Some Thoughts on the Status of the Lost Cause

The Lost Cause was at first a subject of scholarly inquiry. It then became one of scorn, used at times as a slur. For a serious student of the war, it is a label few desire as its mythology has gone more underground or even fringe. There is no greater boogeyman in American Civil War history than the Lost Cause.

What defines the Lost Cause is a general belief that the South did not fight the Civil War for the sake of slavery, but for broadly constitutional rights. The sacrifices of the war were valorized and memorialized. Robert E. Lee became a heroic figure, boosted by many into a military genius in the mold of Hannibal Barca. Fallen generals such as “Stonewall” Jackson, “Jeb” Stuart, Leonidas Polk, and Sidney Johnston were fixtures of veneration. It also emphasized the war in Virginia, where the Rebels won most the battles and held out while the rest of the Confederacy was overrun. There are many more aspects, such as negative appraisals of Ulysses S. Grant and James Longstreet, but those are the main ones I have observed.

The Lost Cause was never a monolith. Jefferson Davis’ role varied from being the author of defeat to a semi-Christ figure persecuted at Fort Monroe, or even a great statesmen and thinker. After the war Lost Cause adherents debated between those who embraced reconciliation and those who remained “unreconstructed.” After 1965, there was a split between those who saw it mostly as a way to celebrate Confederate military prowess and those who combined military veneration with an attack on racial equality and government overreach. No ideology, mythology, religion, or memory is wholly consistent, and I am certain Shelby Foote and James Ronald Kennedy would have disagreed on a lot of things.

There has always been a need to identify an enemy and stick them with a label. Non-conformers in the 1500s could be labeled witches and be burned. In our day, it is common to witness the insult Nazi, communist, fascist, socialist, and other labels applied with relative ease and limited knowledge of what those things are. I have heard perfectly reasonable people who could build a cabinet from scratch or recite passages from Macbeth tell me that all Democrats are communists or all Republicans are fascists. In my experience, it is a combination of “guilt by association” with a desire to insult, label, and control. After all, if accused of supporting ideologies that led to mass murder, one may spend their time defending themselves rather than press ahead with a much more interesting debate. I have certainly seen that destroy conversations. To paraphrase John Buford at Brandy Station “Out flew the labels, and most handsomely they were used.”

Being a critic of the Just Cause means accusations of being an adherent of the Lost Cause. However, it relies on a broad definition, can derail debate, and split what I perceive is an already shrinking and misunderstood interest. It also assumes that understanding the Civil War is binary. Eric Foner in Who Owns History? was a bit appalled to find Russian opinions did not conform to the accepted understanding Abraham Lincoln. I found it refreshing, much like the professor of European history who compared Lincoln not to George Washington or Franklin Roosevelt, but rather to Otto von Bismarck and the Count of Cavour. It gets out of the tired Just and Lost Cause grudge-match.

While I find the Lost Cause is a poor interpretation of the Civil War, there is value in it. A few of its major points do hold up to some scrutiny, and nearly all of them are related to military matters. Lee was at the very least a talented commander. The North’s material advantages were considerable and decisive. Confederate soldiers did earn an impressive reputation for prowess. The degree to which you may agree or disagree with those lines of argument is fine. History is an eternal argument. However, none of those statements are fever dreams induced by listening to “The Bonnie Blue Flag,” but based on tangible observations. Support for one, some, or all of them does not make one an adherent of the Lost Cause.

For all the fear and hand-wringing, the Lost Cause feels truly lost. Gone is its once respectable (but never central) place in Civil War memory. Major films no longer use its tropes. The last to do so was Gods & Generals, which is nearly twenty years old and more importantly was a financial and critical flop. Books in its tradition do not receive the boost of a large publication. In academic circles its grip, never that strong after World War II, is completely gone. Yet we know it is still there, perhaps more insidious since it is underground. It reminds one of stories of Nazis living next-door in suburban America, which formed the plot of Stephen King’s Apt Pupil. Furthermore, we know it can come back. Anyone with knowledge of the history of ideas knows that all it takes for an old idea to be reborn is an audience, an era that it speaks to, and a means to disseminate information. Currently, reactionary thinkers long considered dead, such as Robert Filmer and Joseph de Maistre, are seeing a rebirth on the Internet, if not at Yale University.

