Jubal A. Early, the Lost Cause, and Civil War History: A Persistent Legacy

Jubal A. Early, the Lost Cause, and Civil War History: A Persistent Legacy

Jubal A. Early, the Lost Cause, and Civil War History: A Persistent Legacy

Jubal A. Early, the Lost Cause, and Civil War History: A Persistent Legacy

Excerpt

Jubal Anderson Early understood the power of the printed word to influence perceptions of historical events. A former Confederate general who had fought under Robert E. Lee during the Civil War, he sought to create a written record celebrating the Confederacy's military resistance. Early hoped future generations would rely on this record, the essence of which can be distilled into a few sentences. Lee was a heroic soldier who led an outnumbered army of Confederate patriots against a powerful enemy. With "Stonewall" Jackson initially at his side, he faced northern generals of minimal talent who later lied in print to explain their failures. Against these men and later against Ulysses S. Grant, a clumsy butcher who understood only that vast northern resources of men and matériel must be expended freely, the Confederate commander worked his magic across a Virginia landscape that functioned as the cockpit of the war. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia set a standard of valor and accomplishment equal to anything in the military history of the western world until finally, worn out but never defeated, they laid down their weapons at Appomattox. If the youth of the white South and succeeding generations of Americans and foreign readers accepted his version of the war, believed Early, ex-Confederates would have salvaged their honor from the wreck of seemingly all-encompassing defeat.

These ideas constitute part of what has come to be called the Myth of the Lost Cause, an explanation for secession and Confederate defeat propagated in the years following the Civil War. Early's role as a leading Lost Cause warrior has been explored by several talented historians, all of whom portray him as so violently anti-northern that he eventually isolated himself from the southern white mainstream. Resolutely unreconstructed, goes the common argument, Early watched disapprovingly as proponents of the New South gained increasing power and ultimately rendered him a crabby anachronism long before his death in 1894.

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