09 June 2009

Are "Lost Causers" Funding America's Civil War?

Apparently so - at least indirectly. Let me explain.

I subscribe to America's Civil War. Great publication. I look forward to the magazine each month. I recommend it. So no problem with the magazine - I just want to make that clear. But as I was thumbing through the most recent issue ((July 2009), I could not help but notice the full page color ads which, as anyone familiar with advertising rates knows, are very pricey. In this particular issue there were 9 full page color ads directly related to some aspect of the Civil War.

The first one (inside front cover) featured a history of the Battle of Vicksburg by Winston Groom, titled appropriately, Vicksburg 1863. The second one was for the Civil War Museum in Wisconsin. The third, a Bradford exchange sculptured holster featuring the artwork of Paul Strain (a favorite target of Confederate heritage bashers), which includes images of the Confederate battle flag and General Lee. The fourth was from the New York Mint hawking Lincoln wheat pennies (BTW, I have an extensive collection of Lincoln wheat pennies). The fifth was an ad for a Dale Gallon print of General Lee on Traveller. The sixth was an ad for all 16 volumes of Confederate Military History. Number 7 was from The Teaching Company advertising 24 lectures on DVD and/or CD titled, Robert E. Lee and His High Command. 8th in the lineup was "Pride of the South" another product of The Bradford Exchange. This is a ring featuring a Confederate flag display under which there is a banner which reads: 1861 C.S.A. 1865 and "Pride of the South" inscribed on the inside of the ring - a real bargain for just 3 monthly installments of $33 each. ;o) And the the last full page color about related to the WBTS is on the back inside cover and features the Cyclorama at Gettysburg.

Now, for some observations. First of all, 5 of the 9 ads were specifically Confederate oriented. Of those 5, it could be said that 3 were targeting those customers who some would consider "Lost Causers" or "Southern Heritage" types - the holster sculpture, the Gallon print, and the CSA ring. The other two were educational, but, again, CSA focused.

The remaining 4, with the exception of the Lincoln penny, were "neutral" ads - not really focused on either side of the conflict. So, why the inordinate focus on the CSA? This isn't an isolated incident; you'll see this focus often in the various CW publications. We also see it in most CW artists' focus. I'm not the first to note this as quite a few other CW bloggers have made this observation - with the requisite mocking as well.

Regarding the economics of this publication and its readership, what does this tell us? Who and what segment of the marketplace are the advertisers targeting? (Based on total advertising dollars spent.) Who do the publications' sales reps target? Who make up most of the readership of the major CW magazines? Of those readers, which ones are most likely to purchase something because of an ad they saw in the magazine? Would these companies consistently spend this kind of money if they weren't seeing results from the readership of these magazines?

We know that both casual students of the war, as well as academics, read the publication and other ones like it. A number of academics also write for ACW and similar magazines. I enjoy most of those pieces and learn quite a bit from them. However, it strikes me as rather ironic that many (not all) academics/contributors like to make fun of and impugn the segment of the marketplace being targeted by these ads - those considered "Lost-Causers, Confederate Heritage types," etc., etc. It's also becoming more common to hear and read disparaging comments about reenactors; as one Lexington academic/politician type was overheard saying during discussion over locating the Museum of the Confederacy in Lexington a couple of years ago. Regarding reenactors, this person said they didn't want anything in Lexington which would "attract any more redneck reenactor types." How inclusive. But I digress.

Though he's not featured in this issue, another of the favorite targets of the scorners is Mort Kunstler. His ads have been featured quite often in past issues. Some of the rather juvenile comments made about his artwork that I've read would really make you laugh - that is if you're 14 and enjoy watching Beavis & Butthead.

Yet it is quite obvious that this publication is (through its advertising), targeting and capitalizing on that very "segment" of the marketplace (the CW Reenactor, Southern Heritage segment, not the Beavis and Butthead segment) which are so often the target of barbs and scorns coming from some academics and CW writers. Who would the mockers say are buying the ring, the holster - even the Gallon print? We know the answer. Even James "Don't Honor The Confederate Dead" McPherson has weighed in on the subject before. (I wonder if American Heritage returned the ad money, seeing they felt so "uncomfortable" about that ad?)

