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The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History Paperback – October 18, 2010
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Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"The Lost Cause... is a tangible and influential phenomenon in American culture and this book provides an excellent source for anyone seeking to explore its various dimensions." ―Southern Historian
"Well reasoned and timely." ―Booklist
Top Customer Reviews
This collection contains several interesting essays, some weaker ones, and one misfire. Unfortunately, the misfire leads off the collection: Alan T. Nolan's "Anatomy of the myth." While Mr. Nolan accurately summarizes key feature of Lost Cause historiography, his tone is needlessly shrill. It seems silly to have to point out that "Gone with the wind"--both book and movie--are works of fiction. They were widely embraced by a white American populous of the 1930s seeking an escapist depiction of a romantic past in the midst of the Great Depression. Focusing on GWTW as a flawed depiction of historical events is about as useless as doing the same with "Braveheart" or the latest "Robin Hood." It is a shame that Gary Gallagher, co-editor of the collection along with Mr. Nolan, did not advise his colleague to do a re-write with a cooler head and sharper focus.
On the other hand, Mr. Gallagher's essay on Jubal Early is much more balanced and instructive. Early, a Confederate general, sought to move the Southern struggle from the battlefield to the printed page. He and his followers managed to influence not only Southern perceptions but, in time, Northern views as well. Robert E. Lee, after all, did not become an American icon by accident. Also of interest is the essay on Wade Hampton by Charles Holden. Far from attacking Hampton, Holden paints a nuanced portrait of the former Confederate officer who evolved into racial moderate in the postwar period (within the context of the times) only to be pushed aside by the politically inspired race-baiting of Ben Tillman. And there is a fine essay by Jeffry Wert on Gen. James Longstreet, the man whose reluctant performance at Gettysburg, postwar political alliances, and criticism of Lee made him an ideal scapegoat.
Somewhat less successful, in my view, is the essay by Brooks Simpson dealing with Gen. U.S. Grant's reputation as winning his campaign against Lee by means of brutal attrition alone. Whatever one's view of Lee as a man, in the period of 1862-3 he was the most audacious of military leaders. But this very audaciousness produced losses that, by 1864, forced him into a much more conservative strategy. The Lee who Grant confronted in 1864 was not the same Lee his predecessors had faced. Thus it is disappointing that Simpson lets stand without discussion Grant's characterization of Lee as not being a formidable opponent. And given that Grant himself had been rather audacious in the western theater, there is the question of whether--once in the shadow of Washington DC and tied to the ponderous Army of the Potomac--he could have realistically engaged in the sort of strategic risks that Sherman took in Georgia.
Considered as a whole, however, this set of essays has merit for those with a judicious view of history (e.g., that the Civil War might have involved a dispute over slavery) and a desire to learn how such views can sometimes be shaped by the losing side.
Overall, the essays are solid: some great, some good, and a few are only okay. I found Alan Nolan's, Gary Gallagher's, and Jeffrey Wert's essays to be most compelling. They are all well written, researched, and argued. Also, the topics they cover are interesting. Although I do not agree with Alan Nolan's low opinion of General Lee as a soldier, the rest of his essay takes many of the myths of the "Lost Cause" head-on, and dispells them convincinly.
Two of the essays I did not find very exciting: Keith Bohannon's, or Charles Holden's. The topic were too narrow for my taste. The other essays are all good, and helped add to my understanding of the war.
I recommend this book to anyone who is a Civil War "buff", or student of the war. If you think that the war was not fought over slavery, but only states rights, you should explore the discussion of this topic in numerous essays.
I don't really have much to add to what has been said, but I did want to make available the table of contents:
Introduction by Gary W. Gallgher
One: The Anatomy of the Myth by Alan T. Nolan
Two: Jubal A. Early, the Lost Cause, and Civil War History: A Persistent Legacy by Gary W. Gallagher
Three: "Is Our Love for Wade Hampton Foolishness?": South Carolina and the Lost Cause by Charles J. Holden
Four: "These Few Gray-Haired, Battle-Scarred Veterans": Confederate Army Reunions in Georgia, 1885-95 by Keith S. Bohannon
Five: New South Visionaries: Virginia's Last Generation of Slaveholders, the Gospel of Progress, and the Lost Cause by Peter S. Carmichael
Six: James Longstreet and the Lost Cause by Jeffry D. Wert
Seven: Continuous Hammering and Mere Attrition: Lost Cause Critics and the Military Reputation of Ulysses S. Grant by Brooks D. Simpson
Eight: "Let the People See the Old Life as it Was": LaSalle Corbell Pickett and the Myth of the Lost Cause by Lesley J. Gordon
Nine: The Immortal Confederacy: Another Look at Lost Cause Religion Lloyd A. Hunter