The Paradox of the Lost Cause: Part I

Emerging Civil War is pleased to welcome guest contributor Adam Burke…

Heyward Shepherd

Hayward Shepherd Memorial in Harpers Ferry (author’s photos)

Tucked into the nook of a large brick building in historic Harpers Ferry is a conspicuous granite monolith. It stands along Potomac Street, a lesser traveled street one block north of High Street, the main thoroughfare of the town. However, travelers who want to see the original site of John Brown’s capture, or those seeking a better view of towering Maryland Heights across the Potomac River, may stumble upon the seemingly out of place slab of granite.

In 1931, the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) and the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) dedicated this monument to Heyward Shepherd—a free black railroad worker and the first victim of John Brown’s infamous Harpers Ferry Raid. Shepherd was killed by one of Brown’s men when he went to look for a missing bridge watchman in the midst of the raid. Upon encountering Brown’s men, Shepherd was ordered to halt. Unaware of the evening’s danger, Shepherd turned around to go back to the Baltimore & Ohio Rail Station. Fearing Shepherd would sound an alarm, one of Brown’s men shot him in the back.[1] 

The monument describes Shepherd as someone who exemplified “the character and faithfulness of thousands of negros who, under many temptations throughout subsequent years of war, so conducted themselves that no stain was left upon a record which is the peculiar heritage of the American people, and an everlasting tribute to the best in both races.” The monument fails to tell the story of John Brown’s raid and what it meant to the course of the nation’s history. Instead, the UDC, the SCV, and other speakers at the dedication ceremony “emphasized Shepherd’s presumed loyalty to the Confederacy over the tragedy of his innocent death and Brown’s aberrant violence over his ideological mission.” In doing so, the UDC and SVC “tactfully downplay[ed] slavery and the racial issues of the Civil War,”[2] writes Civil War era scholar Akiko Ochiai. The Heyward Shepherd Monument stands today as one of the many surviving relics of the Lost Cause.

Recent Civil War literature thoroughly documents the myth of the Lost Cause. Created shortly after war by powerful white southerners, the Lost Cause is a retelling of the Civil War to explain the Confederacy’s devastating loss. Despite the political and social consequences of the war, this powerful retelling of events sought to protect and maintain white supremacy.[3] The myth consists of several key themes. First, it obscures the fact that secession states fought to protect their right to maintain the institution of slavery. Instead, mythology offers other explanations such as tariffs or states’ rights.[4] Another key motif is that of the happy, docile slave who was better off enslaved than free.[5] One of the most important elements, however, is the idea that the Union defeated the Confederacy due to built in advantages such as a stronger economy, a larger population, and industrial prowess.[6] In this view, former Confederates could shift blame from the generals they would shortly deify, and find comfort in the fact that, as Lee himself noted, only “overwhelming numbers and resources” prevented their success.[7] They ignore how Northern states became industrially and economically dominant. However, Northern advantages and Southern disadvantages were the result of the North favoring free labor and wealthy southerners insisting upon the perpetuation of slavery.

Authors have spilled much ink discrediting these historical distortions, yet they persist. Time and time again, authors have demonstrated that slavery was the cause of the Civil War.

Works that address the subject have recently become quite prevalent. Henry Louis Gates’ Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow demonstrates how proponents of the Lost Cause effectively used imagery and symbols to hide the true cause of the Civil War, to reverse the progress of Reconstruction, and to lay the foundation for Jim Crow. In his book The False Cause: Fraud, Fabrication, and White Supremacy in Confederate Memory, Adam H. Domby explores how the myth continues to influence the nation’s Civil War memory. A related but less discussed idea is that slavery contributed to the downfall of the Confederacy’s cause. In fact, southern dependence upon slavery helps explain almost every excuse for losing the war offered by the Lost Cause myth. To meet the demands of an agricultural plantation economy, southern elites insisted upon the perpetuation of  slavery. This stubbornness caused the South to fall behind the North in manufacturing capacity, infrastructure development, and population growth. Ironically, southern dependence on a vile institution is the overwhelming factor that created the built-in southern disadvantages much lamented by the mythmakers.

Tredegar Iron Works

“View of the Tredegar Iron Works, with footbridge to Neilson’s Island.” Tredegar Iron Works was crucial for the Confederacy given its overall manufacturing disadvantages. Tredegar Iron works produced the iron for CSS Virginia and over 1,000 artillery pieces throughout the war. (LC)

At the outbreak of the war, Southern states trailed their Northern counterparts in manufacturing capacity. A reliance on slavery in the South accounts for a significant portion of this gap. Although the South accounted for approximately forty percent of the population, it was responsible for only twenty percent of the country’s industrial production.[8] Although slave owners could make money by selling the labor of their slaves to factories, cotton was profitable enough to encourage slave owners to keep their slaves working in the fields.[9] Because most slaveholder capital was not liquid—instead, it was tied up in land and slaves—it was also difficult to invest in other areas.[10] Incredibly, by 1860, “the economic value of slaves in the United States exceeded the invested value of all of the nation’s railroads, factories, and banks combined,”[11] notes another historian. Slave owners simply had no incentive to invest in other ways of making money.

