The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History

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Alan T. Gary W. Gallagher is Professor of History at the University of Virginia. NolanJubal A. Grant, Brooks D. Just about every Southern town has a Daughters or Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter that embraces the Myth of the Lost Cause with a fervor that would make their 19th-century ancestors proud GARY W. ALAN T. Gallagher and Alan T. Although the SHS mailed 6, circulars across the South, during the society gained little support outside of New Orleans, Louisiana. After several months, fewer than members had joined, and by early in only 44 members had contributed dues.

The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History - Book Review -

Despite the struggle to attain membership, in it began to publish the Southern Historical Society Papers in which the SHS defended nearly every aspect of Confederate action, addressing topics such as secession, battlefield performance, and the treatment of prisoners of war.

From until , Early was especially influential in establishing many of the arguments that have since become Lost Cause dogma. He presented a series of lectures and articles in the Southern Historical Society Papers that simultaneously defended his hero Lee from accusations that he had blundered at Gettysburg and attacked Longstreet, Lee's chief lieutenant for much of the war. In addition to lionizing Lee and dismissing Longstreet, Early argued that the war was more important in Virginia than in other theaters. In two pivotal events shaped the way the Lost Cause would evolve in the coming decades.

First, after five years of military occupation, on January 26, , the commonwealth of Virginia was readmitted to the United States of America and American troops were withdrawn from the state. Second, and most important, the death of Robert E. Lee on October 12, , ignited an outpouring of Confederate sentiment among many of the state's elite men.

After a period of depressed interest, the veterans in Virginia and other Southern states began to organize their own associations. Other camps soon organized throughout the state, including the Matthew F. Maury Camp Fredericksburg , and the A.

Gary Gallagher on the "Lost Cause"

Hill Camp Petersburg , ca. Their goals were to perpetuate the memories of their fallen comrades and to care for those who were permanently disabled in the service. In February , a committee of veterans in New Orleans called for a meeting to establish a regional Confederate veterans' association.

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The Lee Camp joined the UCV the following year; by , camps had joined; by , camps claimed membership. In keeping with the objectives of LMAs since the s, the association sought to collect relics and preserve the history of the Confederacy, instill in the minds of children "a proper veneration for the spirit and glory that animated" Confederate soldiers, and continue to direct Memorial Day services. The group would meet each year at an annual meeting that coincided with the United Confederate Veterans.

By the turn of the century, the Confederate Veteran served as the mouthpiece of the Lost Cause. Established in by Sumner Archibald Cunningham, it proved to be an early contributor to the success of the UCV, and by was an official organ of that group and its various allies, including the UDC. Aimed at a mass audience, the monthly magazine featured articles on the war, monument dedications , textbook campaigns, and obituaries of veterans and devoted extensive space to the various Confederate organizations. By the end of the s, circulation peaked at more than 20, The magazine remained a staple of the Lost Cause until it was discontinued in This view of the Civil War and the extolment of the Lost Cause did not come without protest.

Many Unionists , Northern veterans, and African Americans were bitterly opposed to glorifying the Confederacy and soft-pedaling slavery. Most famously, the former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass denounced a reconciliation that seemed to exclude those who had been most wronged. Loyal men are building homes for rebel soldiers, but where is the home for Union veterans, builded by rebel hands …? Perhaps the most widely consumed and powerful cultural product that succeeded in satiating this hunger and mending these wounds was D.

Griffith's film, The Birth of a Nation. In portraying the emancipated African American as a threat to democracy and white womanhood , The Birth of a Nation manufactured a healed and united nation by glorifying white supremacy and white supremacy's greatest champion, the Ku Klux Klan. When The Birth of a Nation was first released, it was met with an immediate and controversial reception.

Despite some success—a mass demonstration in Boston and the temporary banning of the film in a few states and cities—the sometimes overlapping messages of The Birth of a Nation and the Lost Cause were absorbed, for the most part unquestioningly, into American culture. Until the middle of the twentieth century, and even longer in Virginia, textbooks presented a picture of the Civil War and race relations that owed much to Gone with the Wind.

Only during and after the civil rights movement of the s and s did some textbooks begin to state that slavery was the war's most important cause. The Confederate battle flag was adopted as a symbol of "heritage," and, in a study of Lost Cause art, the historian Gary W. Gallagher has shown how the battle flag began to proliferate in art depicting Civil War battles only as it gained status as a retroactive political and social symbol. It was not until the latter part of the twentieth century that the national conversation began to catch up to the complications of this symbol, especially where race is concerned.

In Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War , the journalist Tony Horwitz convincingly demonstrated the various ways in which the Civil War continues to be controversial, both socially and politically. Still, the Lost Cause's project of reconciliation largely has been successful. The scholar Stephen Cushman has argued that "a country in which there are two million copies of Killer Angels in print"—referring to the Pulitzer Prize—winning novel that was later turned into the feature film Gettysburg —" … is a country that feels stable enough to entertain itself … with a story of a battle that involved over fifty thousand killed, wounded, and missing people.

Lost Cause Myth – Why the South Fought, Why the North Won

The academy, meanwhile, has mostly turned against the Lost Cause, working to deconstruct its myths and create a more inclusive history. Still, in his essay collection, Reflections on the Civil War , the historian Bruce Catton provocatively suggested that, in the end, "the legend of the lost cause has served the entire country very well.

The things that were done during the Civil War have not been forgotten, of course, but we now see them through a veil. We have elevated the entire conflict to the realm where it is no longer explosive. It is a part of American legend, a part of American history, a part, if you will, of American romance. It moves men mightily, to this day, but it does not move them in the direction of picking up their guns and going at it again. We have had national peace since the war ended, and we will always have it, and I think the way Lee and his soldiers conducted themselves in the hours of surrender has a great deal to do with it.

Worthwhile or not, the Lost Cause remains an important part of Southern and American culture. Both the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy as well as at least two Ladies' Memorial Associations in Virginia continued to remain active into the twenty-first century. Janney, C.

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How I Learned About the “Cult of the Lost Cause”

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These funds will continue to support our work of providing free access to authoritative content about Virginia's history and culture. Janney The Lost Cause is an interpretation of the American Civil War — that seeks to present the war, from the perspective of Confederates, in the best possible terms. Lee's General Orders No. Edited by H. Rives Pollard, its purpose is to foster a distinctive Southern culture. The society initially finds little support or money. By early in , only forty-four members will contribute dues.

January 26, - An act of Congress ends Reconstruction in Virginia, readmitting Virginia into the United States and restoring civilian rule. Other camps organize throughout the state, including the Matthew F. Maury Camp in Fredericksburg and the A. Hill Camp in Petersburg ca. In , it will become the official organ of the United Confederate Veterans until ceasing publication in Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, Connelly, Thomas L.

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The Marble Man: Robert E. Lee and His Image in American Society. Cox, Karen L. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, Foster, Gaines M. New York: Oxford University Press, Gallagher, Gary W. Lee and His Generals in War and Memory.

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