Tag Archives: 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.


To continue with a similar idea to my post last week, and incorporate some things from this week, I looked into a film that I know is influential to some people I knew in the Kansas City area.  Ride With the Devil was directed by Ang Lee and based on the novel Woe to Live On by Daniel Woodrell.[1]  The movie and novel take place along the Missouri-Kansas border in the Civil War period.  The main character, Jake Roedel (played by Toby Maguire), joins a band of bushwhackers with his friend Jack Bull Chiles (Skeet Ulrich), when Chiles’ father is killed by a group of pro-Union guerrillas.[2]  The film is pertinent because it unabashedly forwards a Lost Cause mythology, and it is interesting because the mythology has some very distinctly Missourian facets.

Several elements of the Lost Cause are present in Ride With the Devil.  First, similarly to how the South claimed to be up against insurmountable odds in terms of manpower and industry, Roedel, Chiles, and their guerrilla comrades have to face not only rival partisans, but at times whole armies of Union troops.  And they do so with out even real military backup.  Secondly, the Jayhawkers (pro-Union Kansan guerrillas) and Union troops are portrayed as invaders and destroyers of Missourians’ way of life from the beginning of the film.  In contrast, the bushwhackers are represented as the sons of poor farmers who take to the woods to defend their homes and property.  Thirdly, the issue of slavery is barely dealt with, except when showing the pro-Southern bushwhackers having freed a slave.  This former slave, Daniel Holt, is shown being so grateful to his liberator that he, too, takes up arms against the Union.[3]

One significant divergence from Lost Cause orthodoxy is the brutality of the protagonists.  Throughout the film, they are seen acting without mercy, and generally un-gentlemanly.  The culmination of this behavior is when they sack the town of Lawrence, Kansas, with guerrilla chief William Quantrill.[4]

When I saw the movie, I thought it was so-so.  When I looked back at it with some more understanding of the Lost Cause, I can see how it perpetuates the ideology in a unique way in the Missouri-Kansas border region.

[1] Daniel McCarthy, “Ride With the Devil,”, March 27, 2001, accessed 6/28/2012 at

[2] McCarthy.

[3] Ride With the Devil, directed by Ang Lee (Universal City, CA: Universal Pictures, 1999), HD Stream from Netflix.

[4] Ride With the Devil.

While reading Dixie’s Daughters by Karen L. Cox, she discusses briefly the role of women suffragists within the UDC, but at the same time eludes that many women were involved in the suffragist movement in chapter three, “Rise of the UDC.”[1] Not having much knowledge regarding feminism in the South after the Civil War, I decided to commit myself to finding out just how involved women of the South were in obtaining the right to vote, while upholding their Lost Cause ideology. In the Journal of Southern History, the article “Kate Gordon and the Woman-Suffrage Movement of the South,” by Kenneth Johnson gives a brief history of the role southern women played.

Southern women faced greater challenges in obtaining equal rights than their northern counterparts and had to approach it with even greater tact. In order to appeal to the southern men and maintain their Lost Cause crusade, southern women had to circumvent ways around a federal amendment. The Lost Cause was still very much in motion during 1912-1913, when women became more involved in their rights.[2]

The women of the South had to devise a plan that would placate their male politicians and simultaneously ensure their equality. There were two ways to obtain this: one join the National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA) on a federal level or two create a new association that upheld states’ rights and obtain their equality at a state level.[3] Southerner Kate Gordon, would take the lead in creating a new organization known as the Southern States Woman Suffrage Conference (SSWSC) their ultimate objective was to, “’to obtain the enfranchisement of the women of the Southern States principally through the medium of state legislation and to promote the cause of suffrage throughout the United States’”.[4]

With two leading women’s rights organizations tensions began to rise between the NAWSA and SSWSC. The NAWSA or northern women’s suffragist organization believed that there were other ways to obtain equal rights (not through states’ rights) for women in the South. Kate Gordon now president of the SSWSC disagreed, even suggesting that the NAWSA was trying to promote reconstruction instead of women’s rights. In addition members of the SSWSC wanted to disenfranchise blacks.[5] Not all women of the South were part of the SSWSC, another party existed, known as the moderate southern suffragists, these women were members of the NAWSA.[6]

In keeping with the white supremacy reign of the South the women of the SSWSC had to ensure that while they promoted equal rights for women they did not condone equality for blacks. According to Cole, “Miss Gordon asserted that intelligent white women should be able to use the same means to protect themselves from colored women as the southern men used to protect themselves from colored men.”[7] This was part of the rhetoric in addition to maintaining states’ rights over federal control that the SSWSC hoped would appeal to democrat politicians in the South.

