Friday, July 20, 2007

What is the "Lost Cause"???

Before proceeding any further with this blog I should entertain my readers with Lost Cause information. What is the Lost Cause? It is a question that can be confusing to some but I will try my best to get my readers to fully understand it. To put it simply the Lost Cause is the ultimate excuse for losing. After the Civil War ended Southerners tried to reconcile the reasoning behind a "great" society like the pre-war South losing to the Northern armies. Southern writers, mostly former Confederate generals, pushed several ideas on the historical record. Using Southern publications, newspapers and magazines the former Confederates pushed the idea of the Lost Cause on American History. These ideas have been passed down through the generations and are still issues today. Here are the main ideas of the Lost Cause:

1. The idea that Robert E. Lee and the Southern Confederacy lost because of overwhelming military force. Lost Cause writers made it seem like Union generals had no tactical skills at all but rather had more guns and more people than the South did. With this pressure, the Confederacy had no choice but to surrender to superior numbers and force.

2. The Confederate cause was the most noblest cause that ever existed. The men who fought for the cause were the greatest soldiers in history. The most notable of these men was General Robert E. Lee. Other Confederate generals would be blamed for Lee's defeats and failure to press any advantages gained against Union forces. One paper wrote that Lee is "the noblest type of manhood that this age had produced." Also, Lee was the greatest general that the Civil War ever produced.

3. The Confederacy was attempting to preserve the Revolutionary War heritage. The Southern cause, according to the Lost Cause myth, was absolute proof that even the noblest causes fail.

4. The defense of States Rights was the reasoning behind succession. Therefore, maintain slavery was not the main reasoning behind the South firing on Fort Sumter and starting the conflict.

5. Northern Generals such as William T. Sherman were portrayed as criminals who raped the South and possessed low moral standards.

6. Secession was justified constitutionally because the South was responding to aggressive Northern tactics to change their way of life.

Southern organizations like the Sons of Confederate Veterans and later writers of Civil War history continued to use Lost Cause mythology in their texts. The Lost Cause allowed Southerners to cope with the dramatic social, political, and economic changes that occurred during the post-war era.

Led by former Confederate General Jubal Early and perpetuated by other Southern leaders, the Lost Cause myth also maintained the following ideas:

1. Gettysburg was the absolute turning point of the war and Pickett's Charge exemplified Southern courage and nobility.

2. General James Longstreet failed the Southern cause when he failed to attack in the early morning hours of July 2, 1863 even though Lee ordered him to do so. These orders by Lee have been proven impossible by Civil War scholarship since the 1950's. From 1863 until his death in 1870 Lee never expressed the idea that Longstreet had failed to attack early in the morning or that Longstreet had failed the South. Longstreet didn't help himself by joining the Republican Party or by writing an interpretation of Lee that was both fair and honest. Other Confederate Generals like J.E.B. Stuart, Richard Ewell, A.P. Hill and George Pickett received blame but Lee received no criticism.

The Lost Cause can be seen throughout the history of American popular culture. Movies like Birth of a Nation, authors like Douglas Southall Freeman and post-war Southern art reinforced the idea of the Lost Cause. As I write these blogs, the influence of the Lost Cause on me is as strong as any Civil War writer. By recognizing it, and cross-referencing research, one can find the absolute truth that Early attempted to blur for all time.

Sources for this blog and for further reading I recommend the following books:

Connelly, Thomas Lawrence. The Marble Man: Robert E. Lee and His Image in American Society. New York: Knopf, 1977.

Gallagher, Gary W., and Alan T. Nolan. The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000.

Neely, Mark E., Harold Holzer, and G. S. Boritt. The Confederate Image: Prints of the Lost Cause. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't know about the 'lost cause,' but I can tell you the REAL reason for the civil war. It was slavery and only slavery. Here is the official document about why South Carolina did what it did, in the words of the traitors who did it.