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Happy Independence Day! 

On July 4, 1863 the Confederacy, under General Pemberton, surrendered Vicksburg to General Grant.  The Battle of Vicksburg is an excellent example of the Lost Cause.

“The Vicksburg campaign was one of the Union’s most successful of the war.  Although Grant’s first attempt to take the city failed in the winter of 1862-63, he renewed his efforts in the spring.  Admiral David Porter had run his flotilla past the Vicksburg defenses in early May as Grant marched his army down the west bank of the river opposite Vicksburg, crossed back to Mississippi, and drove toward Jackson. After defeating a Confederate force near Jackson, Grant turned back to Vicksburg. On May 16, he defeated a force under John C. Pemberton at Champion Hill. Pemberton retreated back to Vicksburg, and Grant sealed the city by the end of May. In three weeks, Grant’s men marched 180 miles, won five battles, and took 6,000 prisoners.

Grant made some attacks after bottling Vicksburg, but found the Confederates well entrenched. Preparing for a long siege, his army constructed 15 miles of trenches and enclosed Pemberton’s force of 29,000 men inside the perimeter. It was only a matter of time before Grant, with 70,000 troops, captured Vicksburg. Attempts to rescue Pemberton and his force failed from both the east and west, and conditions for both military personnel and civilians deteriorated rapidly. Many residents moved to tunnels dug from the hillsides to escape the constant bombardments. Pemberton surrendered on July 4.”[1]

The Battle of Vicksburg doesn’t receive very much attention, because in the east, the Battle of Gettysburg was occurring simultaneously.  The combined two Confederate losses mark the turning point of the war for the Union. 

What makes Vicksburg a shining example of the Lost Cause is that it fits most criteria associated with the Lost Cause.  David Blight states that “the ingredients that would form the Lost Cause were: public memory, a cult of the fallen soldier, a righteous political cause defeated only by superior industrial might, a heritage community awaiting its exodus, and a people forming a collective identity as victims and survivors.”[2] 

The public of Vicksburg remember very vividly the siege and eventual surrender.  It was not until the 1950s that Independence Day was celebrated with any conviction.[3]  The public memory that is shared by Vicksburg residents reinforces the memory of the Lost Cause.  In reference to the cult of the fallen soldier…according to civilwar.org, the Confederates had over 9,000 casualties.  This figure does not include civilian casualties.  The way the town was able to endure a 47 day siege shows how valiantly they fought.  Many soldiers and citizens died to save their town.  Also, reinforcements were not able to reach General Pemberton, thus proving that one of the key reasons why the Confederates surrendered was because the Union had limitless resources.  I believe the citizens of Vicksburg chose to unite around this battle because they had endured it together.  They are both the victims and survivors –each with their own challenges as the remainder of the Civil War played out. 

After exploring the National Park Service website, http://www.nps.gov/vick/historyculture/index.htm, it is clear there are memorials to both the Union and the Confederacy.  There’s even a memorial to African American soldiers who helped fight for the Union at Port Hudson and at Milliken’s Bend.  Does this combination of memorials at the site of Vicksburg show reconciliation?  Or, is it an attempt by the Park Service to carry out due diligence and offer both perspectives of the battle?  If Vicksburg is an example of the Lost Cause, can it also participate in other memory theories?

[1] “This Day In History July 4, 1863: Confederates Surrender Vicksburg,”  History.com: This Day in History, accessed July 2, 2012, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/surrender-of-vicksburg.

[2] David Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001) 38.

[3] Beverly Beyer and Ed Rabey, “Vicksburg Hides Civil War Memories Behind Sleepy Facade: Once called Gibraltar of Confederacy, Mississippi River Town is Famed for Battlefield and Mansions, ” Los Angeles Times, October 18, 1992.

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Propaganda is a powerful tool.  Both sides of warring factions see the value in using propaganda to meet their needs.  In class, I’ve been arguing that the South used various tools or propaganda to achieve and promote the idea of the Lost Cause.  I was curious to see how the North also used propaganda to achieve its goals.  Political cartoons were a growing medium utilized by both Southern and Northern propagandists. 

