Oratory and Rhetoric in the Nineteenth-Century South: A Rhetoric of Defense

By W. Stuart Towns | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
The South Looks Back: Creating the Old South and the Lost Cause

In the South, the war is what A.D. is elsewhere: they date from it. All day long you hear things "placed" as having happened since the waw; or du'in' the waw; or befo' the waw; or right aftah the waw; or 'bout two yeahs or five yeahs or ten yeahs befo' the waw or afteh the waw. It shows how intimately every individual was visited, in his own person, by that tremendous episode.1

Given the atmosphere described by Mark Twain, one may understand the conditions which made it easy for the former Confederates to create a mythology about their Lost Cause. As the years passed, and the reality became less vivid, but nonetheless, central to the experiences of the South, a large group of southerners consciously set about to glorify and honor the pre-war South, the Confederacy, and those who fought for it. As Clement Eaton describes it, for them and their descendants, the lost cause "passed into the realm of emotion and myth."2James McBride Dabbs has pointed out how the loss of the Civil War, the freeing of the slaves, the bitterness of reconstruction, and the poverty of the post-war era turned the South's mind toward the past.3

One of the means through which the Lost Cause was created, glorified, and sustained until well into the twentieth century was the various Confederate veteran organizations. The Confederate Survivors' Association established in Augusta, Georgia, the United Confederate Veterans formed in New Orleans in 1889, the Sons of Confederate Veterans in 1895, and on the feminine side, the United Daughters of the Confederacy that same year, all contributed mightily to the legend. These and similar groups were responsible for the building of hundreds of monuments to Confederate dead and heroes of the War; by 1914, over 1,000 monuments existed. Many of the

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