On ending the myth of the Lost Cause

jeff davis, coming down

During Reconstruction, that horrific impoverished period in the US South after the Civil War, the Cult of the Lost Cause (of the Confederacy) took its roots in the minds and attitudes of Southerners and indeed of the nation as a whole. Based in the idea that Southerners were somehow more noble, chivalrous and moral than the Federals in battle, old Confederates began to re-write their history, with their own alternative facts. The Lost Cause also warped the reasons why the Southern states left the Union, where the emphasis was shifted to States’ rights rather than the right to own slaves. It worked, post-war Southerners succeeded in exalting and sanitizing their past, to be something other than what it was.

It is not hard to find out that the Civil War was indeed fought over slavery, and that the Southern states did secede from the Union because of the issue of slavery. Just read the Articles of Secession from various states and it is there in bold print for everyone to see:


For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property, and by the use of their power in the Federal Government have striven to deprive us of an equal enjoyment of the common Territories of the Republic.


Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.


They (the Federal Government) have for years past encouraged and sustained lawless organizations to steal our slaves and prevent their recapture…..

But somehow, many Southerners refuse to believe this. Just as they somehow refuse to believe that Robert E Lee really did loose the battle of Gettysburg, even though General Lee himself was pretty clear it was largely his fault and even offered his resignation on account of it.

The Cult of the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, is a re-writing of the history of our great nation. It was this cult, this attempt to sanitize the Southern sentiment that raised monuments and statues and attempted to change history to vindicate those who fought the Civil War or as Paul Buck put it:

“With a sensitive regard for the past, therefore, the vindicators proceeded to rationalize the inconsistencies of their position until they arrived at a solution which enabled them to solute ‘Old Glory’ while retaining their devotion to the ‘Southern Cross’.”

I am proud to be Southern, but I am not proud of that part of my forefathers and mothers who thought that some men were inferior because of their color and who may or may not have trafficked and bought slaves. And I think we owe it to ourselves in the South and indeed to humanity to confront the past head on, without all of the whitewashing that has gone on since the Confederacy was defeated. We need to own the complicity of our forebearers who not only fought against the Union for the right to own slaves, but then immediately after that war was over enacted Jim Crow laws to keep people that looked different from them ‘in their place’. Yes this happened too and yes I had some relatives that were all for it. I had an old aunt who moved from her house in Atlanta because ‘too many black folk’ were moving into her neighborhood – and this was in the late 1970s…

This is the reality of what happened in the South. Is it the whole reality of what it means to be Southern? Of course not but it does form a huge portion of our history. We cannot erase it, but we are wrong to glorify it or as Frank Underwood says in House of Cards:

Personally take no pride in the Confederacy. Avoid wars you can’t win and never raise your flag for an asinine cause like slavery.

In America we are still encumbered by issues of racism, and pretending that we are not does not help anything. We have to own our past, the sins of the fathers are not the sins of the sons, or daughters, but we have to make sure we are honest about what happened and try to work towards a truth that can set us all free.

About Sylvia McLain

Girl, Interrupting aka Dr. Sylvia McLain used to be an academic, but now is trying to figure out what's next. She is also a proto-science writer, armchair philosopher, amateur plumber and wanna-be film-critic. You can follow her on Twitter @DrSylviaMcLain and Instagram @sylviaellenmclain
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One Response to On ending the myth of the Lost Cause

  1. Sharon says:

    Yes, yes, yes!!

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