This week, ECW historians are offering their thoughts and reactions to recent events related to Confederate memory. Next up: Phill Greenwalt, who will be speaking on this very topic at our upcoming Emerging Civil War Symposium.
Former Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal Anderson Early wrote shortly after the war to encourage other ex-Confederate leaders to get the history of the war into print as soon as possible.
Or, as he implied, the correct version because “we all know how hard it is to eradicate early impressions.”
When Early became involved with the Southern Historical Society Papers in the decade of the 1870s, the entrenchment of the “Lost Cause” mythology really took root.
Can it be fair to say that Early won?
An average of one book per day (something like 1.1 to be more exact, according to a study done years back by the Museum of the Confederacy’s president), have been written on the Civil War since the conclusion of the war.
That is a lot of literature.
Even all that literature cannot hide these simple facts: first and most obvious, the Confederates lost the war. Yes, the Union had more guns, more manpower, more industry, but the Confederates knew that in 1861. When going into a conflict, wouldn’t you try to use every advantage you had? After all, is that not what the Confederates tried to do, in their own way, in the beginning of the conflict by relying on personal bravery, military-readiness, and superior cavalrymen?
Secondly, ex-Confederates tried and succeeded for a century and a half to obscure the reasons the eleven states seceded in the first place: to protect the institution of slavery. From arguments by Jefferson Davis as a senator in the U.S. Senate in the 1850s to what is known as the “Cornerstone” speech by Alexander Stephens on the doorsteps of the conflict, the facts speak for themselves.
Third, the Union had skilled generalship that used what was given them to finally find the ways to defeat the South. Grant knew he had to wear out Lee. Sherman knew not to frontally assault Johnston. Strangle the Confederacy and deprive it of food and supplies and, like any living organism, it must wither and die. Early Union military leaders played into the hands of the Lees, Jacksons, and Stuarts by playing to their strength, not the Union’s.
Now, as we conclude the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, the timing seems appropriate to re-evaluate the literature, the causes, and those “early impressions” and to announce:
Yes, the Confederacy lost, one hundred and fifty years ago.
Finally the symbols of the Confederacy should be placed in their own context—the historical. It should be removed from the “I am a Rebel without a cause” mantra and every other popular and misconstrued cause that has dilluted the historical importance of that symbol and of the bloodiest four-year timeframe of our American past.
Jubal was right.
For too long.
*To hear more about the formation of the “Lost Cause” myths and how the Confederates tried to explain the lost and win the public memory of the conflict, join ECW at the Second Annual ECW Symposium August 7 -9, 2015. Yours truly will be presenting a talk on this very subject.*