Book Discussion: Robert Penn Warren’s The Legacy of the Civil War

The first book I’d like to discuss is Robert Penn Warren’s The Legacy of the Civil War. Parts of it originally appeared a s a magazine article at the time of the Civil War centennial.  As such, it is as much about the centennial as it is about the Civil War, and, yes, Warren’s identity as a version of a southern white liberal has something to do with it, too.

The book is really an extended essay, only some 109 pages long, with each page not containing all that many words.  Thus we have an opportunity for what I’d call a close read.  That is, I don’t suggest people discuss the whole thing at once, because then people will be talking past each other and not focusing together on aspects of Warren’s argument with some care.  So get the book, and plan to come here next Saturday prepared to discuss pages 3-40; the following weekend will be pages 40-80, and then pages 80-conclusion.

Again, this is an experiment, but let’s see how it goes.  I don’t want to pick long books, but shorter books, and books that have had some impact.  Perhaps that will change over time, and, besides, this is supposed to be fun as well as educational.  I’ll post some ideas at the end of the week, and we can go from there and see how this works.

10 thoughts on “Book Discussion: Robert Penn Warren’s The Legacy of the Civil War

  1. Lyle Smith May 7, 2011 / 10:21 am

    I’m going to try and get the book if I can and participate, might can’t do it until the second week. I’m interested in what Robert Penn Warren has to say though. Old LSU guy.

  2. Noma May 9, 2011 / 9:08 am

    I’m definitely interested in this discussion, especially based on David Blight’s statement that “You can’t understand the Civil War without reading Robert Penn Warren”?

    After seeing a clip of his lecture at Vanderbilt
    I immediately got the book out of our college library. Naturally, no one has read it since the 1970s.

    I can’t believe what a fantastic book it is. Practically every page seems to offer a profound and indispensable insight. I especially appreciate how he critiques both popular northern and southern perspectives — without setting aside the cause of the war. To me, it’s unbelievable that a popular magazine like Life could publish such material.

    I’m only halfway through the book. I’m definitely looking forward to a guided tour.

  3. Noma May 9, 2011 / 12:40 pm

    Just one more note. Although most readers probably won’t find Warren’s Legacy of the Civil War at your local mega-bookstore, there are used copies to be found online at Abe Books for $3.50-$7.00. Considering that some of you may want to make a lot of notes, it may be better to purchase it than to get it via ILL.

  4. Greg Pfitzer November 30, 2012 / 9:22 am

    We, the members of an American Studies course at Skidmore College on “The Civil War in American Memory,” would like to have a discussion about whether Warren is advancing the “blundering generation” thesis about the Civil War in his indictments of abolitionists and fire-eaters in the first sections of The Legacy of the Civil War. Does Warren believe that the war, far from being inevitable, was precipitated unnecessarily by zealots who promoted broad, abstract principles (-isms) to the exclusion of finding practical solutions for avoiding war. If so, what are the implications of this thinking for the 1960s in which Warren wrote, especially for the anti-war movement?

    • Greg Pfitzer April 20, 2015 / 7:29 am

      WE, the students of Pfitzer’s 2015 version of the “Civil War in American Memory” course, would argue that zealots were less responsible for the activism of the 1960s during which Warren wrote than were the oppressive, omnipresent social ills or conditions that precipitated the need for some remedy.

      • Brooks D. Simpson April 20, 2015 / 11:48 am

        My take was that Warren was not above tweaking Yankees (not a lot of white southern abolitionists in 1860), much in the spirit of C. Vann Woodward, who conceded much in order to launch a counterattack on the North. These two were the Lees of the pen in the 20th century: high-skilled counterpunchers who never risked an invasion (although Woodward ended up at New Haven).

        • Greg Pfitzer April 22, 2015 / 6:33 am

          And, of course, Warren spent several decades at Yale himself. Thanks for the reply.

          • Brooks D. Simpson April 22, 2015 / 8:14 am

            There are a good number of southern academics/intellectuals who end up at northern institutions … and vice versa. Then again, John C. Calhoun attended Yale.

  5. Max Terman February 24, 2013 / 1:09 pm

    I have an ancestor who was captured at Gettysburg and sent eventually to Andersonville. He miraculously survived 17 months as a prisoner of war. I wrote a book on his experiences (see Now I am working on a sequel based on his Civil War pension files and find Penn’s The Legacy of the Civil War useful in coming up with ideas on how these men who suffered so much might view their sacrifices.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s