Tim’s Lost Cause

   I’m not sure that this is an acceptable blog but it’s something that has been on my mind for the past couple of weeks.  During class introductions I stated that I am steeply indoctrinated into the Lost Cause vision of the Civil War and Reconstruction.  Later I was deeply offended by Tony Horwitz’s Confederates in the Attic because he seemed to find nutcases and fanatics in the South and seemed to portray them as representative of most southerners.  But I have to admit he forced me to consider the impact of the Lost Cause upon my own attitudes and opinions and how they have effected my life.  In working on defining/identifying the Lost Cause for our final, I have struggled to define this in myself.  What do I consider to be the Lost Cause?  How did I become indoctrinated?  How has it impacted me?

The Lost Cause, as we have learned, has meant different things to different times and places and even to individuals.  I have never held to the Lost Cause belief that slavery was a positive situation for southern society.  The idea that slavery was moral and appropriate seems outrageous and ignorant (yes, I used that word).  Slavery is an embarrassment to me and my ancestors.  (I do know that in the 1790s my forefather included his slaves in his will.)  Nothing can justify slavery.  It is something that one must acknowledge,accept, and deal with as an ancestor of a slave holder.  Nor do I adhere to the racism that accompanies the Lost Cause.  Unfortunately, I was raised in an environment or racism, something I have worked hard to overcome.  I still must guard my thoughts and attitudes at times because those early learning experiences become deeply rooted in our pysche.  My parents and many adults (and a few peers) exhibited racist attitudes and expressions as I grew up and through High School.  However through education and experience, that racism does not live on through me and my sons faced little exposure to those attitudes.

The aspects that I carry with me of the Lost Cause consist of the admiration for the courage and determination of the Confederate soldiers and the military leadership of the South.  My middle name is Lee which is very common among southerners. (This was left out of how we remember)  However I never viewed Lee or Jackson as some kind of superhero or idol.  My admiration for Lee resulted from his successes on the battlefield.  I agree with Gallagher that the military superiority of Lee was not a myth.*  He really was a remarkable military commander that achieved some pretty impressive victories over superior numbers.  That admiration toward Confederate courage and intelligence provides a sense of pride in my southern identification.

A second influence of Lost Cause indoctrination has resulted in my prejudice toward “Yankees.”  I still catch myself being critical of people from ‘the North.”  I’m not even sure what I exactly mean by “the North.”  The concept of the aggressive, intrusive, “nosey” Yankee comes from the Lost Cause influence that presents the North as a society of hypocrites that wanted to remove the “splinter from the eye of the South, but could not see the plank in their own eye.”  This comes from southern responses to the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the enforcement of desegregation (something I strongly support).

I’m not sure how I was indoctrinated.  I think it was more informal rather than being miss-taught  at school.  I heard of the heroics of Lee, Jackson, and Stuart through my parents.  The brief mention of them peaked my curiosity and I became an avid reader of Civil War material.  I did have a Civil War  professor from Mississippi that definitely taught the Lost Cause filled with great admiration of the Confederate cause.  But that really reinforced what I had already accepted.

I guess by accepting some of the Lost Cause I still adhere to it as a historian and teacher.  Through this class I have recognized my bias and the need to be careful how that impacts my memory of the past and how I present that view.  But I am not convinced that admiring the valor and the superior military leadership of the South somehow is demeaning.  I still identify myself as a southerner and that heritage is something of which I am proud.  I resent being looked down upon by some because I speak with a twang or am not quite sophisticated as others.  I enjoy a simpler, less complicated life.  I would rather attend a BBQ than a ballet production. (Sorry, Dr. Epps).

The only other thing that I can think of that may be a result of the Lost Cause doctrine is my conservative political views.  But those came as I got older and being opposed to a larger more powerful federal government doesn’t seem to be a uniquely southern view.

* Gary Gallagher, “Sharing Public Memory of the Civil War,” in The Memory of the Civil War in American Culture, ed. Alice Fahs and Joan Waugh (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 58.

