Five Myths about the Lost CauseRoundup
tags: Confederacy, Lost Cause
Karen L. Cox, a professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, is the author of the forthcoming book No Common Ground: Confederate Monuments and the Ongoing Fight for Racial Justice.
Some of the most enduring misconceptions around the Confederacy are part of a mythology, known as the Lost Cause, that developed after the Civil War. These ideas are generally understood as the means by which former Confederates came to terms with such a thoroughly crushing defeat. Over time, the narrative has expanded and been used to combat movements for racial justice, most recently Black Lives Matter and the calls for removal of Confederate monuments. Here are some of the myths at the heart of the Lost Cause ethos.
Myth No. 1
The Civil War was not fought over slavery.
One of the most enduring ideas holds that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights. Confederate veterans were among the first to make this claim about “the rights of the States against the encroachments of the Federal power,” as one war vet wrote, and to this day, the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) maintain this position.
Yet these original veterans and the SCV both engaged in a bit of historical amnesia, since documents about what led Southern states to secede are clear that the Civil War erupted over the issue of slavery. From Alexander Stephens’s 1861 “Cornerstone Speech” to state ordinances of secession, slavery was at the heart of their argument to leave the Union. Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy, said that not only did slavery form the “cornerstone” of the foundation on which the new Confederate government was laid, but also that it was the “immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.” Mississippi’s declaration of secession, like those of other states, did not mince words: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery.”
Myth No. 2
The South lost simply because the North had more resources.
In his speech at the unveiling of the Confederate monument in Augusta, Ga., in 1878, Charles Colcock Jones Jr. averred, “We were overborne by superior numbers and weightier munitions.” And in her “Catechism for Southern Children,” written in the early 20th century, Mrs. J.P. Allison of Concord, N.C., posed the question “If our cause was right why did we not succeed in gaining our independence?,” to which children were to respond, “The North overpowered us at last, with larger numbers.”
But the South’s military defeat was also driven by social and class divisions, as well as poor morale. As the war dragged on and losses stacked up, there were desertions and the emancipation of enslaved people — the primary source of labor supplying Confederate armies. Devotees of the Lost Cause tend to disregard these other factors.
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