The SSWSC, especially in the beginning maintained a large membership but it became clear to many women that the SSWSC while honorable in maintaining the Lost Cause was not going to acquire equal rights. The democratic politicians had turned their back on the women who so valiantly restored their masculinity. In the end the SSWSC’s relentless pursuit to gain women’s equality through state’s rights, lack of support from democratic politicians, desire to disenfranchise blacks, and lack of members subsequently dismantled the organization. States’ rightists still carried on their devotion to the obtaining women’s rights without giving up the principles of the Lost Cause but they too in the end were defeated when the nineteenth amendment was ratified in 1920.

[1] Karen L. Cox, Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture (New Perspectives On the History of the South) (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003), 33.

[2] Kenneth R. Johnson, “Kate Gordon and the Woman-Suffrage Movement in the South,” The Journal of Southern History 38, no. 3 (1972), 369 (accessed June 21, 2012).

[3] Johnson, 370.

[4] Johnson, 371.

[5] Johnson, 372.

[6] Johnson, 373.

[7] Johnson, 374.

A significant part of Civil War memory in Western Missouri focuses on a localized version of the Lost Cause.  It is similar to the “mainstream” version of the Lost Cause, with some local nuance.  To commemorate local veterans, for example, the city of Nevada, MO (pronounced nuh-vay-duh), instead of a Confederate memorial, has a Bushwhacker Museum.  Bushwhackers, according to the museum’s website, mostly didn’t fight for slavery, because

[i]t was a matter of states’ rights for many, and for others, the reasons were dictated by personal hostilities. Perhaps for most, it was simply a matter of loyalties. If they left Virginia to settle in Missouri, their sympathies were probably still with the South. If their parents were abolitionists from Boston, they sided with the North.[1]

Also in Nevada, the Chamber of Commerce sponsored community festival is called “Bushwhacker Days,” and is held annually in early June.  At the festival, they crown “Bushwhacker Royalty,” tell the “Legends of our Flags,” and have a border raid reenactment.[2]

Nevada was in the part of Missouri that was affected by General Order No. 11.  This was an order issued in 1863 that was intended to remove areas where Bushwhackers found sanctuary in western Missouri.  It effectively depopulated three counties and part of a fourth, by requiring all residents to leave, except those who swore loyalty to the Union.  Those who did swear allegiance were permitted to move to within one mile of Union garrison towns.  The order was issued after a Bushwhacker raid on Lawrence, Kansas, which destroyed much of that city.  George Caleb Bingham, a Missouri artist, painted a somewhat famous picture depicting the effects of the order.  Anecdotally, I remember growing up hearing General Order No. 11 being compared to Sherman’s March to the Sea in terms of local destruction.[3]

Order No. 11 by George Caleb Bingham

As Karen Cox points out in Dixie’s Daughters, “the first group of women to call themselves ‘Daughters of the Confederacy’ was organized in a non-Confederate state, Missouri, in 1890.”[4]  These women helped a group dubbed the Confederate Home Association to found a Confederate Veterans Home in Higginsville, Missouri.  According to the Higginsville Chamber of Commerce, the women sold tickets for ten cents apiece, each one representing a brick in the proposed home.  Today the site is a State Historic Park.[5]  The Missouri State Department of Natural Resources’ web page about the Park has a list of over 1,600 men and women who applied to live in the home.  While many were denied, for lack of documentation of their service, I found one thing very interesting.  There were at least five men who were admitted without service in the Confederate army.  These five, at least, served with a band of irregular guerrillas, under William Quantrill.  I think this shows that the guerrillas were considered important, heroic even, to locals, although they were considered criminals during war time.[6]

[1] “Border War/Civil War Exhibit,” Vernon County Historical Society, 2010, accessed June 21, 2012, at

[2] “Bushwhacker Days Schedule of Events,” Nevada Chamber of Commerce, 2012, accessed June 21, 2012, at

[3] “Ewing Issues Order No. 11,” Missouri State Library, accessed June 21, 2012, at

[4] Karen Cox, Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture (Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press, 2003), 15.