“The propagandist-cartoonist works with the symbols of his trade to confirm and guide those already predisposed toward his objectives and in addition to proselyte new adherents.”[1]  “In dealing with Civil War cartoons we may suggest these techniques of representation: (1) Rendering intolerable and insupportable symbols which the propagandist conceives of as negative (aggressiveness, guilt); (2) Rendering impotent symbols which the propagandist views as negative (weakness); and (3) Glorifying symbols which the propagandist cherishes as positive (affection).”[2]  “The cartoonist may so represent symbols that the reader may displace his own feelings of weakness upon them.”[3]  Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis were two targets of this type of impotent depiction. [4]

Following Lincoln’s assassination, Davis was a fugitive.  Davis was accused of masterminding Lincoln’s assassination.  ” When members of the Union army discovered his camp in the middle of the night, Davis snatched his wife’s coat instead of his own and she threw her shawl over his head him as he ran out the door.” [5]  But, of course, as the story was retold Davis is made to look like a cross-dressing coward who is fleeing the scene.  The retelling of the story spawned into quite the virus.  So much so that the International Center of Photography currently has an exhibition titled “President in Petticoats!  Civil War Propaganda in Photographs”[6]

 

[7]

There are forty lithographs, tin-types, drawings and prints of Davis dressed in women’s clothing shown in this current exhibit.  Please visit the following site to view more examples:  http://www.icp.org/museum/exhibitions/president-petticoats-civil-war-propaganda-photographs

In class we’ve also been discussing the idea of reconciliation.  Clearly, the North was not ready to reunite immediately following Lee’s surrender.  Davis is presented as a weak man fleeing the scene.  Why did the North feel the need to portray Davis in this manner?  Was it revenge for the images that showed Lincoln as weak when he had to travel from Baltimore to Washington D.C.?  Or, is the symbol quite simple: the Confederacy lost, so therefore is weak?  How does the North’s propaganda following Lee’s surrender compare with the ideas of the Lost Cause, reconciliation, and vindication?

 

 

[1] James K. Lively, “Propaganda Techniques of the Civil War Cartoonists,” The Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol 6, No.1 (Spring 1942), 101

[2] Lively, 101.

[3] Lively, 103.

[4] http://www.icp.org/sites/default/files/imagecache/node_image_enlargement/exhibition_images/president_1_0.png

[5] http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/news/artnetnews/civil-war-propaganda-at-icp.asp

[6] http://www.icp.org/museum/exhibitions/president-petticoats-civil-war-propaganda-photographs

[7] http://www.icp.org/sites/default/files/imagecache/node_image_enlargement/exhibition_images/president_6.png

[1]

            When I think of the Lost Cause myth and how it chooses to deal with the issue of slavery, I am usually appalled by the casual way the South likes to disregard what an unusual institution slavery really was.  The South, with the Lost Cause myth, chooses to view their slaves as faithful servants…but I have a hard time rationalizing that with my brain.  I just can’t rationalize a group of human beings that were born into a world of servitude without the possibility of social mobility and free will.  I try to think that if I were born under different circumstances, how would I end up?  Would I be where I am today?  And then, there’s always the question…is where I am today the best I can be?  I am never satisfied with the answers I come up with to my hypothetical questions, but it’s an interesting exercise I try to do every once in awhile to make sure I’m happy with my life.  Thank goodness I have that ability, unlike the slaves of the South during the mid 1800s. 

            The South, has it seems, can’t decide how it wants to deal with slavery.  The Lost Cause has its version of the story, so do history books, so do historians, and so do the common folk of all geographic origins.  Like Dr. Epps said in class this week, “there’s always a but, when it comes to slavery.”  I think that’s true from all the multitudes of perspectives on the subject, not just when you ask Southerners. 

