Cities of the Dead

Contesting the Memory of the Civil War in the South, 1865-1914

By William A. Blair

264 pp., 6 x 9, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-2427-3
    Published: January 2015
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-7623-7
    Published: January 2011

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Exploring the history of Civil War commemorations from both sides of the color line, William Blair places the development of memorial holidays, Emancipation Day celebrations, and other remembrances in the context of Reconstruction politics and race relations in the South. His grassroots examination of these civic rituals demonstrates that the politics of commemoration remained far more contentious than has been previously acknowledged.

Commemorations by ex-Confederates were intended at first to maintain a separate identity from the U.S. government, Blair argues, not as a vehicle for promoting sectional healing. The burial grounds of fallen heroes, known as Cities of the Dead, often became contested ground, especially for Confederate women who were opposed to Reconstruction. And until the turn of the century, African Americans used freedom celebrations to lobby for greater political power and tried to create a national holiday to recognize emancipation.

Blair's analysis shows that some festive occasions that we celebrate even today have a divisive and sometimes violent past as various groups with conflicting political agendas attempted to define the meaning of the Civil War.

About the Author

William Blair is associate professor of history and director of the Richards Civil War Era Center at the Pennsylvania State University. He is author of Virginia's Private War: Feeding Body and Soul in the Confederacy and editor of the journal Civil War History.
For more information about William A. Blair, visit the Author Page.


"A book worth reading, especially for those interested in questions of memory and commemoration." --American Historical Review

"Provocative. . . . A sophisticated and nuanced analysis."--Arkansas Historical Quarterly

"[An] excellent study. . . . [Blair] effectively highlights African American political struggle through the creation and use of public commemorative events."--Journal of African American History

"Cities of the Dead ranks Blair among a growing group of scholars studying memory and the Civil War. [His] genius lies in his carefully reasoned explanations, of how and why these celebrations carried political meaning in particular historical moments."--Civil War Book Review

"Commemoration in the postwar South is an intriguing topic that has been neglected until now."--Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

"Blair does an excellent job of tracing the subtleties of political discourse. . . . [Cities of the Dead: Contesting the Memory of the Civil War in the South, 1865-1914] reminds us that politics cannot be extricated from the tangle of memory, commemoration, and reunion in the post-Civil War South."--Civil War History