Even the majority of the other full page ads in this issue of ACW focus primarily on the Confederacy. I'm sure this isn't true in every issue, but I've observed this to be the case more often than not in ACW, as well as other CW magazines.

Isn't this ironic? All this focus on the bad boys. What's up with this? A love/hate relationship? Curiosity? The Union Army is boring? A secret love that must be disguised with criticism? Secretly rooting for the underdog?

My oh my, what would the critics, the CW publications, publishers, and bloggers do if it weren't for the bad boys of the Confederacy and those who study them and also those who wish to honor their ancestors who fought for the Confederacy? What if there were no good ole boys in SCV camps, Civil War Roundtables, Reeanctor Units, no rednecks with CSA flag bumper-stickers? No one to poke and prod under the academic microscope, no one to poke fun at, no one to put down in order to elevate themselves, no one to target advertising to and a lot less fellows from which to extrapolate money. For the Confederate heritage folks to be so "irrelevant", there sure is a lot of bandwidth being used up to impugn them. Are these good ole boys helping to pay the academics who write for ACW? Shouldn't they thank them? Or, should they voice their protests about the ads?

Am I over-stating my case? Perhaps (a little). But how boring life would be without those "redneck reenactor types."


James F. Epperson said...

Gary Gallagher has written an entire book which deals with this phenomenon; "Causes Lost" or something similar, is how the title begins. I found the book to be very good.

BTW, the gentleman who portrayed Lincoln at your Winchester weekend is a member of the Ann Arbor CWRT along with me, and gave us a brief account of the weekend at our meeting last night.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

James - yes, I shook Mr. Lincoln's hand in the spirit of bipartisanship.



Michael Bradley said...

It is interesting that North & South magazine, a publication not noted for showing interest in Southern Heritage, has gone belly up and will now be published by a "not-for-profit" organization.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Hey Michael. Others have opined that the owner's management of the magazine contributed to its demise. He did publish your piece about atrocities committed by Union soldiers against Southern citizens - how would you explain that?

Who is the "not for profit" group? BTW, I had a piece that was pending publication in NS - should I assume that will not happen? Who is the contact now?

Anonymous said...

"Are these good ole boys helping to pay the academics who write for ACW?"

Well, the northern slave shippers, politicians, manufacturers and consumers profited from southern practices during the ante-bellum years, so what's the difference in this economic exploitation?

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...


Ironic, isn't it?

Johann Van De Leeuw said...

what is your unit? Wish I qualified for the SCV. Your site is the best!
For Christ and Virginia,
Johann Van De Leeuw,
Pvt., Co.A, 4th Virginia Infantry.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks Johann. My unit? If you mean reenactment unit, I am not a reenactor, though I do know quite a few.

Have you checked all possibilities for SCV membership?


Michael Bradley said...

I am pleased to have been published in N&S three times. The magazine has a good record of discussing numerous aspects of the conflict. There was no discrimination there.

The attitude I had in mind is exemplified in the a recent editorial in which the editor said the South voted against Obama because of race and implied that racial problems exist solely in the South. That is obviously a curious point of view representing a very limited perspective. It also overlooks the fact that Louisiana voted Republican but has an Indian-American governor and a VietNamese-American congressman. Apparently race was not the only factor in play in La, the South, or the nation.

I also noted that the editor said in print "I would have put on Union blue on day one of the war." That is hardly the perspective of a neutral commentor. We are the product of the times as well as the place in which we live. I cannot say with certainty what I would have done had I been alive 150 years ago because I have been shaped by forces not in place at that time.

So, I stand by my position. N&S is a good magazine, but the editor has a public point of view.

The magazine owned/sponsored an educational branch that put on tours and such. That is the not-for-profit which will publish the magzine.

I am afraid I cannot respond to your question about your article.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks Michael.