            I also have a difficult time negotiating that Abraham Lincoln was some sort of messiah that all African Americans hold in high esteem.  The Emancipation Proclamation was just a piece of paper.  It’s the defeat of the Confederacy that makes that piece of paper have meaning.  It’s clear that Lincoln did not regard African Americans as equal to white Americans.  He believed that Africans were an inferior race in comparison to his own.  The fact that Lincoln was assassinated in April of 1865 is a convenient exit out of the mess he helped create.  His assassination opens the door to numerous ‘what if’ questions that will never be answered.

            The cartoon I have posted above shows that not only Southerners, but also Northerners struggled with what to do with the newly freed slaves.  First of all, talk about the elephant in the room!  This cartoon attacks that saying full force.  It seems as a nation, the United States struggled to deal with the freed slaves.  As many former slaves fled the South, the North was overwhelmed with their presence.  From this cartoon, it is clear that not only Northerners, but specifically the Union Army had no idea how to negotiate such a social change.   

            What is the memory of the North regarding the emancipation of slaves?  When examining the implementation of Jim Crow laws, the South clearly determines the social order that will dominate Southern society for the following century.  But, the North struggles too.  Can the North establish a social hierarchy based on race that is different than Jim Crow?  Can the North, during the mid 1800s, believe that African Americans were not inferior to the white race?  It’s easy to idealize the North as being equal when dealing with different races, but that is not the case.  There were many forms of discrimination among Northerners.  According to this cartoon, it only reinforces the reality of how the North dealt with race issues.   

[1]” African American Soldiers in Combat: Examining the Role of African American Soldiers in the U.S. Military,” 6/21/12, http://nlaguins.edublogs.org/the-civil-war/.

           While watching Gone With the Wind, I was not overwhelmed with the memory of the Lost Cause.  Instead, I was more apt to see the American Dream play out in a different era.  The O’Hara’s, as an established family, begin the film as wealthy, successful plantation owners complete with the cultural standards of having that wealth.  Viewers see the slaves, the social roles of men and the different expectations dependent on age, the social roles of women and the different expectations dependent on age, and the requirements in order to live the leisurely life of the wealthy Southern elite.  The O’Hara family are already living the American Dream.   

            As the Civil War begins, the life the O’Hara’s were accustomed to begins to change.  This change is an evolution of change.  It does not happen outright, but it takes a journey from a life at the top echelon and gradually moves step by step down into the destruction of life as the O’Hara’s have ever known.  Scarlett is not personally impacted by the War’s destruction until Sherman’s army is on the outskirts of Atlanta.  While she was away from Tara, Scarlett is still enjoying the rewards of her status while living in a nice home with servants, never really going without. 

            Scarlett is also exposed to a new social role as she ages and is responsible for nursing wounded Confederate soldiers back to health.  As the film progresses, Scarlett is forced to take on more and more responsibilities.  When Melanie is bed-ridden during her pregnancy, Scarlett is forced again to increase her level of responsibility.  We watch as Scarlett struggles with her new responsibilities, both mentally and physically.  But, Scarlett doesn’t back down.  She resolves to move forward towards her goals, regardless of others.  By sheer determination, Scarlett returns to Tara with those that she is now responsible for in tow. 

            Back at Tara, life is not secure.  Scarlett is surrounded by destruction and faced only with unending hard work.  Scarlett uses her talents and skills to rebuild a version of her former life at Tara.  Scarlett’s means of finding success are not always ethical, or moral.  But, Scarlett shows that she is willing to do anything to return her family to the top echelon in the social order of Southern society.  Finally, when Scarlett is finished, she has pulled herself up by her boot straps, or hoop skirt as the case may be, and has created a different version of success for herself.  At the close of the film, Scarlett is wealthy and again living a life of leisure, mixed with her independent business ventures that help keep her satisfied. 

            If we view the film from the perspective of the Lost Cause, Scarlett’s life is not an adequate example.  She does not fight for her home, hearth, and country.  She fights for herself.  Scarlett’s motives are very self-centered, even selfish.  If we view the film from the perspective of the American Dream, where anyone through hard work will have social mobility and can be successful in society, Scarlett shows she has adapted in order to achieve her hard earned successes.  So, I pose the question, is Scarlett’s life a reflection of the Lost Cause or is she a vivid example of the American Dream?