Whenever an academic historian ventures onto popular Civil War media to discuss the Lost Cause interpretation of the war and its aftermath, anyone reading the comments will note the routine denunciation of the historian for employing a modern term, “Lost Cause,” to describe a 19th Century phenomena. In my own research on the Reconstruction Era, I have seen numerous references by former Confederates to their own “Lost Cause” just months after the Civil War ended. And, of course, one of the most popular Confederate- oriented popular histories of the war was entitled The Lost Cause: A New Southern History of the War of the Confederates by Edward Pollard, which was first published in 1866. I have also seen many references in Northern newspapers in the late 1860s that criticized the historical revisionism of former Confederates using the term “Lost Cause” as the designation for this rewriting of history.
The Lost Cause version of history was a fundamental rewriting of the cause of the war, its conduct, and the reasons for Confederate defeat in order to restructure the Confederate legacy into an enduring ideology for a post-slavery South. If you are interested in the details of this pervasive reinterpretation of history, University of Virginia historian Caroline Janney discusses it in this video.
The Library of Virginia published a history several years ago about the erection of the statue of Stonewall Jackson that still stands on the grounds of the Virginia state capitol in Richmond. The statue was funded by British admirers of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. They actually began fundraising soon after Jackson’s death in 1863. The Library of Virginia account looks at the interesting history of the British effort to raise money for a statue during the Civil War, the creation of the monument, and why it was not actually erected until twelve years later, but what I found most interesting was the participation of Confederate General Jubal Early in the design of the dedication ceremony.
Early was an important figure in Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. He led troops under Stonewall Jackson and later he commanded the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia. In 1864, Early was given command of the small Army of the Valley and, after several victories in the Shenandoah Valley, he launched his ill-fated attack on Washington, D.C. After the Confederate defeat, Early became one of the architects of the Lost Cause narrative of the Civil War. 21st Century versions of the Lost Cause, which venerates Confederate leaders like Lee and Jackson, and identifies them as the the defenders of state and individual rights, owe much of their worldview to the work done by General Early in the decades after the war. He helped craft the revisionist narrative and he excoriated those who deviated from it. In 1873 he was elected the president of the Southern Historical Society, a leading guardian of the Lost Cause interpretation of the Civil War.
The Jackson statue arrived in Richmond from England on September 22, 1875, at 21st and Dock Streets. The next day it was dragged by 300 men to the Capitol. The formal unveiling was set for October 26. Before the unveiling, Jubal Early wrote to Virginia Governor James Kemper to complain that he had heard that troops from Black militia companies had been invited to participate in the unveiling. He told Kemper that having African American troops present was “an indignity to the memory of Jackson and an insult to all Confederates who shall attend the inauguration of the statue, and in fact to all who cannot attend.” Early threatened to boycott the ceremony if Black troops were participants, writing “the sun shall not shine on me in Richmond on the day when such an outrage shall be committed.” Early also predicted that if Black soldiers marched in the ceremony, a large number of African American civilians would attend to see the companies from their community parade in Richmond.
Governor Kemper was a former Confederate general and a founder of Virginia’s Conservative Party. Early was a prominent Kemper supporter when Kemper was elected governor, ending Reconstruction in the state. He listened to men like Early.
Others joined in the criticism of Black participation in the ceremony. The Lynchburg Virginian newspaper said that former Confederates should remember that the same Black militia companies that would be at the unveiling, “insult them by parade and banners on every anniversary…of the Emancipation Proclamation.”
Black troops did not participate in the unveiling.
Note: The Library of Virginia has posted photos of the original documents used in this article.
[Editor’s Note: For more on the background of the Jackson statue in Richmond, read Chris Mackowski’s June 2021 review of Stonewall Jackson, Beresford Hope, and the Meaning of the American Civil War by Michael J. Turner (LSU, 2020).]