solely on the military history of the war, and no one is dropping the military aspect of Civil War studies. I just got my masters and undergrad in US History with an emphasis on Civil War and reconstruction, and I was born in the 1970s. Maybe read Ernst Breisachs’ Historiography: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern, to understand how schools of history have evolved and changed over all of history. By arguing that ECW should stick to just the military aspect, you to are pushing an agenda. The majority of us want to make sure that myths of history are no longer taught, and the only way to do so is to understand the event or conflict as a whole.

  2. If this was the actual cover of the book, and the authors approved of it, I wouldn’t even open it. You know where it’s going, you know it has the scholarly balance of a drunk with a cocktail on a trampoline. Why bother? Essentially a photographic negative of Lost Cause mythology.

  3. Thanks, Sam, for this excellent review and for making me aware of a book I now intend to read. I applaud the effort of ECW to embrace these contemporary reflections on the links between past and present. It makes for a richer understanding of historical events which undeniably exist in a continuum of time and which affect us today. While my deep interest in the military aspects will likely never fade, I’ll continue to be interested in the contributions of young scholars who study the wide and ongoing implications of the ACW.

  4. Sam, does the book deal even-handedly with the lawlessness, terror, and looting committed by protesters as they rampaged through America’s cities in 2020? I’m genuinely curious if the authors look at all aspects of political violence, or if it’s another neo-Marxist attack on western civilization.

  5. Does the book distinguish between ‘most’ militias as in the Militia Act of 1792 and the current National Guard (since 1903) or the current State Defense Forces? Some (southern) state militias were used as slave patrols but to tarnish the majority of northern state militias from the first one in the Massachusetts Bay Colony is an overreach.

  6. Bravo Glen and Ted. That sums it up. And that is why I resolved never to set foot in Richmond again.

  7. Thanks for the review … you note that the book is written by “a diverse coalition of historians, both academics and public historians” … did you note any diversity of opinion?

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