Friday, October 09, 2015

Book Review and essay: The Cause Lost

This short book, subtitled "Myths and Realities of the Confederacy", is available in paperback.  It's easy reading.  It deals with a number of issues that tend to be slighted, such as the election of 1864. There are chapters dealing with Confederate Generals and politicians. In parts it critiques the "Lost Cause" pseudo-history of the Civil War.

The authors is not a "Yankee" or "Lincoln Lover.' In a footnote, the author  reveals had a number of ancestors who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.   His son is named "Jefferson Davis."  According to Wikipedia:
"William Charles Davis (born 1946) is an American historian who is the professor of history at Virginia Tech and Director of Programs at that school's Virginia Center for Civil War Studies. Specializing in the American Civil War, Davis has twice been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize (for Breckinridge: Statesman, Soldier, Symbol and Battle at Bull Run). He has written more than 40 books on the American Civil War and other aspects of early southern U.S. history.[1] He is the only three-time winner of the Jefferson Davis Prize for Confederate history and was awarded the Jules F. Landry Award for Southern history." . . .In 1996, Davis authored the book The Cause Lost: Myths and Realities of the Confederacy, a critical examination of mythical claims made by neo-Confederate and Lost Cause members regarding the Confederacy and the American Civil War. Davis states that "it is impossible to point to any other local issue but slavery and say that Southerners would have seceded and fought over it." However Davis contrasted this with the motivations for individuals in the confederate military. He wrote, "The widespread northern myth that the Confederates went to the battlefield to perpetuate slavery is just that, a myth. Their letters and diaries, in the tens of thousands, reveal again and again that they fought and died because their Southern homeland was invaded and their natural instinct was to protect home and hearth."
What Davis misses is that the 'fireaters' and Confederate leadership convinced many followers that blacks were on the verge of being freed and that there would be massive rapes and murders and mongrelization of the white race.  Further, slaves provided  psychological security for poor southerners that they were not the bottom off the barrel racially, socially, or economically.  Freedom of the slaves would create a glut of cheap labor threatening the white working class.  He also downplays the existence of the Confederate draft and the influence of white supremacy.  To supplement this book, one should read "Apostles of Disunion; Southern Secession Commissions and the Cause of the Civil War" by Charles B. Dew, another southerner.   One review is here. A longer one is here.  Slave owners and traders had a vested economic interest in the continuance of slavery.  They were the elite and controlled the South. Yes, Davis is right about the motivation of many southerners but he misses a lot.  Slave owners and traders used white supremacy theory to support the institution.  They needed to stir up the masses using propaganda and fear tactics.


  1. The following quote is from the Gulf islands national seashore: ship island people and discusses my great-great grandfather's Civil War involvement. “ ...John C. O’Connell [CSN] ... helped bring the formidable, but slow steam-powered ram, C.S.S. Tennessee, into battle against Union warships at the Battle of Mobile Bay. ...O’Connell’s Tennessee was forced to surrender upon receiving massive damage, including loss of steering capability. First imprisoned aboard Union warships, O’Connell traveled to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Pensacola, then to a prison barracks in New Orleans. Finally on November 6, 1864 he was sent to the prison camp on Ship Island. He would occupy a tent near the beach until … March 2, 1865 the naval engineer gets word that an exchange of prisoners has been arranged between sides. John C. O’Connell boards a ship and under a flag of truce sails back to Mobile and away from Ship Island.”

  2. America's antebellum south perpetuated the country's agrarian slave culture against the views of numerous confederate citizens, many of whom served in the military. As Davis wrote, "' ...they fought and died because their Southern homeland was invaded and their natural instinct was to protect home and hearth."'. Major General Cleburne, CSA, " ...stated that slavery was their 'most vulnerable point, a continued embarrassment, and in some respects an insidious weakness.' Cleburne’s proposed solution was for the Confederacy to arm slaves to fight in the army. In time, these soldiers would receive their freedom.". It's true, however, he was up against the south's self-serving political machine. This same phenomenon continues to this day with the progressives' centralized overreaching power grab.

  3. Source of quote about General Cleburne from