[5] “Confederate Memorial Missouri State Historical Site,” Higginsville Chamber of Commerce, 2005, accessed June 21, 2012, at

[6] “Applicants to the Confederate Home of Missouri,” Missouri Department of Natural Resources: Division of Parks, p. 19, 25, 29, 30, 38, accessed June 21, 2012, at

Growing up in the South, Gone With the Wind, was required viewing.  I first saw this film in 1967 at the age of eight.  As a teenager, I again watched this classic.  GWTW  was even shown in school classrooms to depict the historic era of the “War Between the States” and Reconstruction.  As described by Bruce Chadwick in The Reel Civil War, most southerners viewed this movie more as a documentary than a fictional romantic movie.  Chadwick goes on to address the “four-pronged presentation of the Plantation Myth . . . 1) All white Southerners owned plantations 2) White Southerners and slaves took care of each other 3) The North was responsible for the war and 4) the South was and is devastated by the war.” *  In addition GWTW presented the “Lost Cause” in a “matter-of-fact” methodology that seemed to acceptable to the majority of Americans; not just Southerners.  (Minority acceptance is another issue.)  The problems, viewed with a modern perspective, are glaring.  The humiliating depiction of African Americans is outrageous by today’s standards.  The villainization of the North and the depiction of the “carpetbaggers” and “scalawags” are over-the-top and insulting.  Even Southerners are viewed as naive, backward, and victims.  In Chadwick addresses many of these issues and how they were more acceptable in the 1930s and 40s.  However, several of his explanations fall short of convincing.  The author stated that the producer of GWTW , David O. Selznick, desired to keep the KKK out of the movie.  However, even as a teen, I understood that Ashley Wilkes and Frank Kennedy were riding with the Klan on the raid on the Shantytown.  Chadwick also downplayed the harsh treatment of “carpetbaggers,”  “scalawags,” and blacks.  The film certainly presented these groups negatively.  (Perhaps not as harshly as the novel.)  Even the street scene that Chadwick described blacks as nonthreatening is inaccurate.  The fact that blacks were taking up space on the sidewalk would have been considered threatening by southerners and others during the first showing of the film and, for many, in the 1960s redistribution.  The author’s description of the admirable Mammy as the one who ran Tara falls shallow when one considers that Mammy wasn’t allowed to dine with her white “family” or attend parties.  Mammy “knew her place.”

It is difficult to overstate the impact of Gone With the Wind upon the popular view and understanding of the Civil War and Reconstruction.  As a southerner, growing up with the perspective of “The Lost Cause,” it is difficult for me to analyze this impact.  Did this film influence the nation and their view of these eras or did popular views of the time shape the presentation and depiction of the movie?

Many things in Gone with the Wind (1939) have an overt allusion to the Lost Cause ideology.  Consequently, pinpointing something disconnected from this concept becomes something of a masterful game.  Indeed, Gone with the Wind seems to have borrowed much from the intricate memories of Southern histories written post-American Civil War.  Seeing the war in terms of a ‘War of Northern Aggression’, the movie becomes as one critic put it, “an over inflated example of the usual false movie approach to history.”[1]  However, one scene in particular was not so ‘over inflated’, that being when a band of highwaymen attacks Scarlett O’Hara.  This results in one of the most important scenes in the movie and underscores the significance of the Crime Wave of 1865.