Fear of a return of the Lost Cause is real enough. You can find Lost Cause supporters online still using tired rhetoric. Yet, I do not find it an interesting line of inquiry. Pompey once told an aging Sulla “More people worship the rising than the setting sun.” The Just Cause is not simply rising. It is above us and illuminates everything. It is the water we swim in and the air we breathe. It therefore interests me much more than a mythology that’s very symbols are even falling in some small Southern towns. The very name “Dixie” is being removed from the name of New Orleans’ oldest beer and has already been removed from the group Dixie Chicks (now called The Chicks). Engaging with the Lost Cause in its contemporary form feels less like a debate and more like an autopsy.

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28 Responses to Some Thoughts on the Status of the Lost Cause

  1. Raymond Burns says:

    That’ll preach Brother Chick.

  2. Pingback: Thoughts on the Lost Cause. – Halfway Home: halfway between Crozet and Hampden-Sidney

  3. Rod O’Barr says:

    The only Lost Cause “Myth” I can identify is that which is the product of two generations of academics influenced more by political agenda and ideology than historical evidence. The more I peruse primary sources the more I am convinced that what is dismissed by modern academia using the pejorative of “myth” is actually just the opposite. This indicates to me just how deep into the academic DNA has a fashionable narrative penetrated that has more to do with modern politics than real history. When I examine primary sources, I find evidence that justifies the post war Lost Cause memory. Concerns about tariffs, internal spending, bounties, national banks, centralization, and yes slavery as the most immediate issue, abound in antebellum primary sources but are all symptomatic concerns of a far more principled and essential major Southern concern regarding Northern infidelity to the Constitution. But that doesn’t fit a popular narrative carefully molded by Marxist style analysis, and carefully guarded by the strong arm tactics of political correctness. A narrative which concludes secession and war must be all about slavery and victimization. The late Dr. Ludwell Johnson, Professor of History Emeritus, College of William and Mary warned: “Various theoretical ‘isms’ arriving from Europe in the 1960’s still endanger the very existence of what has so long been thought of as history… Of all fields of scholarship, history is perhaps most attractive and vulnerable to Political Correctness. It decrees that some things should be accepted without question – otherwise the elaborate machinery of academic control and social hostility will exact their full measure of retribution on the dissenter… Readers with special interest in the period of the Civil War need to be particularly alert because the South and Southerners offer many tempting Targets to the holier-than-thou.”

    This article is more evidence that Dr. Johnson’s warning was indeed justified. I suppose if a false narrative such as the “Lost Cause Myth” is repeated often enough it does indeed become a part of the academic DNA.

  4. Meg Groeling says:

    If the sharing of history can be compared to telling a great story, then a literary interpretation insists that there be both pro-and-antogonists. In my own work I quickly realized that there is no climax to Colonel Elmer Ellsworth’s story without James Jackson. He fired the first shot. Without Jackson Ellsworth is not a martyr, only an overzealous flag thief. When much of the shouting this time around is over, there will still have been a Southern Confederacy, a Robert E. Lee. My hope is that history is the winner then.

  5. Earl Pittman says:

    My God! Is this still the US or like Rip Van Winkle have I awakened in a dream society where more than one view is permitted?

    • Meg Groeling says:

      Despite arguments to the contrary, ECW has always attempted to be a fair and ordered site that presents fair and ordered–if sometimes opposing–views. Some of you readers would be amazed at the discussions that go on, and we have always chosen on the side of history rather than politics or popularity. I am proud to write for this blog.

  6. Dan C says:

    Thanks for your incite Mr. Chick. While I may not agree with all of your installment here, I certainly can respect the position you have presented. I’ll be keeping my Shelby Foote books and welcome yours in my library as well.

  7. Matt McKeon says:

    If you strip the verbiage and euphemisms from the Lost Cause narrative, you come down to:

    Slavery was mild, and appropriate for black people

    Black people are not capable of being American citizens, which was why Reconstruction failed.