The industrial gap between North and South, facilitated by slavery, tangibly affected the outcome of the war. In terms of the power to make war, the Confederate states could not compete with Northern capacity. For example, Northern industry produced over 3,000 firearms for every 100 produced by Southern industry.[12] Northern industrial capacity significantly affected naval operations as well. Consider the Battle of Hampton Roads, in which two ironclad vessels squared off for the first time in history. CSS Virginia wrought havoc on the Union’s wooden vessels in Hampton Roads, sinking two major ships before nightfall. She threatened the Union’s ability to implement a blockade and caused panic in Washington D.C. Although Virginia had her sights on additional Union vessels the next day, USS Monitor arrived in time to stymie the Confederate ironclad, and the destruction stopped. Incredibly, the North required just over 100 days to produce this “experimental iron vessel from scratch,”[13] while the Confederacy needed almost a year to refit the sunken USS Merrimack and create Virginia. The North would rely on manufacturing strength to mass produce ironclad vessels that would prove essential to the Union’s domination of the nation’s rivers. In fact, the Union utilized ironclad vessels to open rivers to navigation and topple Confederate strongholds, such as Vicksburg.[14] Thus, Northern industrial capacity saved the Union fleet and neutralized what could have been a major strategic advantage for the Confederacy.

As a result of slowly developing industry, the South lagged behind the North in transportation infrastructure. By 1850, the South accounted for only fourteen percent of canals and twenty six percent of the nation’s railroad tracks.[15] Although Southern states would eventually make rapid gains, investment in transportation remained greater in free states than slave states.[16] Northern transportation infrastructure superiority directly affected the outcome of the war. In an event James McPherson called an “extraordinary feat of logistics,”[17] Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton organized transport for 25,000 men to make a 1,200-mile railroad trip in just eleven days to reinforce Union forces at Chattanooga after the disastrous loss at Chickamauga. These troops would be essential to the Union’s victory at Chattanooga later in the fall of 1863, opening crucial passage into Georgia.

The North enjoyed substantial manufacturing prowess over the Confederate States. This gap in capability was exacerbated by southern insistence upon a slave-centric economy. Strong manufacturing resulted in cascading effects that benefited the Union. First, it provided mass production of the material essential to make war. Second, the North’s industrial might enabled rapid movement of essential war material and personnel. Although slavery’s effects on manufacturing were devastating to the Confederacy, we will observe that human bondage affected southern manpower capacity to an even greater extent…

To be continued…

[1] Brands, H W. The Zealot and the Emancipator: John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, and the Struggle for American Freedom. New York City, NY: Doubleday, 2020., 203.

[2] Ochiai, Akiko. “Continuing Skirmishes in Harpers Ferry: Entangled Memories of Heyward Shepherd and John Brown.” The Japanese Journal of American Studies 23 (2012): 14.

[3] Seidule, Ty. 2020. Rober E. Lee and Me: A Southerner’s Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause. New York City: St. Martin’s Press, 30

[4] Ibid, 30.

[5] Ibid, 32.

[6] Ibid, 34.

[7] Lee, Robert Edward. General’s Lee’s farewell address to the Army of Northern Virginia. April 10th. Petersburg, Ege’s print. Petersburg, 1865. Pdf. https://www.loc.gov/item/rbpe.18703400/.

[8] McPherson, James. 1988. Battle Cry of Freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 91.

[9] Merritt, Keri Leigh. 2017. Masterless Men: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 64.

[10] McPherson, James. 1988. Battle Cry of Freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 97.

[11] Arrington, Benjamin T. “Industry and Economy during the Civil War.” Accessed April 17, 2021. https://www.nps.gov/articles/industry-and-economy-during-the-civil-war.htm

[12] Ibid.

[13] Hughes, Dwight Sturtevant. 2021. Unlike Anything that Ever Floated: The Monitor and Virginia and the Battle of Hampton Roads, March 8-9, 1862. El Dorado Hills, CA: Savas Beattie LLC, 44.

[14] Symonds, Craig. “Gunboats on the Mississippi.” American Battlefield Trust, March 25, 2021. Accessed April 17, https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/gunboats-mississippi?fbclid=IwAR2JRBBWV29O-i-VGu4WOTXqTSqmsdCYUoPF8oeCEBukWqJhJ4-97ThKAdE.

[15] McPherson, James. 1988. Battle Cry of Freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 91.

[16] Ibid, 95.

[17] Ibid, 675

Adam Burke is an active duty military Officer in his twelfth year of service. He graduated from Michigan State University with a B.A. in Political Theory. He also earned a Master’s in Cybersecurity from Pennsylvania State University. In addition to civilian education, Adam has completed two Joint Professional Military Education programs from Air University and National Defense University. He is an avid reader of history, particularly of the Civil War. 

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43 Responses to The Paradox of the Lost Cause: Part I

  1. jazzdoc1 says:

    Wow! How timely. I see you have referenced Gen. Ty Seidule’s. Recent book Robert E. Lee and Me. I haven’t gotten to that one yet. Keep them coming.
    Norman Vickers. Pensacola

  2. carsonfoardsbcglobalnet says:

    Anything that quotes Ty Seidule as a source is very poorly sourced. And the obvious observation is that very few African Americans saw John Brown as the answer to their problems; perhaps they were on to something. And, during the course of the War, some ran away, with some of those joining the Union Army, but the vast majority of those remaining on the plantations neither ‘rebelled’ nor ‘revolted’ nor ‘rampaged’….not even when Lincoln invited them to do so in the Emancipation Proclamation. As for the tired and tiring defamation of the “Lost Cause”, you’ve been proven wrong already in so many ways that I won’t reiterate except to ask if you’ve read the Corwin Amendment or “The Frontier Against Slavery”, Berwanger, or “Secession on Trial”, Nicoletti, UVA.

