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Causes Lost Won & Forgotten: How Hollywood and Popular Art Shape What We Know About the Civil War

Rating: 4 out of 5

If you are interested in how the Civil War is presented in film and art then this is definitely a book you should check out. The book examines the evolution of historical memory in film and art and provides a unique way of thinking about historical concepts. Causes Won, Lost, and Forgotten: How Hollywood and Popular Art Shape What We Know About the Civil War examines the four popular traditions of interpreting the Civil War in popular culture (the Lost Cause, the Union Cause, the Emancipation Cause, and the Reconciliation Cause). Gallagher examines how each of these distinctive ideologies has been portrayed in film and art and how this has evolved over time. While each of the four ideologies are examined a large amount of time is spent examining the Lost Cause and the Union Cause. Gallagher argues that film and art have done more to shape the idea of the Lost Cause than professional historians. "More people have formed perceptions about the Civil War from watching Gone with the Wind (GWTW) than from reading all the books written by historians since Selznick’s blockbuster debuted in 1939.”[1] Gallagher stresses that out of all the films which portray the Civil War Gone with the Wind has had the most powerful influence on perceptions of the Civil War. He argues that the film is one of the reasons that the Lost Cause has been allowed to flourish in films with a shift away from this only beginning to take place in the late 1980's. When it comes to the Union Cause, Gallagher asserts that it holds a weak presence in film and art. He doesn't feel that any scene in film or art has been able to capture the devotion to the Union which animated those in the North during the Civil War. He attributes this failure to how popular culture has lost sight of the idea of nationalism as a motivating force. Instead portrayals of Union Cause focus on illustrating comradeship as the factor that bonds Union soldiers together and motivates them to fight. Gallagher argues that films not only suffer to depict this Cause but also have shifted to portraying Union soldiers in a negative ways. He attributes this to Hollywood's choice to cast the United States Army in a post-Vietnam light. While the Lost Cause has captivated Hollywood and popular opinion Gallagher believes that that the Union Cause is “Hollywood’s real lost cause. Lincoln’s vision of a democratic nation devoted to economic opportunity would seem an attractive theme, but it remains largely unexplored in the Civil War genre.”[2] Overall, Gallagher's book provides a concise overview of the history of the Civil War in film and art. Gallagher even manages to highlight how the current reality can and does impact our memory of past events. A point he most clearly illustrates through discussion of the Union Cause.


[1]Gary W. Gallagher, Causes Won, Lost, and Forgotten: How Hollywood and Popular Art Shape What We Know about the Civil War (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2008),10.

[2]Gary Gallagher, Causes Won, Lost, and Forgotten, 114.

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