    States’ Rights are very important, because the Federal government might have started interfering with slavery, and during Reconstruction, with white supremacy.

    Its not the fault of the Confederate soldier, or more importantly, the Confederate general and the Confederate politician, that they lost the war. It was overwhelming Northern resources and numbers. Which apparently no one could count, before secession. So the Confederate general and the Confederate politician are not at fault for leading their people over a cliff, for screwing up, and for getting defeated.

    • A question of tense here: in 1860, it’s a matter of sad fact that most African Americans were not yet ready to be fulfill the primary expectations of the North for them, i.e., to vote, and to vote Republican. This was a time very little removed from the precept that property ownership was a prerequisite for voting at all (even if property owners, no ladies anywhere could vote, either, so the emphasis on African-American males comfortably ignores that point). Rather than a full-blown discussion of this issue, I will settle for pointing out that white supremacy was a given in the North, with its <1.2% African American population, and States' Rights are still very important and as controversial as they were then, albeit re other subjects. Oh, and until the 1950s, 90+% of African Americans continued to live in the South although no Southern laws or political policies made that a requirement.

    • “Its not the fault of the Confederate soldier, or more importantly, the Confederate general and the Confederate politician, that they lost the war. It was overwhelming Northern resources and numbers. Which apparently no one could count, before secession. So the Confederate general and the Confederate politician are not at fault for leading their people over a cliff, for screwing up, and for getting defeated.”

      While true of the Southern soldier, in reading Confederate Veteran and Southern Bivouac there is a lot of “we could have won if not for the decision of…”

      Davis, Longstreet, Beauregard, and Bragg are often accused of “losing” the war although each had their defenders, particularly Davis and Beauregard.

      Also, some Union generals and officers are praised for their skill. One in particular I have found in my Shiloh research is Buell.

      • Matt McKeon says:

        As long as it isn’t Grant. Longstreet takes his lumps: after all he joined the Reconstruction government.

        The endless “if only” and “what ifs” of Confederate fan fiction.

        I remember Gary Gallagher once exclaiming: “Grant had five million men in the Overland Campaign. While Lee only had eleven. And only six of them had shoes!”

    • “I remember Gary Gallagher once exclaiming: “Grant had five million men in the Overland Campaign. While Lee only had eleven. And only six of them had shoes!””

      hahaha

      To be fair, Lee was outnumbered the entire time, which in that era of warfare (1685-1866) is rare considering his success rate.

      Yet, the nearly endless derision of Grant’s abilities in old Lost Cause narratives does get tiresome as I read through them for Maps of Shiloh. I start to wonder, can anyone look Grant without making him either a lucky buffoon or the second coming of Napoleon?

  8. William says:

    Thank God the Lost Cause lost
    The politics and economics of Southern states revolved around slavery
    The North despite a vocal minority of abolitionists had always been willing to compromise. Even the electoral college was an arcane compromise that allowed slaVe states to count a fraction of their slaves to determine representation. New states to the Union threatened to weaken slavery if they were free states. Some Southern leaders advocated conquering Cuba, Mexico, and other Latin American countries to add more slave states. The Southern decision to fire on Fort Sumner led to a civil war and the end of slavery. At first Lincoln would have compromised on slavery to preserve the Union but came to believe that to preserve the Union slavery must end. During the war opinion shifted and many more people believed slavery must end.
    http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/greeley.htm

