Reunion as History
“A rare combination: authentic history and great entertainment on the stage.”Dr. Gabor Boritt
Reunion’s Approach to Civil War History
The action of Reunion extends from the 1860 speech at New York’s Cooper Union that catapulted Abraham Lincoln to the presidency through the days following his assassination four years later.
Between those watershed events, a country that had forged itself from the British Empire barely 80 years earlier fought a catastrophic war with itself at a cost of over 600,000 lives. Large swaths of the country were laid to waste, and the economy of the south was wrecked for a generation, spawning sectional and racial tensions that still reverberate a century and a half later.
What Caused the Civil War?
Americans still don’t agree about what caused the war. Was it the moral paradox presented by slavery, the constitutional question of states’ rights, or the inviolability of the union? Reunion asserts that slavery, our fundamental paradox, made the war inevitable. England and France, from whose political and philosophical roots the United States sprang to life, had already abolished slavery. But the “Land of the Free” was still wrangling over it while even the Czar of Russia—the most autocratic ruler on earth—freed the serfs after centuries of bondage.
Whether or not slavery was the direct cause at the outset, there is little argument it became the cause for continuing the war when Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in September, 1862. We know this because voters overwhelmingly rejected George McClellan when he ran against Lincoln in 1864 promising a negotiated peace with the Confederacy that would allow the restoration of slavery in its borders. We know because we have the letters of Union soldiers who had been apathetic or opposed to abolition until they encountered the results of slavery first-hand in the South.
Historical Point of View
Creative work demands a point of view, whether it’s Gone with the Wind, Andersonville, Birth of a Nation, Cold Mountain, or Spielberg’s Lincoln. Reunion focuses on the Union, but without demonizing the Confederacy. Instead it focuses on “the war within the war” in the North, a story that gets told less frequently. It counters the myth that the North’s victory was inevitable because of its size, money and industry. We see the obstacles that stood in the way of a northern victory: poor generals, political infighting, the public’s disillusionment, race and class divides, and the virulent argument within the North over slavery and the African-American’s place in America.
To tell its story, Reunion relies on the words of the participants themselves, providing context to them through its use of music and visual images. Historical accuracy was built in from the beginning. Even the show’s leading actor, Harry Hawk, was real. This journeyman actor found himself standing on stage at Ford’s Theatre after delivering his biggest laugh line in Our American Cousin, staring up at the box where John Wilkes Booth had just shot Abraham Lincoln, and running for his life when Booth leaped down onto the stage to make his escape.
Reunion was written to be entertainment first. But it also offers a unique opportunity to reflect on the overwhelming issues over which the war was fought, and what the outcome has meant to all of us.