The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History

The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History

The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History

The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History

Synopsis

Was the Confederacy doomed from the start in its struggle against the superior might of the Union? Did its forces fight heroically against all odds for the cause of states' rights? In reality, these suggestions are an elaborate and intentional effort on the part of Southerners to rationalize the secession and the war itself. Unfortunately, skillful propagandists have been so successful in promoting this romanticized view that the Lost Cause has assumed a life of its own. Misrepresenting the war's true origins and its actual course, the myth of the Lost Cause distorts our national memory. In The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History, nine historians describe and analyze the Lost Cause, identifying ways in which it falsifies history-creating a volume that makes a significant contribution to Civil War historiography.

Excerpt

White Southerners emerged from the Civil War thoroughly beaten but largely unrepentant. Four years of brutal struggle had ravaged their military-age male population, vastly altered their physical landscape and economic infrastructure, and destroyed their slave-based social system. They grimly acknowledged the superior might of United States military forces and understood the futility of further armed resistance. Yet the majority of ex-Confederates, who had remained hopeful of establishing a new slaveholding republic until late in the conflict, did not believe they had fought for an unworthy cause. During the decades following the surrender at Appomattox, they nurtured a public memory of the Confederacy that placed their wartime sacrifice and shattering defeat in the best possible light. This interpretation addressed the nature of antebellum Southern society and the institution of slavery, the constitutionality of secession, the causes of the Civil War, the characteristics of their wartime society, and the reasons for their defeat. Widely known then and now as the Lost Cause explanation of the Confederate experience, it drew strength from the pages of participants’ memoirs, from speeches at veterans’ reunions, from ceremonies at the graves of soldiers killed while serving in Southern armies and other commemorative events, and from artwork with Confederate themes.

The architects of the Lost Cause acted from various motives. They collectively sought to justify their own actions and allow themselves and other former Confederates to find something positive in all-encompassing failure. They also wanted to provide their children and future generations of white Southerners with a “correct” narrative of the war.

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