    • I am fairly certain Wyoming, Montana, etc., would not agree with your assessment of the Electoral College. But the more important point is that slave labor competed with wage labor, end of story. Concern for the actual African American him/herself consisted of a big investment in colonization as field hands (or miners) in the Carribean and Central America. When I see discussions invested in the sanctity of the North’s opposition to slavery, I am moved to remind people that it had very little, if anything, to do with morality and everything to do with economics. And it’s useful to realize that even Brazil, a total slave state, implemented a graduated emancipation policy in 1871 and eventually just freed anybody left in 1888, due to pressures from European immigrants. The Confederacy was discussing recognition from foreign trade partners Britain, France, and others, on that basis during the War, a little known and long-hidden fact. Their goal was to be free, not to preserve slavery – they were opposed to abrupt uncompensated abolition because it meant bankruptcy for the South, a fact that did not escape the attention of the Union. Since the Northern States that had eliminated slavery as unprofitable used gradual emancipation over 25 years, there was strong precedence for this approach. It would also be useful if you became more familiar with the controversy over tariff policies and their effect on the South. The South was not fighting to preserve slavery; they were fighting to relieve themselves of the burden of the North. Calm, unemotional facts. Sumter was one fort, in one town, in one State in the entire South. Even if you don’t understand the actual circumstances of that incident, starting a War that killed, with collateral damage about 1 million people, was hardly retaliation in kind. International laws are an important part of the Civil War that very few people have any familiarity with at all.

  9. nygiant1952 says:

    Anyway you look at it, the Lost Cause was a false narrative, and fake History.

  10. Curt Thomasco says:

    An excellent post. I had to reread the post several times and a few of the comments because they were very cultivated. I agree wholeheartedly with what you wrote. I cannot write to nearly the level that you posses so my observations are more in laymen’s terms.

    I personally engaged last with the Civil War in the late 80’s early 90’s. I received a BA in history and was pursuing a masters in the Civil War and Reconstruction until life took me in a different direction. At the urging of friends I “rediscovered” my interest in the Civil War about 6 years ago and have been stunned at the transformation in the landscape of Civil War historiography.

    At the time I last studied the Civil War I was a much more naive young lad and my interest was (and still primarily is) in the military nature of the conflict. There were faint rumblings in academia in the early 90s of taking the study of the Civil War in the direction of class conflict, social and political causes of the war but you could still pursue a Master’s Thesis on purely military matters such as re-examining Jackson’s flanking movement at Chancellorsville. The furthest anyone strayed into socio-economic Civil War studies was writing a graduate level paper on the affect of the war on their home county, however the rumblings were there.

    I re-joined a Civil War Round table in 2014 and eased into a familiar environment centered around Round table meetings focusing on military matters, biographical topics of leaders, etc., Granted I was and am still considered the “kid” in our Round table at 50.

    In the course of re-discovering my interest I began haunting my familiar domain of military matters and began amassing my military themed books including Mr. Chick’s excellent 2nd Battle of Petersburg study and his fourthcoming (?) ECW book on the Bermuda Hundred Campaign (digression – it seems like I placed the pre-order 2 years ago)

    However in my never ending thirst for anything related to the Civil War I began noticing an ever expanding series of socio-political documentaries and books on Antebellum American, Slavery and Reconstruction. These were eye opening insights into areas I had not previously traveled. In a clumsy fashion and embarassing manner I became aware of the Lost Cause for the first time. It was at this point I began to come to grips with the fact that I had never been taught or fully appreciated another whole dimension to the Civil War. That this study of the military aspects of the conflict left out an entire study of the subtext of the war including Secession, Slavery, the economic and political dimension of slavery. It was fascinating to seriously study these topics for the first time.

    It is hard for some to believe but in the late 80s early 90s when discussing aspects of the Civil War with other buffs the social and political aspects of the war along with its causes were never discussed. Freeman’s Lee’s Lieutenants was still the go to book for anyone looking to understand Lee and the topic of discussion. Furthermore I don’t think any buffs in that time period really considered themselves aligned with one particular side or the other. It was simply a friendly fellowship of like minded amateur Civil War afficianados with a genuine interest in the Civil War.

    My renewed interest in the Civil War began growing right around the time of the Charleston church murders in 2015. But I remained blissfully unaware of a seismic sea change occuring in Civil War study….then came Charlottesville.

    I did not understand and was frustrated, angry all at the same time as to why this attack seemed to be taking place on this period of history I enjoyed so thoroughly studying. Slowly I began to marry what I had been processing and reading in the newer scholarship on the socio-political focused books on Slavery, Antebellum Slavery by the likes of Eric Foner, David Blight, Peter Wood, Henry Louis Gates, etc., and began to realize I was part of a bridge generation between the Centennial generation and the current millenials/Gen Zr’s in what I had been taught and educating myself on the Civil War.

