15 October 2010

The Truth About The "Lost Cause"

A "myth" like the "Lost Cause" surely does not spread so widely and last so persistently without a basis in "fact." One is reminded of the Yankee girl's exclamation on seeing Lee passing through Pennsylvania: "I wish he was ours!" To truly understand a myth you must investigate the human purposes it serves. The "Lost Cause Myth" is international and enduring, which is why Confederate battle flags appeared all over occupied Europe during the fall of the Soviet Empire. It must serve some purposes beyond use as a rationalization by long dead Confederates for their sins and errors – even if one accepts that "the purpose of the legend was to hide the Southerners’ tragic and self-destructive mistake." A mind-reading insight which I reject since I am yet to find a single Confederate who thought he had been mistaken, as opposed to being regretful at having lost. ~ Dr. Clyde Wilson


Douglas Hill said...

Another favorite quote of mine from that Pennsylvania summer of '63, which muddles the cut-and-dried "acceptable" version of the war:

A housewife, questioning a Negro body servant who was attending his North Carolina master on the march, tested his loyalty by asking him if he was treated well, and she got a careful answer. "I live as I wish," he told her, "and if I did not, I think I couldn't better myself by stopping here. This is a beautiful country, but it doesn't come up to home in my eyes." --gleaned from the pages of Shelby Foote's "The Civil War, A Narrative" Volume II.

Jubilo said...

Dear Old Dom.,
As much as I dislike being the "fly in the ointment," the truth will out : apparently Dr. Wilson never read John Mosby.
David Corbett

Michael Bradley said...

The "Lost Cause Myth" is usually said to consist of the beliefs that the South was heavily outnumbered, that the North had greater industrial capacity, and that Southerners fought to defend their homes.

I do not know why this is styled a "myth" since all these elements are facts.

I have visited almost all the major battlefields, east and west, and I have never seen a Confederate monument which said they fought to perpetuate slavery, neither have I ever seen a U.S. monument which says they fought to end slavery.

Of course, someone is going to tell me that these monuments were erected during the "period of reconciliation." I say, the veterans surely knew what they were fighting for.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...


I would bet that Professor Wilson has read more of Mosby than you and I combined.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

In order to believe what we're being told by many about this false and "created memory" one has to believe that some of the co-conspirators came from the most unusual corners in order to build up this "Lost Cause" image of men like Lee:

“My own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on receipt of Lee’s letter, were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and so valiantly and had suffered so much for a cause.” ~ General Grant on Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia.

“I turned about, and there behind me, riding between my two lines, appeared a commanding form, superbly mounted, richly accoutered, of imposing bearing, noble countenance, with expression of deep sadness overmastered by deeper strength. It is none other than Robert E. Lee! … I sat immovable, with a certain awe and admiration.” ~ Union General Joshua Chamberlain at Appomattox.

“He was one who, though famous, was not honeycombed with ambition or tainted with cunning or cant, and though a soldier and wearing soldier’s laurels, yet never craved or sought honors except as they bloomed on deeds done for the glory of his lawfully constituted authority; in short a soldier to whom the sense of duty was a gospel and a man of the world whose only rule in life was that life should be upright and stainless. I cannot but think Providence meant, through him, to prolong the ideal of the gentleman in the world . . . It is easy to see why Lee has become the embodiment of one of the world’s ideals, that of the soldier, the Christian, and the gentleman. And from the bottom of my heart I thank Heaven . . . for the comfort of having a character like Lee’s to look at.” ~ Union General Morris Schaff referring to Lee’s surrender at which he was present.

“For not to the Southern people alone shall be limited the tribute of a tear over the dead Virginian . . . we [Northerners] have claimed him as one of ourselves; have cherished and felt proud of his military genius as belonging to us; have recounted and recorded his triumphs as our own; have extolled his virtue as reflecting upon us – for Robert Edward Lee was an American, and the great nation which gave him birth would be today unworthy of such a son if he regarded him lightly. Never had mother a nobler son. In him the military genius of America developed to a greater extent than ever before. In him all that was pure and lofty in mind and purpose found lodgment. Dignified without resumption, affable without familiarity, he united all those charms of manner which made him the idol of his friends and of his soldiers, and won for him the respect and admiration of the world.” ~Excerpt from an editorial in the New York Herald the day after Lee’s death.

“Lee is the greatest military genius in America.” ~ Union General Winfield Scott.

"[Lee was] without any exception the very greatest of all the great captains that the English-speaking peoples have brought forth." ~ Teddy Roosevelt

I suppose Grant, Chamberlain, Schaff, Northern Newspapers, Winfield Scott, and Teddy Roosevelt were all part of this conspiracy. Scores of similar quotes could be cited. Of course, Grant, Chamberlain, Schaff, Scott, and The New York Herald can all be credited with helping to START what moderns consider part of the Lost Cause myth. How ironic that Lee's former enemies wanted to help Lee and other Southerners "maintain the old order" after spending 4 years and hundreds of thousand of lives to crush it.

Someone's confused.

Ghost said...

Modern "scholarship" would have us believe that the Confederates fought not only the Federal army but also had to contend with-

*500,000 Southern Unionists (or have they upped it to a million now?)

*As many draft dodgers and deserters roaming the countryside


*3,000,000 slaves, all politically astute and scheming how they could undermine the Confederacy.

...So just who are the mythmakers?

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Ghost - many of these folks have what Robert Krick had referred to as "anti-Confederate" bias. No surprise here.

David Rhoads said...

There was, though, a real and deliberate effort by Jubal Early and other former Confederates associated with the Southern Historical Society to shift any blame for the Southern defeat away from Lee and onto others, principally Longstreet. That effort, which has muddied the waters of Civil War historiography ever since, was marked by a calculated willingness to prevaricate whenever necessary and can legitimately be described as a conspiracy.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

David: In the current climate, I think that point is more of a distraction than anything else.

Michael Bradley said...

When people today hear the word "slavery" they think of a system of forced labor. When people of the 19th Century heard the word "slavery" they thought also of a system of control.

In the North, as well as in the South, white people wished to control black people. In the North this was done by exclusion--notice that the so-called "free states" had laws excluding or strictly controlling black people. One of the criticisms leveled at the South by New England abolitionists was that in the South white people associated too freely with black people.

In the South the system of control was not separation or exclusion but slavery---assigning a status to black people which did not allow any challenge to white control.

Both North and South believed in control, the methods used to achieve that control were different.

And before someone asks about segregation let me refer them to the classic study by C. Vann Woodward, "The Strange Career of Jim Crow" which shows that segregation began in the North and was copied by the South.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...


Excellent points. What you see among many academic historians and bloggers when it comes to slavery and the WBTS is an obsession w/the South and her burden. Oh, sure, they'll acknowledge slavery and race problems in the North as well, but they do that, in many cases, to feign "balance" and hide their biases - and they do so much less often. Just pay attention to what their primary focus is and their non-stop morality play: "South bad, North (mostly) good."

It is so transparent, yet they actually believe no one notices. It's almost comical.