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7 comments
  1. Society of hypocrites you say? I could not agree with you more. Although I consider myself an American patriot and someone who is fiercely protective of any criticism against this great Nation, I am sorry to say that I was disappointed to learn about the double standard in the Union army. The study of the Civil War had been minimal up until now. So to learn about the hypocrisy I read about was too much to ignore, such as the discrimination and segregation that took place in the Union Army. For some reason I did not expect this would be the case. Worse of all was the “pay” controversy of the 54th which to me was the last straw. A union black soldier not receiving equal pay or no pay at all for over a year, while family members struggled in poverty was discrimination at its worst by the Union. (OMG), President Lincoln apparently did not have an issue with this? Such irony considering he spoke the words, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

  2. drobnicker said:

    To deny your own identity and memory is no better than denying that slavery was not a cause in the Civil War. We should all hold on to our memories that define us, and not ignore the one’s that embarrass us, that is part of the human experience.”There’s n susess like failure and failure’s no success at all.” Dylan said that. As Americans, we hate failure and will do anything to avoid it. I too came from a prejudice family of immigrants, which suprised me because people looked down on them as inferior, but not as inferior as the darker skinned people. In response to your statement, until a read about the achievements and humble spirit of Lee I could care less what he did. I was ignorant to his accomplishments, and I must say that I too admire him and would like to read more about him as a human being. We as Americans seem to get caught up on the icon image – the god image if you will. If we see the person as a human being, their life seems more purposeful and interesting. FYI I like your accent!

  3. I find you blog to be very interesting, especially because I considered many of the same questions while writing my final paper. For me it is less about what the South did and more about how they simply want to honor the efforts of those who served. In my eyes there is nothing wrong/bad about commemorating all that one’s ancestors sacrificed. As for the slave issue, I truly believe that had we been a product of the slavery generation, we too would find it to be an acceptable practice because of the fact that our parents and family members would indoctrinate this belief in our minds from the moment we were born.

  4. jmmblog said:

    I enjoyed reading this blog and found it very interesting. More importantly, I enjoyed having you in the same Civil War memory class. Having someone in class who grew up in the South put an interesting spin on the class.

    I believe that everyone should be humbly proud of who they are and where they come from. I believe that most people have “skeletons” in their family closet (no pun intended). I believe that during the American Civil War most humans were generally ignorant on most subjects. Over the years the human race has progressed and we understand a lot more now then we did then. No matter how much a person learns there is always something else to learn.

  5. Dude you should have totally posted this yesterday! I could have used some of this in my paper, lol. It would’ve been really neat to have someone who grew up in the North in class too. I wonder now after taking this class what their opinions were or are of the South? Are the southerners damn Confederates who can’t break free of their vindication or are they simply the people who lost the war? I plan on keeping my eye out for any Union Cause breakthroughs or new documentation. I think having a complete picture of both sides may help my understanding of the importance of the Lost Cause to the South.

  6. magaliq said:

    I have to admit that during this class I sometimes felt as if I had been indoctrinated, perhaps on the othe side of the coin. I felt as if I had to overcome some of my own ideas about the South. I am embarrassed to say that I thought most Southerners were like the ones from “Confederates in the Attic.” But after having you in class, Tim, I no longer believe that. Your openness in expressing your ideas and sentiments made me realize that maybe I was also looking at the Lost Cause in a different way. I think that we can only learn from those around us and modify the thinking we were brought up with as we grow.

  7. Kristen Epps said:

    This isn’t an inappropriate post–this class had led me to reflect more on my ancestors as well. My 4x (3x?) great grandfather fought with the 9th Missouri, Confederate. His relatives back in Virginia served in the military (Nicholas Eppes was at Gettysburg), and one or more of the ancestral homes were burnt by Yankees. They all lived near Petersburg and no doubt witnessed much during that siege. Long story short, having a personal connection can be a wonderful way to make history come alive, but it certainly does challenge us as we consider how our ancestors would’ve viewed things.

    P.S. Given my love of Kansas City BBQ, which granted is different than Carolina style, there’s no need to apologize!

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