Lost Causers try to minimize the centrality of slavery to the war. They will say ridiculous things like slavery had nothing to do with the war. We all know they don’t know what they’re talking about. Over the past forty years, scholarship has shown without a doubt that slavery was central to the confederate war effort, and its protection was their goal. Some historians have gone even farther and have talked about Lincoln and the Union having a goal to abolish slavery. Gary Gallagher is here to say, “Not so fast, my friend.” [apologies to Lee Corso]
Professor Gallagher stresses that while Lincoln was indeed an antislavery president, his goal throughout the war was preservation of the Union. Attacking slavery was a tool to further that end. Attacking slavery weakened the confederates and provided new recruits to the Union cause in the persons of former slaves. Not only was this Lincoln’s objective, it was the objective of the majority of the loyal populace of the United States, and it was the objective of the majority of Union soldiers.
He makes his case that throughout the war, Union was the #1 objective. Ending slavery was an objective only so far as it facilitated preserving the Union and then making that preservation permanent after the war. This is not to say that had the rebels laid down their arms in 1864 they could have kept slavery. In order to prevent a future secession, slavery had to end. That’s not a moral stance against slavery, it’s a practical stance to cement the preservation of the Union. Preservation of the Union, though, was seen as a moral act because it was seen as saving the country. Prof. Gallagher quotes Joshua “Don’t Call Me Lawrence” Chamberlain: ” ‘[T]he cause for which we fought was higher; our thought was wider,’ he affirmed before taking aim at the slaveholders’ memory of the conflict: ‘the ‘lost cause’ is not lost liberty and rights of self-government. What is lost is slavery of men and supremacy of States.’ ” [p. 158]
The book’s organization seemed disjointed to me. He starts out talking about the Grand Review at the end of the war and why the USCT weren’t involved. Then he moves to the Union as an objective, followed by a discussion of Emancipation and then the armies. I thought his organization could have been much better, making the book easier to follow.
Altogether, though, the book is a terrific addition to any student’s bookshelf. It’s a great corrective to historians who may be getting carried away with the emancipationist interpretation of the war.