- “The Great Weight of Responsibility”The Struggle over History and Memory in Confederate Veteran Magazine
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In the July 1900 edition of Confederate Veteran magazine, readers discovered that a “sensation” had occurred at a recent reunion of Union and Confederate veterans. Designated as the “official organ” of the United Confederate Veterans (ucv), the largest veterans’ society in the southern states, it was no surprise that the July edition of the Veteran included details of a veteran’s reunion among its usual collection of soldier narratives and historical editorials. The “sensation” involved comments from a Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic named Albert D. Shaw, a Union veteran and politician who attempted to build upon the feelings of reconciliation at the event. Despite giving a speech described “in the main of excellent spirit,” the Confederate Veteran noted that Commander Shaw “made significant statements with which Southern men will never concur.” Stressing that American schoolchildren should be taught “one idea of American citizenship,” Shaw concluded, “[i]n this view the keeping alive of sectional teachings as to the justice and rights of the cause of the South, in the hearts of the children, is all out of order, unwise, unjust, and utterly opposed to the bond by which the great chieftain Lee solemnly bound the cause of the South in his final surrender.”1
Rising immediately in response to Shaw was General John B. Gordon, Confederate hero, former governor of Georgia, and then Commander-in-Chief of the United Confederate Veterans. Gordon’s comments were clearly emotional as he proclaimed, “In the name of the future manhood of the South I protest. What are we to teach them? If we cannot teach them that their fathers were right, it follows that these Southern children must be taught that they were wrong. Are we ready for that? For one I am not ready! I never will be ready to have my children taught that I was wrong, or that the cause of my people was unjust and unholy.” The article went on to note that Gordon “spoke as seemed he never did before in a defense of the traditions and principles of the South,” and his speech was printed in its entirety in the July edition of Confederate Veteran, compared to only one paragraph from Shaw’s “sensational” address. (A promise that Shaw’s original speech would be printed in its entirety in the following edition of Confederate Veteran was never fulfilled.)2
Though presented in a theatrical manner, this depiction of how former Confederates viewed the legacy and memory of the Civil War was common in the pages of Confederate Veteran magazine during its nearly forty year publication run from 1893 to 1932. One finds within its pages almost continual repetition of the concept of the “Lost Cause,” first enunciated by journalist Edward Pollard in 1866 as a southern, or Confederate, view of the war. The methods and writings of subsequent “Lost Cause” historians receive appropriately harsh criticism from modern academics; it is not unusual to see their ideas labeled as “sheer craziness” and a “caricature of the truth” in recent literature on the subject. Historian Alan Nolan seems to express the dominant view by claiming that “[t]he victim of the Lost Cause [End Page 27] has been history, for which the legend has been substituted in national memory.” As Fred Arthur Bailey has shown, this “legend” served a purpose, providing the means by which southern elites preserved their authority in the region following the war. Other historians have sought to explain why even professional academics in the decades following the Civil War were willing to accept such an intellectually problematic interpretation of the past. Gaines Foster, in his powerful book Ghosts of the Confederacy, lays much of the blame at...