The Myth of the Lost Cause, 1865-1900

The Myth of the Lost Cause, 1865-1900

The Myth of the Lost Cause, 1865-1900

The Myth of the Lost Cause, 1865-1900

Excerpt

In Romanticism and Nationalism in the Old South, published in 1949, I concluded that this romanticism, associated as it was with the cotton-plantation system and the institution of Negro Slavery, was the force behind the movement for Southern independence. For antebellum Southern romanticism was a complex of chivalric notions which permeated every facet of prewar Dixie culture.

Even then I was curious about the change in the nature of the myth after its dreams of nationalism had been shattered. In the final chapter of the earlier study, I noted the kinship of

this persistent cult of chivalry ... to the post-1865 history of the United States—the Cult of the Lost Cause, the romantic dream of the Confederacy and the glamorous picture of the knights who rode for its glory.

Here is an effort to explore the postwar Southern Romanticism. The Legend of the Lost Cause began as mostly a literary expression of the despair of a bitter, defeated people over a lost identity. It was a landscape dotted with figures drawn mainly out of the past: the chivalric planter; the magnolia-scented Southern belle; the good, gray Confederate veteran, once a knight of the field and saddle; and obliging old Uncle Remus. All these, while quickly enveloped in a golden haze, became very real to the people of the South, who found the symbols useful in the reconstituting of their shattered civilization. They perpetuated the ideals of the Old South and brought a sense of comfort to the New.

The Lost Cause Theme was a myth or—perhaps more precisely—a nexus of related myths. But let there be no mistake about its nature: this was a phenomenon with power. It was also a phenome-

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