    • Bob Ruth says:

      Yep, those slaves were just a bunch of contented Confederate-loving workers, just like they were portrayed in Gone With the Wind and the Brer’ Rabbit/Uncle Remus tales.

      And why wouldn’t they be happy on the plantations (some Yankee naysayers call them concentration camps)?

      Sure, their women were routinely raped by white slave masters; tens of thousands of them were mercilessly whipped for not meeting cotton-picking quotas; slave families were separated and sold to planters in other states etc.

      But most of them stayed on their plantations during the CW, right?

      Don’t believe any of the Fake News about why they opted to stay in captivity during the war. Slave patrols regularly roaming the country looking for runaways – Fake News. Slaves purposely slowing down their work and actually participating in work stoppages as silent protests against human bondage – More fake news. Slaves by the thousands leaving plantations and attaching themselves to Union armies as the Yankees marched through Southern states – More fake news.

  3. grandadpookers says:

    I read Michael Gorra’s The Saddest Words(2020) which probes the influence of the Lost Cause and Mississippi on William Faulkner

  4. nygiant1952 says:

    The “Lost Cause” is thoroughly exposed as false interpretation of American History, in Ty Seidule’e book, “Robert E. Lee and Me”. Once the Union Army was near, slaves left plantations and their owners in droves. And it is a fact, that during the. Gettysburg Campaign, Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia captured any Black that could get their hands on, and brought them back South on the retreat.

    The Emancipation Proclamation never asked the slaves to rebels, nor revolt, nor rampage.

    In fact, one of the tenets of the EP says…”And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.”

    • carsonfoardsbcglobalnet says:

      nygiant1952 How many is “droves”, exactly? And what happened to some of them at Ebenezer Creek? And, “…unless in necessary self-defense…” – defense against whom? Were a few family members, mostly women and children, going to turn on their slaves?

      • nygiant1952 says:

        From what I have read, over 100,000 formerly enslaved people fought for the Union and over 500,000 fled their plantations for Union lines.

  5. An excellent, well-researched partial analysis. I look forward to further analyses.

  6. Donald Smith says:

    “mythology offers other explanations such as tariffs or states’ rights.”

    So, because of Ty Seidule, the issues of tarriffs and states’ rights are hereby, forever and definitively dismissed as “mythology.”

    Sorry…no sale here. Enough already.

    Once again, a guest poster on ECW gets front page access to start throwing around accusations of “Lost Causeism.” It’s almost like clockwork. Once a month, I start looking for the next ECW front page post on why the Confederacy sucked.

    I’ve stopped looking for front-page stories that give at least some consideration to the viewpoint of Confederate soldiers, because I’ve concluded that if I hold my breath much longer, I’ll suffocate. (And yet, those of us ECWers with Confederate ancestors keep buying ECW books. Maybe that makes US the suckers).

    If, in y’all’s opinion, my determination (and that of many other ECWers) to show some respect to my Confederate ancestors, and some understanding for their viewpoints, makes me a “Lost Causer”—well, knock yourselves out. If y’all are unhappy that I show some pride in my ancestors, then get used to being unhappy.

    And, as for Adam Burke being an “active duty military officer”—well, good for him. That makes two of us.

    • nygiant1952 says:

      “So, because of Ty Seidule, the issues of tarriffs and states’ rights are hereby, forever and definitively dismissed as “mythology.””

      Let’s remember that when one raises “states rights” as a cause of the Civil War, that really means the right to take your property ( also known as slaves) to any state or territory.

      The tariff issue, on those rare occasions in which it was even mentioned at all, was utterly overwhelmed by the issue of slavery within the South’s own secession conventions.

      Precisely because Southern states began seceding from December 1860 onwards, a number of Southern senators had resigned that could otherwise have voted against the tariff bill. Had they not resigned, they would have had enough votes in the Senate to successfully block the tariff’s congressional passage.

      Far from causing the Civil War or secession, the Morrill Tariff of March 1861 became law as a result of Southern secession.

      So, a review of the history removes any discussion regarding tariffs and states rights as a cause of the Civil War.

      That leaves slavery, as the cause.

      • Donald Smith says:

        “a review of the history removes any discussion regarding tariffs and states rights as a cause of the Civil War.”

        You’re entitled to your opinion. I (and, I suspect, many of us) disagree with it. I (and, I suspect, many of us) wonder what makes you think you’re qualified to make such sweeping, broad-brush judgements, like the one above, about a subject as complicated as the causes of the Civil War. (removes ANY discussion?)

        But you do make for entertaining reading. I’ll stipulate that. You’re like the Titiana McGrath of Emerging Civil War.

      • nygiant1952 says:

        Pesky thing those pesky facts.

        Opinions, backed by the pesky facts > “Lost Cause” excuses.

