Project Update: The Lost Cause Video

The United Daughters of the Confederacy at Arlington, 1923 via Wiki Commons

Good morning everyone, I hope you are doing well. As I said on my last blog post, the blog is going to be used for project updates and other communication about the work I am currently doing. With that in mind, today is my first project update on my upcoming video on the Lost Cause.

For those unfamiliar with the Lost Cause, the Lost Cause is a mythology created by former confederates, southern educators and memorial associations like the Ladies Memorial Associations and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. It is largely centralized around the denial that the Civil War was not about slavery, and that the South fought for states rights. While not the only thing about the Lost Cause, the consistent refusal to accept that slavery was central to the confederacy’s existence is perhaps one of the most controversial elements of this myth.

Part of the reason I started this project is tied to the recent removal of Robert E. Lee’s statue from Memorial Avenue in Virginia. The removal has prompted some responses that do little justice to the complex and sometimes violent history that underline the statues now removed. I hope that this video will work to answer some of the questions surrounding the Lost Cause, but also to respond to some of the pundits who try and pretend there isn’t a legitimate reasons for concern.

Starting my research, I sought out monographs (historical books) that could help explain the nuances of the smaller arguments that make up the larger myth. The first monograph I completed is the late Edward Bonekemper III’s The Myth of the Lost Cause: Why the South Fought the Civil War and Why the North Won (2015). Through his detailed analysis, Bonekemper carefully examines and debunks Lost Causer arguments one at a time. Whether its the argument that Robert E. Lee was the best general who ever lived or that slavery was not central to the confederacy’s reasons for secession, Bonekemper successfully and persuasively argues his case without the usual anger, albeit understandable anger, that permeates through the usual response to Lost Cause deception.

This factual take down is an exceptional and incredibly useful resource for debunking the Lost Cause. That said, there is little discussion as to how the Lost Cause came to be.

With that in mind, I began examining Caroline Janney’s Bury the Dead, but Not the Past: Ladies’ Memorial Associations and the Lost Cause (2008). This monograph is unique in that it doesn’t argue that the UDC was the main source of Lost Cause propaganda. Rather, Janney points to the role of Ladies Memorial Associations (LMAs) in creating monuments and grave ceremonies to former confederates. This approach details how wartime ladies organizations developed to support the war effort before creating their own associations during Reconstruction. Through their work, these memorial associations established the ceremonial and political foundations that would later allow the United Daughters of the Confederacy to come to prominence.

Janney’s work is an excellent source for understanding many of the tactics that would later play a role in UDC politics and the Lost Cause. That said, due to the examination point in her research, Janney doesn’t get into the racialized nature of the monuments as, according to her research, that racialization did not take place until the UDC became the arbiter of the Lost Cause in schools and much of public life.

After I complete Janney’s work, I will begin Karen Cox’s Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture (2019). This monograph is an integral part of my research, as it focuses heavily on the role of the UDC in creating much of the racialized undertones that are part of the Lost Cause. I look forward to using her work.

Finally, I have several articles that address the Lee monument and its creation as well as the conflict that surrounded it. I hope to have this video out in a week or two, but this issue is complicated and with grad school, it takes longer. If you want to see some of my previous work on the Lost Cause, I would highly recommend my article from June.

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