"That is obviously a curious point of view representing a very limited perspective."

And an uninformed one.

Dr. Paleo Ph.D. said...

Whoo...you remind me how much I love that magazine. I like too many, I can't get all I want. You remind me that it isn't one of the ones you begrudgingly subscribe to for a certain purpose but spit every time you read the cover (see here: http://drpaleophd.blogspot.com/2008/03/discover-review.html )

yes, I shook Mr. Lincoln's hand in the spirit of bipartisanship



Jonathan R. Allen said...

In my opinion, the answer regarding your post title of "Are "Lost Causers" Funding America's Civil War?" is yes...partially.

Because ads for Confederate items are placed in the magazine they must be profitable for the advertisers, so there are people buying the advertised items. Some of the Confederate items advertised are bought by "Lost Causers," and likewise some of the magazine's subscribers are "Lost Causers." "Lost Causers" are a niche in the entire Civil War market. I don't think the America's Civil War magazine specifically targets "Lost Causers" but if you deal with marketing Civil War history, then you are going to have every size and flavor of Civil War history patron walk into your store, read your blog, or magazine.

A few thoughts:

- I'm not entirely sure what a "Lost Causer" is. To me, I think a "Lost Causer" is someone who if it was 1861, would be a Confederate and all that involves. But, maybe some 2009 "Lost Causers" are caught up in some romantic dream about the Confederacy, without knowing all they should know. Is a "Lost Causer" always also a bigot, or can you be a "Lost Causer" and not be a bigot? There will always be bigots, until the world is perfect. Don't hold your breath, it is a work in progress.

- The Lost Cause (I guess this mostly means Confederate history items) sells, and the "Lost Causers" apparently are a profitable niche market. The Confederacy has been romanticized, and this is how it has a place in our sex, drugs, and rock and roll, phony-baloney, good-time, pop culture. The Rebel (both the Civil War kind and the James Dean/Marlon Brando/Peter Fonda motorcycle kind) is hip and cool. Being the Rebel is sexy, so ads of the Confederate nature will help sell their items.

- I'm a Yankee from Ohio living in North Carolina, all the reenactors I've met and seen at various historical events have always been Confederates. Although our discussions were not long and deep, none ever impressed me as bigots, "Lost Causers," or as rednecks. I thought they were guys who were students of the Civil War, wanted to help people learn about what life was like during the Civil War, and (maybe most important) were willing to live like a Civil War soldier for a short time in order to show people what Civil War soldier life was like. I'm more afraid of the "Lexington academic/politician type" you mention than I am of "Lost Causers."

- Despite political correctness, I think "Lost Causers" have every right to believe whatever they want. Some people believe in the tooth fairy. As soon as they start to violate others rights, then there is a problem.


Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...


Some excellent observations and commentary sir. You must be reading my mind. However, if you'll read the ACW editor's reply, they are indeed targeting "Lost Causers" (LC)- and anyone else who is profitable! That's just business. I'm using the term LC loosely here, which leads into my next comment and relates to something you wrote:

"I'm not entirely sure what a "Lost Causer" is."

And neither is anyone else. It means different things to different people. To many academics, it is code-speak for bigot, redneck, ignorant, provincial, unsophisticated, etc, etc.

Its meant as a demeaning term and a put down and has been so over-used and misapplied as to have become meaningless. Its also used to label someone so as to relegate their opinions and writings to the fringe.

To others, it is simply those you so rightly define as holding a romanticized view of the South and the WBTS.

To others, it is simply embracing what could be defined as "a poetic tribute to those who soldiers in the South who fought and lost the Civil War."

So when you hear the term, your antennae should go up and understand that, most often, it is a derogatory reference and often adds nothing to a discussion or debate.

You wrote:

"I'm more afraid of the "Lexington academic/politician type" you mention than I am of "Lost Causers."

For good reason, though their yapping bark is often much more annoying than their toothless bite.

I'll be posting a another comment about this later this evening. Stay tuned and thank you so much for your input. Please comment again.