The Civil War lives within the American imagination as a chief shaper of our cultural and social identities. The North, victors in what had become total war waged against an entire society, emerged as a giant of the new industrial world culture. The South survived as the one part of the country to have experienced conquest and defeat. To that war, and to the cultures it would transform, there is no surer guide than Edmund Wilson's "Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the Civil War."
Wilson uses the word "literature" to embrace a wide range of expression--the responses to the war of our major artists, Melville, Whitman, Hawthorne, Twain; a host of genuine if lesser artists like Lanier and Cable; diarists and songwriters; the memoirs of Union and Confederate generals and politicians, of slave-owners and abolitionists, novelists and writers of patriotic romances; the recollections of citizens whose loyalties and subversions are less easily named. Only one segment is underrepresented--the African-Americans whose enslaved condition was, after all, what the war was all about. Perhaps. Historians are still arguing the point.