t the morale of a shattered people momentum gathered to enshrine the Myth of the Lost Cause which would transform the Southern soldier living and dead, into a veritable hero.
In order to come to terms with defeat and a look of failure in the eyes of God, Southerners mentally transformed their memories of the antebellum South. It became a superior civilization of great purity which had been cruelly brought down by the materialistic Yankees.
At the head of this revival was the memory of Stonewall Jackson, closely followed by Robert E. Lee (who would rise to the prominent position following his death in 1870). Other generals of the Confederacy who had died during the war followed, as did those who would pass on later.
D.H. Hill, a friend of Longstreet published LAND WE LOVE, a magazine devoted to Literature, Military History and Agriculture. In 1869 Hill sold out to a Baltimore periodical, NEW ECLECTIC, which in the same year became the SOUTHERN MAGAZINE, official organ of the SOUTHERN HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION. In 1871 it changed its name to the SOUTHERN MAGAZINE and together with a later periodical, SOUTHERN BIVOUAC kept the memory of the War alive and fresh in the public mind. Filled with poems and stories of loyalty to the LOST CAUSE sent in by veterans. Hill was Stonewall Jacksons brother in law and he filled the magazine with stories, anecdotes and poems of the now legendary general. Other Confederate heroes received their share of attention from a flood of material supplied by readers commemorating Southern dead and using religion to explain the defeat. Book writing was prolific in the 70s & 80s mainly from veterans but much on the romanticism of the Cause from women.
The most prominent of the writer of the period was John Esten Cooke, who was related by birth and marriage to virtually all the prominent families of Virginia he helped enshrine the Confederate dead into chivalric knights and symbols of the LOST CAUSE. Cookes impressive literary output polarized Southern perceptions of the War transforming the stigma of defeat into a badge of honour that Confederate veterans could wear proudly. His portrayal of the War as a wonderful adventure, in which participation was an honour.
When Lee died on 12 Oct. 1870 he was one of a significant number of Confederate heroes running second to Jackson. Lees prominence changed quickly though when a group of his former staff officers and subordinates set about enshrining his memory in Southern history. Lees admirers built up Lee by attacking Longstreet and implying that he (Lee) was Jacksons closest friend. Once the faults and failures Lee had been criticised for during the war were shifted to Longstreet. Lee emerged as a sort of snow-white, pure hero that Southerners embracing the rationale of the LOST CAUSE had come to expect.
After Lees death an argument arose over possession of his remains and the glorification of his memory. The Lee Memorial Association of Lexington and the Lee Monument Association of Richmond fought publically for support. Jubal Early headed the Richmonders and Lexington was led by William Pender, Lees former artillery chief. By 1872 Pendleton and Early began to cooperate and over the next 20 years they carried out a carefully planned character assassination of former Lieutenant General James Longstreet. By using this tactic they focused first the South and then national interest on the Battle of Gettysburg creating the myth that it was the turning point of the War.
Early had failed as a soldier but was to prove the pen mightier than the sword. Early had fled to Canada following the surrender fearing Federal retaliation after ordering the burning of Chambersburg, PA during a raid. Returning to the USA in 1869 he headed the Lee Monument Association and in 1870 became president of the Association of the Army of Northern Virginia. 1872 he became vice-president of both the SOUTHERN HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION and the Confederate Burial and Memorial Association. SO following Lees death he now wielded great power and influence. Whilst Lee was alive this hadnt been possible as Lee only knew him as a former subordinate and ignored him to a great extent as he (Lee) considered him a very mediocre soldier. Now Early was able to claim a non-existent friendship and men who during the war had little reason to rgard Early as nothing but a failure started to respect his outspoken opinions on the defence of the South during Reconstruction.
When he attacked Longstreet in an 1872 speech on Jan.19 72 to commemorate the 2nd anniverary of Lees birthday, claiming that on the night of July 1st, 1863 in a conference with Ewell, Rhodes and Early, Lee had stated he intended to attack at dawn with Longstreets Corps. Had longstreet attacked at the hour Lee stipulated, Lee would have won the battle and the South gained independence. Longstreet ignored this rubbish and remained silent. The South was crying out for vindication and a scapegoat and the dye was cast. Longstreet could not now defend himself without besmirching Lee. Lee was now attaining Messiah status in the South and any assault on his memory would be suicidal.
From this time on the SOUTHERN HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION waged an unrelenting campaign to deify the South. In 1889 another former hero John B. Gordon took control of the ASSOCIATION and for 14 years wielded a power that was only second to that which Early had achieved. Gordon had founded the UNITED CONFEDERATE VETERANS ( UCV ) and by 1898 there were 1,084 chapters each named after a Confederate hero. At its apex in 1903 it had over 80,000 members, one third of all living Southern veterans and in conjunction with its sister organization, the UNITED DAUGHTERS OF THE CONFEDERACY published the CONFEDERATE VETERAN which printed the “correct view of the history of the War for future generations. This view centred around Robert E. Lee. The SOUTHERN HISTORICAL PAPERS continued to be published until 1914 and followed the same vein of Southern Glory and Legend.
In 1918 the release of the movie BIRTH OF A NATION probably achieved more to aid the MYTH than even Jubal Early or John Gordon and over the intervening years the MYTH of the LOST CAUSE has assumed reality and is accepted as fact nowadays.
The fact that the MYTH of the LOST CAUSE found its basis in Jubal Earlys ego which was to build him into something he wasnt, A GOOD SOLDIER. Does not deter from the fact that he hit a nerve and used the pen to achieve success beyond his excessive imagination . As more and more organizations were formed in the South to extol the memory of the Confederacy the MYTH became fact and is now accepted. This is not to say that there is not a lot of truth in it, there is and the fact that it is more a matter of embellishment than fiction only serves to increase the belief.
I have , deliberately I might say, not mentioned the emergence of the KKK in this story as that organization does not belong on this page but have to accept that it played a significant part in the glorification of the MYTH and will leave it at that.
On a brighter note, I have studied military history for a lot of years and can honestly say that in dozens of books and hundreds of references concerning the Civil War I have read, never have I come across a criticism of the character of Robert E. Lee. To have spent so much of his life and death in the spotlight and to seemingly have been liked by all, friend and foe, is possibly the most remarkable character reference I can imagine. I like thousands of others ( I suppose ) have a tendency to side with the South in my reading and narratives and for that I dont apologise for I prefer the MYTH to the possibility that it was just another war. I have no axe to grind with the Northern participants but, basically, find that the prose written by Southern influence to be more ……………enjoyable ?