The Myth of the Lost Cause

Roland Adamson

Following the defeat of the Confederacy and to lift the morale of a shattered people momentum gathered to enshrine the Myth of the Lost Cause which would transform the Southern soldier living and dead, into a veritable hero.

In order to come to terms with defeat and a look of failure in the eyes of God, Southerners mentally transformed their memories of the antebellum South. It became a superior civilization of great purity which had been cruelly brought down by the materialistic Yankees.

At the head of this revival was the memory of Stonewall Jackson, closely followed by Robert E. Lee (who would rise to the prominent position following his death in 1870). Other generals of the Confederacy who had died during the war followed, as did those who would pass on later.

D.H. Hill, a friend of Longstreet published LAND WE LOVE, a magazine devoted to Literature, Military History and Agriculture. In 1869 Hill sold out to a Baltimore periodical, NEW ECLECTIC, which in the same year became the SOUTHERN MAGAZINE, official organ of the SOUTHERN HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION. In 1871 it changed its name to the SOUTHERN MAGAZINE and together with a later periodical, SOUTHERN BIVOUAC kept the memory of the War alive and fresh in the public mind. Filled with poems and stories of loyalty to the LOST CAUSE sent in by veterans. Hill was Stonewall Jackson?s brother in law and he filled the magazine with stories, anecdotes and poems of the now legendary general. Other Confederate heroes received their share of attention from a flood of material supplied by readers commemorating Southern dead and using religion to explain the defeat. Book ? writing was prolific in the ?70s & ?80s mainly from veterans but much on the romanticism of the Cause from women.

The most prominent of the writer of the period was John Esten Cooke, who was related by birth and marriage to virtually all the prominent families of Virginia he helped enshrine the Confederate dead into chivalric knights and symbols of the LOST CAUSE. Cooke?s impressive literary output polarized Southern perceptions of the War transforming the stigma of defeat into a badge of honour that Confederate veterans could wear proudly. His portrayal of the War as a wonderful adventure, in which participation was an honour.

When Lee died on 12 Oct. 1870 he was one of a significant number of Confederate heroes running second to Jackson. Lee?s prominence changed quickly though when a group of his former staff officers and subordinates set about enshrining his memory in Southern history. Lee?s admirers built up Lee by attacking Longstreet and implying that he (Lee) was Jackson?s closest friend. Once the faults and failures Lee had been criticised for during the war were shifted to Longstreet. Lee emerged as a sort of snow-white, pure hero that Southerners embracing the rationale of the LOST CAUSE had come to expect.

After Lee?s death an argument arose over possession of his remains and the glorification of his memory. The Lee Memorial Association of Lexington and the Lee Monument Association of Richmond fought publically for support. Jubal Early headed the Richmonders and Lexington was led by William Pender, Lee?s former artillery chief. By 1872 Pendleton and Early began to cooperate and over the next 20 years they carried out a carefully planned character assassination of former Lieutenant General James Longstreet. By using this tactic they focused first the South and then national interest on the Battle of Gettysburg creating the myth that it was the turning point of the War.

Early had failed as a soldier but was to prove the pen mightier than the sword. Early had fled to Canada following the surrender fearing Federal retaliation after ordering the burning of Chambersburg, PA during a raid. Returning to the USA in 1869 he headed the Lee Monument Association and in 1870 became president of the Association of the Army of Northern Virginia. 1872 he became vice-president of both the SOUTHERN HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION and the Confederate Burial and Memorial Association. SO following Lee?s death he now wielded great power and influence. Whilst Lee was alive this hadn?t been possible as Lee only knew him as a former subordinate and ignored him to a great extent as he (Lee) considered him a very mediocre soldier. Now Early was able to claim a non-existent friendship and men who during the war had little reason to rgard Early