        Being well read, and a student of American History, makes me qualified.

        And you too make for some humorous reading! You’re like the Jubilation T. Cornpone of the Emerging Civil War.

      • John Foskett says:

        I continue to be amazed by the apparent and unshakable belief of some that the secession commissioners from the first wave of seceded states (1) were lying about the motivation for secession and (2) completely misunderstood which arguments would be most likely to persuade the others to secede. Looks like the seceded states chose a really stupid and/or mendacious bunch to do their lobbying.

      • mark bailey says:

        Just so. Thanks for a succinct and compelling analysis of the facts.

    • Donald Smith says:

      “Let’s remember that when one raises “states rights” as a cause of the Civil War, that really means the right to take your property ( also known as slaves) to any state or territory.”

      What qualifies you to determine what the phrase “states rights” does or doesn’t mean? Here you’ve reduced the issue of states’ rights to nothing but slavery. And yet you must know that slavery was not the animating reason for many Southerners to choose to leave the Union. Their loyalty to their state over their country, and their feeling that they had the right to secede, were the animating reasons for many.

      “The tariff issue, on those rare occasions in which it was even mentioned at all, was utterly overwhelmed by the issue of slavery within the South’s own secession conventions.”

      That doesn’t mean it wasn’t an issue. Many Southerners realized they lived in an agricultural economy, and trade with overseas partners was important. The tariffs may not have started to bite yet, by early 1861. But I can see Southerners being very concerned that they were about to be overwhelmed, economically and legislatively, by an much stronger industrial North. I don’t doubt that many Southerners saw the writing on the wall, and feared second-class status in a United States of America dominated by the Northern states—as well as the new Western states that would not be good places to grow cotton. In that light, separating from the Union made real practical sense.

      “Precisely because Southern states began seceding from December 1860 onwards, a number of Southern senators had resigned that could otherwise have voted against the tariff bill. Had they not resigned, they would have had enough votes in the Senate to successfully block the tariff’s congressional passage.”

      That analysis is technically true, but too narrow. Perhaps the Southern senators could have stopped tariff bills a few times. But they would still have been facing Northern state legislators who were intent on putting tariffs on (and thus reducing the profitability of) Southern goods. Those Northern legislators weren’t going to go away—-they were only going to get stronger. Another reason for Southerners to conclude that the situation wasn’t going to get any better, so why not go ahead and leave?

      Life (past and present) is complicated once you look at the big picture. I can see where rational Southerners, who abhorred slavery, but also didn’t want to live in a country dominated by the Northern and Western states, would choose to start their own country. I think that was a dumb decision, and the South paid the price for it. But, who is to say they were “wrong” to do it?

      • Donald Smith says:

        This is a reply to nygiant1952’s comment of May 12th at 6:20 AM.

        nygiant1952, feel free to call me Jube, for short.

      • nygiant1952 says:

        What qualifies you to determine what the phrase “states rights” does or doesn’t mean?

        The US Constitution, Article 4, Section 3, Clause 2 is the basis for this. As far as leaving the Union, slavery was the sole issue. Once Lincoln was elected, along with a Republican controlled Congress, the extension of slavery to the territories was going to be stopped.

        “The tariff issue, on those rare occasions in which it was even mentioned at all, was utterly overwhelmed by the issue of slavery within the South’s own secession conventions.”

        tariff= “Lost Cause” excuse

        “That analysis is technically true, ”
        Thank you!

        Life (past and present) is complicated once you look at the big picture. I can see where rational Southerners, who abhorred slavery, but also didn’t want to live in a country dominated by the Northern and Western states, would choose to start their own country. I think that was a dumb decision, and the South paid the price for it. But, who is to say they were “wrong” to do it?

        As the US Constitution endorsed slavery , and made ways for it to legal and perpetual, the South never counted on a sectional Political Party dominating the Congress and the White House.

      • Section 2, Article I of the U.S. Constitution provides that apportionment of Representatives shall be based on the whole number of free persons and three fifths of all other persons (i.e. slaves). This was a compromise made during the Constitutional Convention to gain acceptance by the Southern, slave-holding Colonies. Otherwise, these slave-holding Colonies likely would have founded a nation separate from the United States. This fractional person provision was changed by Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment.

  7. Tony Robertson says:

    I think it’s entirely plausible to respect and commemorate my Confederate ancestors, and to believe that the Lost Cause is bollocks on stilts. I think the original 7 states seceded in a fevered & unhinged over-reaction to a presidential election, then provoked a wider confrontation by firing on Fort Sumter.

    Another set of facts the Lost Cause papers over – the embarrassing existence of Southern Unionism, that 100,000 white men from the 11 completely-seceded states joined the United States Army, plus another 250,000 from the Border States, plus another 150,000 black Southerners.

    I’ve been called scum, a Yankee troll, that my Confederate ancestors would be ashamed of me for expressing these opinions. I don’t give a toad-frog’s white hind-end. Truth is truth.

    • Donald Smith says:

      “I think it’s entirely plausible to respect and commemorate my Confederate ancestors, and to believe that the Lost Cause is bollocks on stilts. I think the original 7 states seceded in a fevered & unhinged over-reaction to a presidential election, then provoked a wider confrontation by firing on Fort Sumter.”

