The American Civil War is little understood in contemporary Britain. It is hardly on primary-school history syllabuses and seldom has been. It appears on some university courses, but about the only students in Britain today who study the American Civil War are those who have elected to research it independently for undergraduate or postgraduate dissertations, or doctoral theses. Among the general public, understanding is dismal. Some seem to imagine it was a conflict between cowboys and Indians, as represented in the old black-and-white films that still grace a few cheap and cheerful British cable-TV channels.

Hugh Dubrulle’s new book, Ambivalent Nation, reminds us that such obliviousness to this highly significant event in the history of Britain’s now-most important ally has not always been so. Britons watched...


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