    I started jumping into Facebook forums and joining groups related to the Civil War and wow I was absolutely taken aback at how fierce and passionate discussing anything related to the Civil War had become. I noticed almost immediately the binary Lost Cause-Just Cause dichotomy that pervades EVERY discussion on any Civil War topic.

    As someone who is truly neutral and sees the good and bad on both sides it seems sheer stupidity to be forced into take a side in a conflict that occured 156 years ago when the goal of any serious history student should be to dispassionately attempt to learn from and study the past.

    What’s more I don’t view the war through the lens of “Lost Cause” or “Just Cause”. I agree with Rod O’Barr in seeing points to the North’s infidelity to the Constitution and I certainly agree with Carson view that discussions invested in the sanctity of the North’s moral opposition to slavery while ignoring the economics of slavery are very bogus.

    But as you note woe be unto the person who dares bring even a hint of this into any discussion with anyone under 40 (particularly on Social Media) and their understanding and education of the Civil War.

    There are forums for the Lost Cause but they feel more like underground private clubs that carry a stigma with them. I have chosen to avoid these.

    So I opt for what appears on the surface to join the far more numerous objective “mainstream” Civil War Forums engaging in discussions.

    But, as you have observed the Just Cause is in HIGH TIDE and you are immediately gang tackled, assassinated and labeled as a “Lost Causer” or worse a closet racist for even bothering to bring any of these points into discourse. Very few people are willing to come to your defense and if they do they are gang tackled as well. It is if this righteous group of zealots views you unfairly as a defector from a “Preserve our Heritgage” group and feels the need to stamp out and obliterate your view as cancerous and an insidious danger to society.

    • Thank you for the kind words about my writing. Grant’s Left Hook will be out, just delayed by the pandemic.

      Although under 40, I too have seen the changes you speak of. Granted, they were present on the professional level before I was born, but they percolated down, and in many ways enriched our understanding. Yet, I dislike the derision that Blight and others have for those who stuck to purely military matters. It was a manifestation of the now dead reconciliation narrative. It was the mutual acknowledgement of military prowess, and tacitly that the reunited nation became a world superpower less than 100 years after Appomattox (Soviet Union notwithstanding). In some ways, our military failures have been as much a stake in the heart to this narrative as recent events.

      On my end, the moment Lee and Beauregard were removed in New Orleans and portrayed as villains, I knew the reunion narrative was dead, right along with nuance. As you point out here:

      “I started jumping into Facebook forums and joining groups related to the Civil War and wow I was absolutely taken aback at how fierce and passionate discussing anything related to the Civil War had become. I noticed almost immediately the binary Lost Cause-Just Cause dichotomy that pervades EVERY discussion on any Civil War topic.”

      I do not do social media anymore, but I found Civil War forums are poison. Often times they are mere fan clubs for your “guy.” Grant and Lincoln are common enough, but I can find a place where any critique of Lee is met with drawn daggers. Even casuals now have “expert” opinions on the war. That is the Internet for you.

      “It is if this righteous group of zealots views you unfairly as a defector from a “Preserve our Heritgage” group and feels the need to stamp out and obliterate your view as cancerous and an insidious danger to society.” – The Internet has brought back the stocks, witch trials, and arguably even an honor system. It is becoming the norm. The Internet has changed how we think and interact, much like how the printing press changed things so long ago.

  11. Dan says:

    Does any other historian support the existence of the “Just Cause?” Or is this something that this specific author is trying to push into the lexicon?

    I don’t find much on this alleged “Just Cause” with google.

    • A few have spoken about but each gives a different name. I have seen “Pious Cause” (Phil Leigh), “Treasury of Virtue” (Robert Penn Warren), “emancipationist” (David Blight), “Won Cause” (Barbara Gannon), and “Cause Victorious” (John R. Neff). Just Cause seems a bit catchier, so I have gone with that since 2010 in my writings.