      Agreed! The South was stupid to secede and brought the misery of the Civil War on itself.
      I’m probably the only one in my family who would defend Sheridan’s decision to burn the Shenandoah Valley. Yes, it was horrible—but not as horrible as the Bloody Angle or Cold Harbor. The North wanted to end the war, and devastating the South ended the war.

      But, if you defend Stonewall Jackson’s legacy at VMI, or the heroics of Confederates who suffered valiantly through long campaigns and horrible battles, or the honor of Robert E. Lee, or the concerns of the average Southerners who knew slavery was bad but also knew it was the “load-bearing wall” of the society they were trying to survive in and thus feared the consequences of its sudden disappearance—you risk getting labeled as a “Lost Causer” for doing so.

      It would be useful if ECW posted what it considers to be a definition of the “Lost Cause.”

      • Mark Harnitchek says:

        Don, that is a great point … here’s a “Lost Cause” definition from Gary Gallagher’s and Alan T.Nolan’s “The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History” – an edited volume of scholarly essays … here are the pillars as defined by Nolan (a lawyer by trade but pretty good historian) … condensed in the interest of brevity:

        Slavery as the cause of war: The South did not secede to protect slavery … other sectional issues divided the nation – tariffs, cultural differences, conflict between industrial and agrarian societies, control of investment banking and the means of wealth, et al.

        Abolitionists: Provocateurs who inflamed Northern society and politicians to manufacture differences over slavery and provoke a war.

        The Nature of Slavery: A benign institution … slaves were happy in their work … no need to start a war over it,

        Slavery in Decline: The institution would have died a natural death … therefore, an unprovoked war started by the North was wrong.

        The Military Loss: The South wasn’t defeated on the battlefield … they were overwhelmed by Northern advantages in men and stuff … not a “fair fight”

        The Southern Homefront: An idyllic portrait of a morally superior society … hard-working yeoman farmers, virtuous cavalier planters, and happy slaves.

        The Confederate Soldier: Idealized stereotype of hard-bitten martial virtue and courage (something to this one).

        The Lawfulness of Secession (a biggee along with slavery): Secession was a constitutional right … not explicitly stated, but a right because the Constitution was silent on the issue … states had willingly entered the compact and had the right to withdraw.

        Southern Leadership: Lee, not Davis is the torchbearer of the cause … in addition to his operational skill, Lee is elevated to almost God-like status … Lee described as “bathed in the white light that falls directly upon him from the smile of an approving God.” Jackson is included in this hagiography, but Longstreet is not.

        Bottomline: While faithful wives and loyal slaves held down the homefront, valiant citizen soldiers led by saint-like generals fought a hopeless war over principles the Founding Fathers and Framers of the Constitution would have held dear.

        For your consideration.

        BTW, it is entirely plausible and proper to venerate your Confederate ancestor’s service w/o being “cancelled” … i am a die-hard PA Union man and i venerate them all — North and South … hard not to.

        Here’s a good quote about soldierly virtue from Oliver Wendell Holmes (20th MASS) on Decoration Day in 1895: From a “Soldier’s Faith”

        “… I do not know the meaning of the universe … but in the midst of doubt, in the collapse of creeds … the faith is true and adorable which leads a soldier to throw away his life in the obedience to a blindly accepted duty, in a cause which he little understands …”

        i borrowed this from Drew Gilpin Faust’s “This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War” … terrific.

      • nygiant1952 says:

        Alan Nolan was my friend. It’s nice to see that his name is remembered.

    • carsonfoardsbcglobalnet says:

      No one that I know of has ever papered over the existence of Unionism, particularly in the Border States and the Old South states. It’s been a well-recognized fact in everything I’ve ever read, by a Southern or Northern protagonist. But the fact remains that an estimated total of 750K to 1 million soldiers fought for the Confederacy, so the vast majority were opposed to Lincoln’s invasion. Even North Carolina, with a strong Unionist sector, nevertheless contributed 125,000 troops to the Confederacy, and 15,000 to the Union – 10,000 white, and 5,000 black. Virginia, even more Unionist, contributed 155,000 to the Confederacy, and 38,000 to the Union (32,000 white, and 6,000 black). These numbers are easily available on the internet. If someone doesn’t know that, they haven’t tried to find out.

      • Tony Robertson says:

        My point wasn’t that the fact of Southern Unionism isn’t known, nor readily available. It was that it is embarrassing to acolytes of the Lost Cause. It swims upstream against the notion of a Solid South, merely advocating self-determinism. These half a million men I mention represent one-fourth of Union soldiers, and one-half to seven-tenths of Confederate numbers.

      • Mark Harnitchek says:

        Agree … not necessarily papered over … it’s hard to paper over West Virginia.

        But not accounted for in the post war narratives by Pollard, Early and scholars seeking to craft a favorable, retrospective account of the CSA as a political project.

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  9. Mark Harnitchek says:

    Major Adams, good for you putting yourself out their with this essay — excellent so far …. thanks for pointing out that plaque — it is vintage UDC … several years ago i ran across something similar — an article from a 1910 Confederate Veteran (the monthly mag of the UCV) which called for a monument to the former slaves:

    “Resolved. That it is the sense of … the UCV that a stately and durable monument should be erected … in the South to the quietude and praiseworthyness … and the fidelity and allegiance of the slaves to their masters and families during the great interstate war of 1861 to 1865.”

