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.