Believing the film to have sensationalized crime incidents following the Civil War is to diminish the real impact of the hole left in law and order following the war, and underplays the role of women in the Crime Wave of 1865.  One observer immediately after the war said, “crimes had changed from fraud to violence”.[2]  Women in particular played an important role in the violence and their populace in the local prisons shot up during and after the conflict.  Historian Lisa Frank writes, “Many Georgia women grew desperate by the war’s midpoint.  This desperation led to the widespread looting of stores and raids on warehouses by groups of destitute women, often driven by hunger.”[3]  O’Hara’s hunger pains come to mind quickly.

The role of women in the Crime Wave of 1865 is correlated to the war itself.  Historian Edith Abbott notes that during the Civil War there were four stages in crime:  a decrease in male prisoners during the war, an increase of female prisoners, an increase of children prisoners, and an increase of male prisoners following the war with the number of female prisoners not having a stark drop off.[4]  Frank points out, “In April 1863, for example, sixty-five women, some armed with pistols and knives, moved down Broad Street in Columbus, looting several stores before police were able to restore order.”[5]  Indeed, O’Hara’s harrowing run in with the highwaymen mirrored the void left in law and order as much in the South as in the North.

Found in: Edith Abbott, “The Civil War and Crime Wave of 1865-1870, Social Service Review 1, no. 2 (June, 1927): 217.

In the North, the Crime Wave of 1865 became so devastating that one Milwaukee newspaper declared, “Milwaukee was swept by a wave of crime in 1865, following the close of the Civil War.  So acute did the situation become that the common council ordered the renting of two additional police station houses for the detention of prisoners.”[6]  Additional police did come, in the form of military tribunals.  Keeping in mind that many of these prisoners in the North following the war were soldiers[7], one organization dedicated to studying this phenomenon noted, “During this turbulent time of reconstruction, swift justice was meted out through the use of military commissions.”[8]  Furthermore, the abolition of the South left a void in crime control as Historian Christopher Adamson notes, “With the abolition of slavery, alternative forms of race control had to be found and race control naturally became a major aim in crime control.”[9]  Focusing attention on these slaves and less on bands of highwaymen, highlight the issues of the Crime Wave of 1865.

The Crime Wave of 1865 was widespread and the attacking marauders in Gone with the Wind would be found as much in the South as in the North.  As a result, the attack on O’Hara seems less fiction and more fact and highlights an important phenomenon occurring after the Civil War.  What seems ridiculous fiction is that Big Sam drives off the attacking men to save O’Hara who just so happens to be in the area with a fondness for his former master.  Do not let this diminish the important statement made by this scene, that the restoration of law and order following the Civil War did not come swiftly or easily.

[1] Lincoln Kirstein, Film Magazine, quoted in Bruce Chadwick, The Reel Civil War: Mythmaking in American Film (New York: Knopf, 2001), 189.

[2] The Executive Committee of the Prison Association of New York, 1865, quoted in  Edith Abbott, “The Civil War and Crime Wave of 1865-1870,” Social Service Review 1, no. 2 (June, 1927): 223.

[3] Lisa Tendrich Frank, “Women During the Civil War,” The New Georgia Encyclopedia, (accessed June 14, 2012).

[4] Edith Abbott, “The Civil War and Crime Wave of 1865-1870,” Social Service Review 1, no. 2 (June, 1927): 215-216.

[5] Lisa Tendrich Frank, “Women During the Civil War,” The New Georgia Encyclopedia, (accessed June 14, 2012).

[6] Edward T. Kaveny, “Crime Wave Here in 1865 Became so Alarming as to Cause Petitions or Additional Police and Jails,”Milwaukee Sentinel, December 27, 1923.

[7] Frank Sanborn, Massachusetts State Board of Charities, 1872, quoted in Edith Abbott, “The Civil War and Crime Wave of 1865-1870,” Social Service Review 1, no. 2 (June, 1927): 215.

[8] Tobin T. Buhk, True Crime in the Civil War: Cases of Murder, Treason, Counterfeiting, Massacre, Plunder, & Abuse (Mechanicsburg, PA.: Stackpole Books, 2012), 221.

[9] Christopher R. Adamson, “Punishment After Slavery: Southern State Penal Systems, 1865-1890,” Social Problems 30, no. 5 (June, 1983): 558.