    The rest of the article’s benign treatment of slavery is equally fascinating … but, the reader gets the sense the author and UCV were completely sincere … hard to understand in the 21st century.

    Finally, i was wondering if are you making an argument or if this a historiographical essay?

    thanks again.

    • Adam Burke says:

      Mr. Harnitchek,

      Thank you for reading and for the thoughtful response. I imagine with just a little searching we could find even more relics like the tablet and the one you describe.

      I do not feel qualified to write a historiographical essay. I meant this piece more as an observation of the irony that the primary cause of the war (slavery) also substantially contributed to the down fall of the Confederacy.

      Thanks again for reading!

      Very Respectfully,
      Adam

  10. Rod says:

    When an article sets as its foundation a fanciful and pernicious fabrication, little is left to be found credible. Mr. Burke’s foundation is “the myth of the Lost Cause,” which is itself a fantastical myth of modern historiography. The “myth of the Lost Cause” is a fabrication used by agenda driven historians to dismiss, marginalize, and invalidate the Southern perspective of the War, while at the same time promoting a sanitized popular myth.

    This sanitized myth makes strange bedfellows of neocons on the Right promoting “American Exceptionalism,” and Social Justice Warriors on the Left promoting a neo-Marxist lens through which to view all of history. Both political extremes employ a sanitized version of the war that extends back to a time before the war ended. That mythical version was a war “about slavery” in which egalitarian ideals defeated an evil oppressive slavocracy.

    For neocons, “American Identity“ is deeply rooted in this myth, which is so foundational to its mantra of American Exceptionalism. For the Left, that same myth provides a poster war for social justice ideology, and a prototype historical example of a white supremacy that, still to this day, they claim permeates our culture, though in less obvious manifestations. Out of this bed developed the “myth of the Lost Cause Myth,” a straw man of sorts, as a way to dismiss or suppress evidence simply by giving it a name and then referring to it in disparaging terms.

    The true “paradox,” is Mr.Burke’s foundational myth that “Lost Cause” apologetics is a myth, and then his own championing of myths that the historical record clearly refutes. He approves defining “Lost Cause Myth” as a “powerful retelling of events sought to protect and maintain white supremacy,” and adds “the Lost Cause effectively used imagery and symbols to hide the true cause of the Civil War.” He doesn’t even realize the contradiction in his definition. He claims a “Lost Cause” desire to promote white supremacy, while at the same time a desire to hide the true cause of the Civil War – white supremacy. The modern myth holds in contradiction a “Lost Cause School” seeking to hide white supremacy, while at the same time the teachers were building monuments to proclaim white supremacy!

    Mr. Burke dismisses “tariffs” and “States Rights” or anything else other than “slavery” as the South’s “cause” for secession and war. Like most adherents of the popular myth, he misinterprets the South’s “pro-slavery” arguments because he ignores the context in which they occurred. The Southern arguments were a defensive posturing against three issues: First, the irresponsible demands of radical abolitionists calling for immediate, uncompensated, emancipation backed by terrorist threats (such as John Brown – America’s first bin Laden), which would have been an economic and humanitarian disaster. Second, the Republican Party’s determination to keep both blacks and Southern voters from settling in the territories, which relegated the Southern States to a lesser status in the Union and to political disadvantage. Third, and the most fundamental cause of secession, a Northern cupidity that had for most of America’s first seventy years manifested itself in continuous infidelity to the Constitution in order to control the South politically and exploit it economically. The first two issues are examples of the more fundamental third.

    Mr. Burke claims the “secession states fought to protect their right to maintain the institution of slavery.” This is simply not true; the South fought because it was invaded. Why it seceded was a different issue. It seceded because it no longer desired Union with a section of the country that continually sought to circumvent the Constitution to impose its will on the South. Slavery, tariffs, States Rights, bounties, internal improvements, etc., were all symptomatic occasions of the more fundamental illness of Northern infidelity to the Constitution. Slavery was only the most recent and legally egregious infidelity. Jefferson Davis made this clear in an 1863 interview with two Northern representatives: (Davis): We are not fighting for Slavery. We are fighting for independence, and that or extermination we will have… (Interviewer): “And Slavery, you say, is no longer an element in the contest” Davis: “No it is not, it never was an essential element. It was only a means of bringing other conflicting elements to an earlier culmination. It fired the musket which was already capped and loaded.”

    The South did not desire to perpetuate slavery. Even Lincoln admitted this: “I have no prejudice against the Southern people. They are just what we would be in their situation. If slavery did not now exist among them they would not introduce it.” The South inherited the institution in which the North was foundational and continuing to its existence. Major Southern newspapers stated slavery was not the South’s cause: “Slavery was the mere occasion and not the object or end of this war. The South is fighting for National independence and freedom from Yankee domination. The people are willing to sacrifice all the slaves to the cause of freedom.” (Richmond Inquirer, 1863.) “Property in negro labor should not be a barrier to our independence. If it is found in the way, if it proves an insurmountable object to the achievement of our independence and separate nationality, away with it, let it perish.” (Jackson Mississippean).

