American History’s Biggest Fibs episode 2: 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.
Lucy Worsley reveals the myths and manipulations behind American history. Lucy Worsley is a British historian, author, curator, and television presenter. She is Joint Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces but is best known as a presenter of BBC Television series on historical topics.
American History’s Biggest Fibs episode 2
Lucy Worsley began her career as an historic house curator at Milton Manor, near Abingdon, in the summer of 1995. before working for the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. From 1996 to 2002, she was an Inspector of Historic Buildings for English Heritage in the East Midlands region. During that time she studied the life of William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle and wrote the English Heritage guide to his home, Bolsover Castle. In 2001, she was awarded a DPhil degree from the University of Sussex for a thesis on The Architectural Patronage of William Cavendish, first Duke of Newcastle, 1593–1676. The thesis was later developed into Worsley’s book Cavalier: A Tale of Chivalry, Passion and Great Houses.
During 2002–2003, she was Major Projects and Research Manager for Glasgow Museums before becoming Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, the independent charity responsible for maintaining the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace State Apartments, the Banqueting House in Whitehall and Kew Palace in Kew Gardens. She oversaw the £12 million refurbishment of the Kensington Palace state apartments and gardens completed in 2012. In 2005, she was elected a senior research fellow at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London; she was also appointed visiting professor at Kingston University.
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war in the United States between the Union and the Confederacy. The central cause of the war was the status of slavery, especially the expansion of slavery into territories acquired as a result of the Louisiana Purchase and the Mexican–American War. On the eve of the Civil War in 1860, four million of the 32 million Americans (~13%) were enslaved black people, almost all in the South.
The practice of slavery in the United States was one of the key political issues of the 19th century. Decades of political unrest over slavery led up to the Civil War. Disunion came after Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 United States presidential election on an anti-slavery expansion platform. An initial seven southern slave states declared their secession from the country to form the Confederacy. Confederate forces seized federal forts within territory they claimed. The last-minute Crittenden Compromise tried to avert conflict but failed; both sides prepared for war.
Fighting broke out in April 1861 when the Confederate army began the Battle of Fort Sumter in South Carolina, just over a month after the first inauguration of Abraham Lincoln. The Confederacy grew to control at least a majority of territory in eleven states (out of the 34 U.S. states in February 1861), and asserted claims to two more. Both sides raised large volunteer and conscription armies. Four years of intense combat, mostly in the South, ensued.