      The trouble is the Union veterans and the North, did not give their memory of the war a definite name. One reason I think is it became the basis for ideas on patriotism and nationalism. Its the Union veterans who pushed for pledge of alliance being recited in schools. The lost Cause was regional; the Just Cause was American.

      There was also a split between those who saw the war more as a crusade to end slavery and those who fought foremost to preserve the union. However, since preservation of the union united all of them, it became the heart of the war’s memory. But it is telling in memoirs and speeches to see what is emphasized, just as it is in letters and diaries of the conflict.

      • Dan says:

        Thanks for the reply. I looked at some of those other phrases, and the context used by the historians. (Not Leigh, though, as he’s the last person I’d consult about biased interpretation)

        I don’t see those other phrases as synonymous with your suggested “Just Cause.” Not Gannon’s or Blight’s phrases, at least. Even Neff’s seems different in that his phrase is used in reconciling the deaths, as I understand it.

        My impression of your “Just Cause” theory, which I’ve seen you mention before, is that it is a concern about one side unfairly coming across as the good guys. “Just Cause” claims the Union was the good guys, and “Lost Cause” claims the CS was the good guys.

        Gannon’s and Blight’s phrases are more about bringing in the Black American perspective to the public memory. And I think this is at the root of the shift in recent decades. As the Lost Cause myth fades, and the perspective of the slaves becomes more part of the memory, it’s inevitable that the Union side appears more “just” and I don’t see a problem with that.

        There’s no obligation for history to treat both sides of a war as morally equivalent or “just.” I think the obligation that history has is to try to be accurate.

        In the long run, posterity is probably not going to be kind to the confederate side. But that will be based on the facts, not on cheer-leading for one side or the other.

      • dale robertson says:

        check the corwin amendment to see how much they cared about slavery.

      • Sean Michael Chick says:

        In the short term Dan you are right on most points. Yet I am not thinking that way. Ancient history was written by people who believed in cycles, and it covered hundreds even thousands of years. Who is to say where we will be in 500 years? After all, by 1100 there were precious few non-Christian faiths in Europe, the old Greco-Roman myths were forgotten, and ancient knowledge was locked away even among monks, who were divided between those who read those works and those who saw it as heresy. In a few hundred years though Aristotle had taken the ecclesiastical orders by storm. Today non-Christian faiths and atheism are quite common in Europe. All of this might have seemed “impossible” to a pious French monk looking over the complete victory of the Catholic Church.

        I am reminded of what David Rousset, a survivor of Neuengamme and Buchenwald said: “Normal men do not know that everything is possible.” I mean, only three years ago people were scoffing at me for saying Jefferson and Washington were next on the removal menu. Truth be told, as time, population, and ideals drift away from the founding, the leaders of that founding mean less every day. Which I am certain hardly crossed the mind George Bancroft and his ilk in 1850. By the same token, the victory of civil rights in the 1960s is not set in stone. Nor is that mobility you speak of. Global warming could easily destroy the former, and certainly will end the latter. The pandemic already has ended that mobility for the time being.

        Beyond death and taxes, all we are guaranteed is that nothing is permanent and the present will always scoff at the past, while not considering that the future will do the same to them. The future has its own needs, conceits, and myths to prop up. The Just Cause will not make much sense in the future. Indeed, I can already see the cracks in the Just Cause forming right now. At the same time, if the Lost Cause ever made a return, it would not necessarily be in the form that you are thinking, much as the Just Cause of 2020 is not a perfect fit with the Just Cause of 1880.

    • Thank for the reply too, as it is helping me sharpen what I think the Just Cause is exactly. I will say it is not “a concern about one side unfairly coming across as the good guys” at heart. Yet, living in contentious and Manichean times, good vs. evil narratives are common, so it can appear that way. I do think Neff is closer to the mark of what I am driving at, but its been years since I read his book.