    Not only does Burke have to ignore Southern words to adhere to his myth, he also has to ignore Southern actions. If the Southern cause was to “perpetuate and extend slavery,” why did the CSA secede from any right to extend slavery in the territories? Why did it reject the offer to make slavery perpetual in the Corwin Amendment? Why did it turn down Lincoln’s offer in the Emancipation Proclamation to return to the Union and keep slavery? Why did it reject Seward’s assurance at Hampton Roads that by returning to the Union it could defeat the 13th Amendment banning slavery? And most telling, why did the CSA begin as early as 1862 to offer to end slavery in hopes of gaining British and French support to win the war? The South was still making this offer in the Duncan Kenner mission when Lee surrendered at Appomattox. Would the South be willing to give up slavery, much less only a year into the war, if slavery was its reason for secession and war? CS Secretary of War Judah Benjamin made clear why the South was willing to end slavery to win the war:

    “The sole object for which we would ever have consented to commit our all to the hazards of this war, is the vindication of our right to self-government and independence… For that end no sacrifice is too great, save that of honour.’ (Judah Benjamin to CS diplomat John Slidell, Dec 27, 1864.)

    The South did not secede and fight to perpetuate slavery, it fought because it was invaded, it seceded to gain independence!

    Mr. Burke’s main theme in Pt. 1, that slavery caused the South to be at an industrial disadvantage in the war, is not only wrong, but ironically confirms one of the South’s so called “Lost Cause Myths” as true. The South’s claim that it was outnumbered and outgunned is true indeed! And it was only because of the gallantry of its fighting men, the superior abilities of its Generals, and its leadership’s undying commitment to principle, that it was able to take the fight to the enemy during the first years, and drag the war out for four total years against extrodinary odds.

    Burke’s claim that a commitment to slavery is why the South was at an industrial disadvantage is at best special pleading, and at worst simply ignorance of a Southern Agrarian philosophy that extended back to Jefferson. This agrarian philosophy, coupled with the agricultural friendly Southern climate, is what provided the North with the revenue and raw materials that enabled its industrial revolution to happen in the first place. And it was this philosophy and climate that discouraged industrialization in the South. Southerners were quite content with their quality of life, this included the 75% who never owned a slave.

    The Southern philosophy was one opposed to the crass materialism of the North. Northern Harvard Professor Joseph Cogswell contrasting South to North stated in 1821: “those who lead an agricultural life, enjoy all that happiness which is preserved from the exercise of social virtues in their primitive purity. Their affections are constant… respect for paternal authority is sacred…crime is rare; mendacity and theft uncommon.” This more congenial lifestyle was both envied and admired by the North. Many Northern politicians, religious leaders and travel writers such as Caleb Cushing, William Cullen Bryant, Henry Whipple, George Templeton Strong, Nathaniel Parker Willis, Nehemiah Adams, Catherine Sedgwick, and Fredrick Olmsted to mention a few all spoke highly of the Southern Agrarian tradition and even noted how its benevolence carried over into its treatment of the slaves. Many commented on how the Southern slaves lived “better lives than did free blacks in the North.”

    This honest evaluation of the South only changed after the advent of embellishments from radical abolitionists, and the realization by Northern politicians that slavery could be used as a political weapon against the South. That’s when much of the modern popular myths about the inhumane treatment of the slaves made their debut in the propaganda of Northern abolitionists and politicians.

    However, the reality remained regarding what Northerner’s had previously witnessed in the South prior to their attempt to sectionalize the North against the South. Slavery was just as the “Lost Cause Myth” said it was; mere servitude more than slavery, certainly objectionable to our modern sensibilities, but a far cry from the modern myth.

    It was this benevolent institution, conditioned by the Christian ethic of the agrarian South, that did indeed inspire loyalty in the vast majority of the slaves, just as “Lost Cause” writings claimed. A loyalty that prompted a member of the USCT to explain as follows:

    “That the negroes did not revolt is one of the incomprehensible features of our Civil War. Every chance for success was theirs, nor were they ignorant of their opportunity for striking an effectual and crushing blow against their oppressors. Why was it not done? Several potent causes combined to render any widespread insurrection at that time impossible. There was in the first place a genuine affection for the white race, implanted in hundreds of thousands of negroes by amalgamation, there was, in no less degree, a race love created by the foster parental relations which negro women sustained toward white children; there was also a genuine desire on the part of the negro men to discharge worthy the duties with which they were entrusted by their absent masters. But the supreme and all-pervading influence which restrained them was rooted in their religious convictions; for the slave negro, unlike the modern freedman, was a being in whom religious fervor was intensely and over-whelmingly manifest.” (William Hannibal Thomas, 5th United States Colored Troops. The American Negro, published 1901.)

    This observation is echoed in the numerous collections of slave narratives.

    Perhaps if Mr. Burke spent more time perusing primary sources, instead of reading “Recent Civil War literature” which he says “thoroughly documents the myth of the Lost Cause,” his articles would have some semblance of historical accuracy. As is, he clings to a myth that calls truth a myth.

    More comments after I read Pt 2….

    • nygiant1952 says:

      I stopped reading after the comment that the South fought because it was invaded.

      The South fired the first shot.

      Pesky thing, that pesky aggression.

