The Confederate Republic: A Revolution against Politics

By George C. Rable | Go to book overview

EPILOGUE

T he surrender of the armies and the death of the Southern nation did not put an end to Confederate politics. The years after the war brought long and sometimes angry debates over the might have beens, a battle of memoirs, and a minute and often embittered reexamination of strategy and tactics. Political memory, however, was often narrowly selective. The arrest and imprisonment of Jefferson Davis began his slow transformation from allpurpose scapegoat to Lost Cause martyr. In the eventual apotheosis of the Confederate president, his memorialists would remember him as a man with faults and prejudices but also as a leader who had sacrificed his health and shown an unbending devotion to the cause.1 The image of the steadfast patriot dominated as fading recollections of wartime controversies made Davis seem more victim than villain.

When postwar discussions of the Confederate experience grew more sophisticated, states' rights and wartime dissension became handy explanations for Confederate defeat. Even Davis recalled telling a senator during the war that "Died of a Theory" might be the Southern nation's most suitable epitaph. Ben Hill agreed that demoralization, stimulated by malcontents, had seriously weakened the cause. Many former Confederates sadly remembered the divisiveness of leaders such as Joe Brown and Alexander Stephens. The hapless Braxton Bragg believed that too many "old, trading politicians and demagogues" had served in the Confederate government, busily "dividing spoils not yet secured." Zeb Vance repeated the common wartime assertion that all the best talent had gone into army and again expressed doubts that nonslaveholders had ever had their

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