      I would say the Just Cause, which I hope to define in some post, is a patriotic memory of a war that saved the union. It placed Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan in a holy military trinity. It was happy slavery was extinguished, and it is noted for its boundless optimism. It usually recognized Southern valor, but the Confederacy was treated as a villain, and reconciliation was mostly on Northern terms. That said, it split over one’s commitment to civil rights after 1865. For many ending slavery was enough. Then of course there were those veterans who never cared about slavery. If I fault Blight, it is for seeing the “emancipationist” vision as separate from the North’s memory. Gannon placed it in a better context as did Gallagher in The Union War.

      Warren’s main contribution, is pointing out how the North’s memory allowed it to not confront its own racism and other shortcomings. That is also my issue with the Just Cause. The South fought to preserve slavery, but the North did not fight to end it. They fought to preserve the nation, and the union was the main driving force, which is why the “nationalist” memory trumped the “emancipationist” one both during and after the war until roughly…now. Even the relatively brief period of Radical Reconstruction was undermined by ambivalence over racial equality. I see this as one of the war’s central tragedies.

      As for Leigh, he is biased, but very up front about that, and no more biased than Blight, although lacking the latter’s eloquence. That said, I commend Leigh for pointing out the hypocrisies of the Republican Party, but he cannot understand that political opportunism and political idealism are not mutually exclusive.

      “There’s no obligation for history to treat both sides of a war as morally equivalent or “just.” I think the obligation that history has is to try to be accurate.

      In the long run, posterity is probably not going to be kind to the confederate side. But that will be based on the facts, not on cheer-leading for one side or the other.”

      If you are a good historian, than you will try to be accurate. However, it is very rare, particularly when one’s politics are at stake. History is more or less a tool used by the present to shape the times, and hence why interpretations fade and are then forgotten or ridiculed by new orthodoxies. As Dorthy Parker once said, “Every dogma has its day.”

      Many a former Confederate loudly proclaimed that posterity, would favor them, and who could doubt it during the high tide of commemoration, imperialism, reconciliation, and scientific racism, when eugenics and prohibition were “Progressive” values. It is hard to see now, but reading enough ancient history, I can see a time when the Confederates are heroes again, and it would be every bit as obnoxious and maudlin as the worst of Lost Cause rhetoric. The conceit of the progressive vision of history is we are “bending towards justice” but I see no evidence for that. Indeed, much like the very Southerners we vilify, we too rely on goods made by exploited labor. Slavery and exploitation did not end; we merely exported it to other countries. In writing that, some may think I approve of this state of affairs. Instead, it only confirms that we are a cruel, callous, and violent species that thrives on friend enemy distinctions, but is very good at lying to itself, and therefore damned to repeat the same cycles of violence and exploitation, but always with a ready made justification.

      • dale robertson says:

        i agree with that last part. like the “woke” ownership of nike who still run their asian sweatshops.

      • Dan says:

        Quote: “It is hard to see now, but reading enough ancient history, I can see a time when the Confederates are heroes again, and it would be every bit as obnoxious and maudlin as the worst of Lost Cause rhetoric.”

        I don’t see that ever happening, and this is why: The Lost Cause was white supremacist propaganda taught in public schools, and perpetuated by the local governments. It was like state-run propaganda by authoritarian governments.

        But civil rights happened, and we’re never going back to what it was. And the people who were educated (indoctrinated?) with the Lost Cause are dying off. And with the mobility of workers, retirees, families, etc – the South will increasingly be filled with people who don’t identify with the mythology. And with the passage of time, the emotions surrounding the war and reconstruction have been gradually fading. In the future, there will be few people who’ll be emotionally invested in the confederacy.

        Quote: “The conceit of the progressive vision of history is we are “bending towards justice” but I see no evidence for that.”

        The fact that the “emancipationist” side is even being recognized is evidence of that progress.

        I’ll just agree to disagree with your notion of a “Just Cause.” I see it as an effort to take all the evidence into account (even the Black experience), and get the history right.

  12. Douglas Pauly says:

    “The lost Cause was regional; the Just Cause was American.”

    A great way to put that.

  13. Thomas M Grace says:

    Sean Michael Chick,

    You crafted an exceedingly thoughtful, nuanced and marvelously written essay as well as equally well done and restrained rejoinders. Thank you for the tour.

    Thomas M. Grace

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