      • carsonfoardsbcglobalnet says:

        nygiant1952 You would do well to read the whole comment. The South was invaded, and you clearly have no concept of international laws regarding retaliation in kind, or how devious Lincoln was in setting up the confrontation at Sumter. Be all that as it may, your dodge is too obvious – you have chosen an easy out, to avoid the possibility that your virtue might be misplaced. Pesky things, those facts….

      • nygiant1952 says:

        Why read more, when the comment was a-historical.

        The Rebels attacked and fired upon a US Military installation.

        Same thing happened at Pearl Harbor.

        Right? RIGHT!

    • “Slavery a benevolent institution” and “mere servitude than slavery” … holy cow! i am almost speechless to hear someone in the 21st century actually make that claim … and the primary source for this ahistorical tall tail is a USCT veteran who was on the side fighitng to end slavery … i guess he never got the word about how “benevolent” slavery was … recommend you take your own counsel on “perusing primary sources” and expand your aperture beyond Confederate big wigs — Jefferson Davis, Judah Benjamin, John Slidell, et al — and waritme southern newspapers.

  11. carsonfoardsbcglobalnet says:

    Interesting comments on the South’s “failure” to industrialize. There seems to be no consideration of the economic/market factors at work – the North and Britain were supplying industrial goods to the US, in competition with each other, as evidenced by protective tariffs levied by the US. Those two entities were satisfying the existing markets at the time, and neither wanted third party competition. Even Virginia’s later nascent efforts at industrialization, e.g., iron foundries, were met with rancor by the North, partially because the South began those efforts with some slave labor but mainly because it represented a potential erosion of market share for the North/Britain. Northern industrialists were all over Lincoln about this, There is serious opinion by Hamiltonians that the South should have followed the model of the North, but that completely ignores the role of cotton in funding the Treasury and putting the young country on a firm footing in international trade. Gold was the only other ‘riches’ in the US at that time, plus a diminshing role for tobacco due to soil depletion. Since the size and growth of the cotton market was feasible only with slave labor and plentiful land, as found in the South alone, it is naive to assume that particular source of revenue and trade credits for the US would be moralized away, or even risk being reduced, and that an excess level of industrialization would replace it.

    • nygiant1952 says:

      A couple of reasons
      1. The South had an extended growing season and fertile soil which lent itself to agriculture. The North, by contrast, had a short growing season, rocky soil, but more importantly had a large number of rivers and streams which could be used to operate factories.
      2.Industrialization in the North was helped by the arrival of immigrants, who provided plenty of labor for the new mills (factories) that were springing up around every running waterway. … So the Southern economy didn’t move too quickly toward industrialization.

      It’s that old, slave labor vs wage labor. Why would an immigrant want o compete against a slave, when he could get paid for his honest work?

      Worked for my Great-Great-Grandfather, who was employed by the Ellis Locomotive Works, in Schenectady NY.

  12. Ski says:

    In 1860, the slave industry in the United States was worth 3.5 billion dollars. The country was the largest slave labor nation at the time and 5th largest in world history. The Republican Party ran on a platform of prohibiting slavery in U.S. territories and not in the states.

    When the vote for secession occurred, statistics show a direct relation for those who voted for secession and the number of slaves in the particular location.

    The CSA constitution specifically protected slavery and numerous state constitutions within the CSA protected it as well. The original 7 CSA members were all in the deep south where large populations of slave labor existed.

    Why is this so difficult to comprehend that the lower south left the union on grounds to protect their investments in chattel slavery? Soldiers fought for this establishment and gave their lives to uphold the wealth of some.

    Should we hold soldiers who fought in the gray accountable for their contributions in upholding the slave power? I don’t think so since they were pardoned by an act of the U.S. Congress in 1868.

    The CSA could care less about States Rights. They were a Wartime Government throughout its existence. They carried out similar measures that their Northern counterparts implemented to win the war.

    Tariffs were always a part of revenue building in the country at the time. It would continue to be even after the war which benefitted the south as well.

    Let us also not forget, some of the politicians who served in the CSA government returned back to positions of power after the war under direction from the U.S. Constitution. They seemed to be willing to serve in the government they fought against after gaining their pardons and moving on.

    Hey, think what you want, God Bless America!

  13. Thought provoking article.

    -Pat

  14. “Soldiers fought for this establishment and gave their lives to uphold the wealth of some.” Ummm, no. Not even close. This is a history site. Do you have evidence that some 750,000 CSA soldiers fought with an intent to support the wealth of “some”? When the soldier went to war in Vet Nam, did he do so to support US imperialism? Did the soldiers in Iraq go to war to support the view that Saddam had WMD’s? When the 1848 war with Mexico broke out, how many soldiers went to that war seeking to expand US territory? You conflate the motives of some with the motives of all.
    Tom Crane

  15. Adam Burke says:

    Thank you, everyone, for reading and leaving your thoughts!

  16. SteveLaudig says:

    I looked for but didn’t see this suggestion/observation/point. Northern workmen, not universally of course, but I speculate to a much larger degree had a “workmanlike” work ethic in the sense that there was a pride in their workmanship. this ethic has no natural place in a slave-based economy. I see no basis for the slave institution creating any incentive to be the “best” slave. cheers.

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