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The Lost Cause in Civil War History


The war never had to happen. ... Civil War wasn't so benevolent, and it didn't lead to the great social changes it could have. ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The Lost Cause in Civil War History

The Lost Cause in Civil War History
  • Dr. Judkin Browning
  • Appalachian State University

  • Lost Cause (1860s-present)
  • Irrepressible Conflict (1900-present)
  • Blundering Generation (1930-present)
  • Consensus (1940s-1960s)
  • Revisionist (1960s-1990s)
  • Post-Revisionist (1990s-present)
  • Post 9/11?

  • Lost Cause School (1860spresent)
  • - fostered a heroic image of secession and the
    war so that the Confederates could salvage at
    least their honor from the all-encompassing
    defeat. Still very powerful today.
  • 2) Irrepressible Conflict Thesis (1900present)
  • - Expansionistic northern industrial capitalists
    wanted to subjugate peaceful southern agrarians.
    It was inevitable these two different
    civilizations would clash.
  • - This has power during times of economic

  • 3) Blundering Generation Thesis (1930present)
  • - The war never had to happen. Only came about
    because of ambitious, power-blinded politicians
    who refused to compromise.
  • - This has real power after senseless
    destructive conflicts or during periods of
    heightened political partisanship
  • 4) Consensus School (1940s1960s)
  • - Looks at the Civil War as a destructive, but
    benevolent thing, because the U.S. won, and
    forged a stronger nation that makes it the beacon
    of liberty to the world.
  • - This has power at the height of the Cold War.

  • 5) Revisionist School (1960s-1990s)
  • - Civil War wasnt so benevolent, and it didnt
    lead to the great social changes it could have.
    It also embittered and hardened those men who
    fought they became jaded and disillusioned.
  • - This has power during the Civil Rights
    movement and the post-Vietnam War era.
  • 6) Post-Revisionist School (1990spresent)
  • - It is wrong to compare 1960s generation to
    1860s generation because it was a different
    world. Soldiers were ideologically motivated to
    fight for noble principles.
  • - This has power in times of affluence.

The Lost Cause Pervades Us All
  • Word Association
  • What words come to mind when you think of Robert
    E. Lee?

Actual Student Answers
  • Military Genius
  • Perfect Gentleman
  • Honorable
  • A god
  • Sacred to the South
  • I want to be like him

Word Association
  • Ulysses S. Grant?

Actual Student Answers
  • Drunk
  • Butcher
  • Not very bright
  • Only half the general that Lee was
  • Benefited from superior numbers
  • A monkey could have done what he did

More Word Association
  • What caused the Civil War?

Actual Student Answers
  • States Rights
  • Tariffs
  • Industrial North vs. Agrarian South
  • Abolitionists like John Brown
  • Northern invasion of the South (War of Northern
  • Note whats not mentioned SLAVERY

How about Battles?
  • Tell me what you know about the Battle of Stones

Student Answers
  • Huh?
  • Who William Rosecrans vs. Braxton Bragg
  • What Important Union Victory
  • When Dec. 31, 1862Jan. 2, 1863
  • Where Murfreesboro, TN
  • Fact Highest proportion of casualties than any
    other battle of the war

Tell me what you know about the Battle of
Student Answers
  • It was Longstreets fault
  • It was J.E.B. Stuarts fault
  • It was Richard Ewells fault
  • It was George Picketts fault
  • It was because Stonewall Jackson was dead
  • Because the Confederates were barefoot and hungry

Major Tenets of the Lost Cause
  • Slavery was NOT the reason the war started
  • Abolitionists provoked the war
  • Slavery would have ended on its own
  • Slaves were content in the South
  • Southern culture was superior to northern
  • The Confederate was an ideal soldier
  • Lee was a military genius who made no mistakes
  • Stonewall Jackson was second only to Lee
  • Grant was a butcher who used superior numbers
  • The South never could have won the war.

Much of this list comes from Alan Nolan's essay
Anatomy of a Myth, in Myth of the Lost Cause
and Civil War History, by Gary W. Gallagher and
Alan T. Nolan.
Myth 1 Slavery was not the reason the war
  • Lost Causers argue that it was primarily about
    states rights.
  • In fact, a major reason the South rebelled was
    because they were angry the Federal government
    was not enforcing its laws, especially the
    Fugitive Slave Law.

In their words…
  • Lincoln is a mere instrument of the great
    triumphant party, the principles of which are
    deadly hostile to the institution of slavery. --
    Gov. Joe Brown, Georgia
  • The question of Negro slavery has been the
    apple of discord in the government of the United
    States since its foundation… we have dissolved
    the late Union chiefly because of the Negro
    quarrel. -- Alabama representative, Robert
    Hardy Smith
  • Our new government was founded, its foundations
    are laid, and its cornerstone rests upon the
    great truth that the Negro is not equal to the
    white man. That slavery, submission to a superior
    race, is his natural and normal condition. This
    is our new government. It is the first in the
    history of the world based on this great
    physical, philosophical and moral truth. --
    Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the

Myth 2 Abolitionists Provoked the War
  • Actually, most northerners simply wanted to
    prevent slavery from expanding. They would allow
    it to remain in the southern states.
  • Southerners refused a compromise just before the
    war that would have protected slavery forever in
    the states where it existed.

John Brown
Myth 3 Slavery Would have Ended on its Own
  • Actually, slavery was a dynamic, evolving
    institution. It had undergone many changes from
    the 1600s. There is no reason to think it would
    not have continued to evolve.

Myth 4 Slaves were content in the South
  • This is absurd on every level. If they were so
    content, why did tens of thousands risk their
    lives to escape?

Flogging is not degrading, and unless excessive,
occasions little pain. James Hammond, 1845

Myth 5 Southern culture was superior to
northern culture
  • This is based on the belief that all white
    southerners were plantation owners and lived like
    Scarlett OHara. They believed northerners were
    urban factory workers who lived in hovels.
  • Actually, 65 of the northern population lived in
    rural areas as well.

Rosewood plantation, Natchez, MS
Myth 6 The Confederates were ideal soldiers.
  • This myth implies that all southern soldiers were
    noble, marksman hunters, natural fighters, and
    nice to all women.
  • It also suggests there were no deserters, drunks,
    rapists, or murderers in the army.

Myth 7 Lee was a saintly military genius
  • This implies he never made a strategic mistake.
    It absolves him from blame for any defeats.
  • Lee was a difficult man to know. He never drank,
    smoked, cussed, or chased women. He had no close
    friends, and was such a controlling man that none
    of his 3 daughters ever married.

Myth 8 Stonewall Jackson was second only to Lee
  • This suggests that if only Jackson had lived, the
    South would have won.
  • It also absolves him of ever making any mistakes.
    In fact, he was unduly harsh on his subordinates
    and his men. As well, his extremely poor
    performance in the Seven Days Campaign greatly
    hurt the Confederate army.

Myth 9 Grant was a butcher, who just used
superior numbers to win
  • This denies Grant any credit for defeating Lee.
    It also ignores his 3 years of service in the
    west, where he did not have superior numbers, and
    he employed strategically radical campaigns.
  • He also did not outnumber Lee any more than other
    generals had, but unlike them, he came up with a
    strategy for victory.

Myth 10 The South never could have won the war
  • This allows the South to emphasize the noble
    sacrifice of their fight. It also means they
    need not place blame for defeat, because the odds
    were hopeless.
  • Then why do we continue to point out the what
    ifs of the war (Gettysburg, Antietam, etc.)

Lee surrenders at Appomattox, April 9, 1865