Burying the Dead but Not the Past: Ladies' Memorial Associations and the Lost Cause

Burying the Dead but Not the Past: Ladies' Memorial Associations and the Lost Cause

Burying the Dead but Not the Past: Ladies' Memorial Associations and the Lost Cause

Burying the Dead but Not the Past: Ladies' Memorial Associations and the Lost Cause

Synopsis

Immediately after the Civil War, white women across the South organized to retrieve and rebury the remains of Confederate soldiers scattered throughout the region. In Virginia alone, these Ladies' Memorial Associations (LMAs) relocated and reinterred the remains of more than 72,000 soldiers, nearly 28 percent of the 260,000 Confederate soldiers who perished in the war. Challenging the notion that southern white women were peripheral to the Lost Cause movement until the 1890s, Caroline Janney restores these women's place in the historical narrative by exploring their role as the creators and purveyors of Confederate tradition between 1865 and 1915.

Although not considered "political" or "public actors," upper- and middle-class white women carried out deeply political acts by preparing elaborate burials and holding Memorial Days in a region still occupied by northern soldiers. Janney argues that in identifying themselves as mothers and daughters in mourning, LMA members crafted a sympathetic Confederate position that Republicans, northerners, and, in some cases, southern African Americans could find palatable. Long before national groups such as the Women's Christian Temperance Union and the United Daughters of the Confederacy were established, Janney shows, local LMAs were earning sympathy for lost Confederates. Janney's exploration introduces new ways in which gender played a vital role in shaping the politics, culture, and society of the late nineteenth-century South.

Excerpt

And when the bright sun of peace shall gleam refulgent
from the murky clouds of War, a band of battle scarred
veterans, a still unfainting few bearing their tattered
standards to the scenes of home, beneath peaceful skies,
shall gladly pay a life long homage at the shrine of the
patriotic ladies of the South, at their feet shall be laid
the brightest laurels and fairest fruits of peace.

—WICKHAM’S brigade to mrs. raleigh colston,
January 23, 1865

A few short miles from busy U.S. I-66, which carries throngs of politicians, bureaucrats, and visitors to the nation’s capital each day, rest the remains of more than two hundred Confederate soldiers in a small, unassuming cemetery. Located on the property of the Manassas National Battlefield Park, the Groveton Confederate Cemetery serves as a reminder of the nation’s bloodiest war. in this burial ground there is but one inconspicuous interpretive sign intended to provide at least a bit of the field’s turbulent history. the sign gets the story wrong, however, indicating that the cemetery had been established by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1866. the Daughters could not have done so: they did not organize for another thirty years. Instead, it had been members of the local Ladies’ Memorial Association, established in 1867, who had secured the land, located the bodies to be reinterred, created the cemetery, maintained it for more than forty years, and honored the Confederate dead through annual Memorial Day celebrations. Like their counterparts in communities throughout Virginia and the South, the Manassas Ladies’ Memorial Association had created a shrine to the Confederacy and had helped perpetuate the memory of their dead—only to be forgotten or mistaken for the Daughters by the time the interpretive plaque was installed by the National Park Service in the late twentieth century.

As the historical marker at Manassas indicates, historians and contem-

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