“The Myth of the Myth of the Lost Cause”
Myth? What Myth?
By Bill Vallante
If you like “Civil War” history but haven’t been paying attention these last 20 years or so, the “Lost Cause”, has now become a “Myth” – at least according to most contemporary historians and self-proclaimed experts. Ever since Alan Nolan’s 1991 book, “The Myth of the Lost Cause” the historical literary field has witnessed an avalanche of similar books, each desperately trying to be unique in its own way, and each seeking to prove that the cause for which the South claimed to have fought and indeed, the heroic struggle itself that most people, until the last 20 years, believed that the South put up, are nothing more than myths.
Wikipedia, not known to be the best and most reliable of sources, nonetheless defines accurately what I am getting at and what is the target of this paper:
“The Lost Cause is the name commonly given to a literary and intellectual movement that sought to reconcile the traditional white society of the Southern United States to the defeat of the Confederate States of America in the Civil War of 1861–1865. Those who contributed to the movement tended to portray the Confederacy's cause as noble and most of the Confederacy's leaders as exemplars of old-fashioned chivalry, defeated by the Union armies not through superior military skill, but by overwhelming force. They also tended to condemn Reconstruction.”
So then, the “Lost Cause” has become a myth – so sayeth the “Myth of the Lost Cause Mythologists.” Why do I refer to them as such? Because in destroying one myth or what they claim is a myth they haven’t done much more than replace it with another myth, and a particularly bad myth at that!
A more detailed look at what the “Myth of the Lost Cause Mythologists” contend:
- They contend that: Slavery was the real cause of the war. The South fought for the right to keep others in bondage and anything else is a lie or distortion perpetrated in the post war period by former Confederates who were ashamed of their actions and who were trying to make themselves look good, or, by neo-Confederates today seeking to whitewash the Confederate cause and who themselves are most probably racists.
-They contend that: After the war Southern writers wrote the history of the war and brainwashed Americans, north and south into believing that the South really fought for states rights and not slavery, and that it lost its heroic fight only because it was overwhelmed by superior numbers.
-They contend that: After the war, Southern writers convinced America that before the Yankee attack everything was moonlight and magnolias in the South and that all the slaves were happy.
-They contend that: Southern generals weren’t really as good or as noble as everyone says they were. This myth was invented by Southern writers to steal the glory from Yankee generals, who, led by Massa Linkhorn and company, gave us “a new nation,” for which we should all be eternally thankful. (even though the cost of creating that “new nation” was nearly 700000 dead and nearly half a million maimed),
- Most mythologists contend that the Southern soldier was one or more of the following: overrated, ignorant, misled, apathetic, a frequent deserter, a poor soldier, and that his heart was not really in the fight. If he did, at times, show enthusiasm for his cause, it was only because he hoped one day to hit the lottery and be able to afford to buy a gaggle of slaves – thus, even if he did not own slaves, he was fighting for the hope that one day he would.
-They contend that: 50000 Southerners fought bravely for the North…err, well, they used to say 50000 but a few years ago they upped the figure to 100,000, and more recently, that figure has climbed to 300,000. (soon the numbers will reach a point where it will appear that there were more Southerners in the Union army than there were males in the entire South.)
-They contend that: Southern writers wrote out the black man’s participation in the war on the Union side in order to promote “white supremacy.” To correct this injustice, “Myth of the Lost Cause Mythologists” now inform us that the black man was actually instrumental in winning the war for the Union, that slaves ran away in vast hordes to the Union lines, that “the slaves freed themselves”, and that those who could not make it to the Union lines worked feverishly to subvert the Southern war effort. (There is no mention of any black participation on the Southern side as “Myth of the Lost Cause Mythologists” do not believe in such things any more than they believe in little green men. Well, actually, a lot of them do believe in little green men but not in black men supporting the South.)
-They contend that: The Planters, who were slave owners and werry werry bad men, dragged the rest of the South into seceding and into a war that it really did not want. This resulted in a lack of enthusiasm for the war that was reflected in the attitude of the Southern civilian population, whose women begged their men to desert and who frequently rioted because they were sick of the war and sick of not having any food.
-They contend that: Reconstruction was a wonderful time of social progress and of wonderful “interracial democracies,” snuffed out by those evil Southern white supremacists and that Reconstruction was a great idea, but it did not go far enough. (stick the word “interracial in front of anything these days and it is automatically a good thing. I wonder if an “interracial” case of cholera is a good thing?).
But it’s all ok now, because the “Myth of the Lost Cause Mythologists” are going to make it all better and fix America’s collective memory. Like the Union army before them, they will go “trampling through the vintage” to stomp out the “grapes of wrath.” The Republican-led Union army gave America a new nation, whether America wanted it or not, and the “Myth of the Lost Cause Mythologist” will give America a new “memory” - whether it wants it or not.
Glory, Glory Halleluiah.
About those Post War Southern Writers
There was no subversive plot on the part of Southern post-war writers to steal America’s historical “memory.” In 1865 the South recognized that its bid for independence had failed. It laid down its arms, and its citizens agreed to return to the Union and be good citizens of that political entity. They and their descendents have been faithful to their word, as evidenced by the fact that ever since 1865, whenever America has needed volunteers to go off and get killed in some far off hellhole, it is always Southerners who are the first to volunteer. Anne Coulter referred to them as “America’s Warrior Class.”
