Why the Civil War Is Still Worth Talking About

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Byliner’s list of spectacular nonfiction articles of 2012 highlights two complementary essays from the Atlantic‘s Civil War issue.

First, Yoni Appelbaum uses a hyperrealistic “cyclotron” painting of the Battle of Gettysburg as a pin to puncture the national narrative that the Union and the Confederacy were equally noble, and that veterans from both sides had only to recognize their mutual heroism to become “comrades.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates takes on the same battle and the same narrative (as well as the same Faulkner passage) from a different perspective. That contrived postwar camaraderie was a fabrication for white people only, he argues, and the inspirational “trivia contests” of Black History Month are an inadequate substitute for the currently socially unacceptable joy black people should be able to feel about the event that ended slavery.

The way the two pieces rub against each other is a good reminder, especially during Black History Month, of how the Civil War’s legacy continues to haunt the United States.


Lauren O'Neal is an MFA student at San Francisco State University. Her writing has appeared in publications like Slate, The New Inquiry, and The Hairpin. You can follow her on Twitter at @laureneoneal. More from this author →