Lucy Worsley shows how the history of the American Civil War has been retold over time, in movies, books and speeches, to promote freedom and equality but also hatred and division
In the second programme of this three-part series, Lucy Worsley debunks the myths behind one of the USA’s great historical landmarks: the American Civil War. At the Lincoln Memorial, in Washington DC, Lucy explains that Abraham Lincoln has gone down in history as the saviour of the union, and for ending slavery. He did it at the expense of the bloodiest conflict ever to take place on American soil, a civil war that pitted Lincoln’s ‘free’ North against the slave-owning Confederate states in the South. But Lucy reveals that Lincoln’s personal views, and the behaviour of his troops towards African Americans, were not as noble as they appeared. Then, in the South, after the war, she learns how history was rewritten in a bid to downplay the evils of slavery, and how a 1915 blockbuster film about the Civil War relaunched the Ku Klux Klan with terrifying results. Lucy visits the Georgia countryside of Scarlett O’Hara, but Gone with the Wind’s technicolor depiction of the old South and contented slaves was just part of a continued effort to whitewash history and romanticise a dark past. Back in Washington DC, Lucy meets a historian who explains that the next person to reconsider the Civil War’s legacy was Martin Luther King. Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he demanded that the USA honour a ‘bad cheque’ African Americans had been written when freedom was promised at the end of the war. Finally, she travels to Charlottesville, Virginia, and meets locals with differing opinions on a statue of the Confederate general Robert E Lee. The statue became a fatal flashpoint in 2017, when Confederate flags mingled with Klan costumes at a mass rally - sad proof, one historian suggests to Lucy, that the Civil War has never really ended.