Nowhere in the terms of surrender however, did it specify that Southerners had to grovel and to humbly beg for forgiveness. Nowhere did it say that they had to admit to wrongdoing and then accept slander or insults. Nowhere was it written that they could not defend themselves. Self-defense, whether against physical or verbal attack, was and still is everyone’s right. In the post war period Northern writers took it upon themselves to cast the South as the proverbial villain in some kind of demented passion play. Southern writers responded and that’s all there is to it. And if they wrote better and presented a better argument than their northern counterparts, well, maybe, just maybe, it’s possible that they indeed had the better argument, and that in a day and age that had yet to see mass brainwashing in either the public schools or the national parks or, had yet to encounter the most nauseating of popular terms, “the teachable moment,” maybe, just maybe, an American public that was still able to think independently, logically and critically, actually bought those arguments - because those arguments actually had something to offer!
About Slavery as some kind of sin or high crime
Yes, the South had slavery. So what? It was in America for 240 years before Sumter was fired upon, it had been practiced worldwide since the dawn of recorded history by nearly every people on the planet, it was legal and protected by the Constitution, and the Yankees had no problem with it until they stopped making a profit from it and, until they began a determined campaign to secure a majority in Congress in order to be able to pass legislation favorable to their states – legislation I might add that also happened to be detrimental to the Southern states. Further, I don’t see anyone making demands for apologies or expressions of regret on other countries that have practiced slavery. The only one I see getting hit with demands is America, specifically white America and specifically the American South. And I do not see those today who whine about slavery of the past doing anything about it where it exists in the present (in Africa, and in a manner far more brutal than any 19th century white planter could have conceived of). I can’t say exactly what the reason for this might be except to postulate, as someone else did, that slavery of the past is remunerable for reparations in the present, while slavery of the present is not.
Whatever the reasons, I will not jump on the insanity bandwagon and start apologizing on behalf of past peoples for doing what was common and quite the norm in their time. As I’ve said before, more and more I grow convinced that for the past 20 or 30 years, someone has been putting “stupid pills” in America’s water supply. When I majored in history as an undergraduate 40 years ago, such moralizing, sermonizing, and apologizing were not to be found, and judging past peoples by using contemporary standards was considered to be the province of the fool. A student majoring in history who displayed such behavior would have been told by his professors to find another major. Today, the professors do it!
Newsflash – those who demand such apologies and expressions of regret are the demagogues, the race baiters and those who have something to gain by issuing such demands. Those who comply with such demands are the cowards, the fools, the idiots, those who are afflicted with self-loathing and those who have something to gain by demonstrating abasement. I refuse to play in this game. Charley Reese, former journalist for the Orlando Sentinel, once said that “the people of the past don’t owe anyone an apology. They, like us, fell out of the womb into a society that, like all societies, had pre-existing customs and mores. They played the cards that God dealt them the best way they knew how and that’s all that you can expect of them. It’s our play now, and the pot is the future.” I stand with Mr. Reese on this one. And I will not budge for anyone. I don’t do apologies, I don’t do sorry, I don’t do “reconciliation” (another word that has been battered to death in recent times), and I don’t do “stupid pills” either.
About Slavery as the “Cause” of the War
The war itself was not caused by slavery. The war was caused by the invasion of 11 states who sought the same right as their forefathers sought – the right to be governed by something which had the consent of those that it governed. Those states, not counting 2 others, Maryland and Missouri, who were prevented by military force from even discussing secession, had determined that they were not safe in the Union and therefore had decided to pursue their own course independent of their northern neighbors. Those northern neighbors, governed as they were by a relatively new political party bent on consolidation of the American system, could not find it in their hearts to part with those states, and so, launched an invasion of them. That’s your cause of the war in a nutshell.
I would say that the South had plenty of reason not to feel safe. Some Northern idealists had cheered 30 years earlier when Nat Turner mutilated and murdered 61 white men, women and children. Even greater numbers of sanctimonious reformers proclaimed John Brown, whose plans, if successful, would have made Turner’s exploits look like a church picnic, to be a saint. Brown’s expedition was financed by 6 well-heeled and wealthy northerners, all belonging to a party that, in the words of one prominent Republican, Wendell Phillips, was a “party of the North pledged against the South.” 
If anyone wanted war, it wasn’t the South. “All we ask is to be left alone.” It was a cry echoed by numerous Southerners throughout Dixie between 1861 and 1865, from the highest official and general, to the lowest private and civilian. It was heard coming from the mouths of Jefferson Davis, Alexander Stephens, Patrick Cleburne, Mary Chestnut, Judah Benjamin and countless others. Had the North left the south alone to go its own way, there would have been no war, no nearly 700000 dead and no nearly half a million maimed.
To you “Myth of the Lost Cause Mythologists”, I say flat out – if you want to know what the cause of the war was, look into the mirror and you’ll see it staring back at you. It was caused by the invasion of sovereign states by a bunch of boobs like you who just couldn’t leave well enough alone. The desperate fight that the South put up was a noble one and a courageous one, and until recently that fact was acknowledged by anyone with a modicum of common sense and a passing amount of literacy. And though it failed, I have no doubt that those who conducted the defense against that invasion would say that despite its failure, it was well worth the effort to try and rid themselves of meddling, petty tyrants like yourselves.
(to be continued)
 “The “Secession, State and Liberty,” David Gordon, Editor, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, (U.S.A. and London (U.K.), Copyright, 1999, 4th Paperback Printing, 2009, page 27