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Enduring Legacy

Rhetoric and Ritual of the Lost Cause

W. Stuart Towns

Publication Year: 2012

Rhetoric and ritual commemorating war has been a part of human culture for ages. In Enduring Legacy, W. Stuart Towns explores the crucial role of rhetoric and oratory in creating and propagating a “Lost Cause” public memory of the American South. 

Enduring Legacy explores the vital place of ceremonial oratory in the oral tradition in the South.  It analyses how rituals such as Confederate Memorial Day, Confederate veteran reunions, and dedication of Confederate monuments have contributed to creating and sustaining a Lost Cause paradigm for Southern identity.  Towns studies in detail secessionist and Civil War speeches and how they laid the groundwork for future generations, including Southern responses to the civil rights movement, and beyond.  The Lost Cause orators that came after the Civil War, Towns argues, helped to shape a lasting mythology of the brave Confederate martyr, and the Southern positions for why the Confederacy lost and who was to blame.  Innumerable words were spent—in commemorative speeches, newspaper editorials, and statehouse oratory—condemning the evils of Reconstruction, redemption, reconciliation, and the new and future South. Towns concludes with an analysis of how Lost Cause myths still influence Southern and national perceptions of the region today, as evidenced in debates over the continued deployment of the Confederate flag and the popularity of Civil War re-enactments.


Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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p. vii

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pp. ix-xvii

In the mid-1990s, while working on an anthology of speeches from the civil rights movement, I began to have the feeling of déjà vu. A few years earlier, I had edited a two-volume collection of speeches by southern orators from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and many of the themes...

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1. Rhetoric, Celebration, and Ritual: Building a Collective Memory in the Postwar South

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pp. 1-13

Perhaps in no other Western nation of modern times has the practice of public speaking played such a predominant role in the life of a nation as in the United States. Beginning with the earliest Puritan sermons and continuing into the twenty-first century, much of the history of America can be read...

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2. Remembering the Confederacy: Ceremony in the Postwar South, 1865–1920s

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pp. 14-39

Since before the beginning of recorded history, the human race has acknowledged the need to celebrate and honor the important aspects of culture— its religion, its heroes, its victories, and its defeats; archaeological findings and anthropological research conclusively show this human trait...

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3. The Road to Secession and War: The Oratorical Defense of the Confederacy and the Old South

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pp. 40-61

There was never a Confederate Memorial Day celebration, a Confederate veterans’ reunion, or a Confederate monument dedication without the program including at least one oration by a local dignitary, often a Confederate general or other high-ranking officer, or a local soldier who was always portrayed...

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4. Creating the Myths of the War: Martyrs and Scapegoats of the Confederacy

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pp. 62-95

Concurrently with their defense of the right of secession and the rights of states, Lost Cause orators defined, described, and defended the mythology of the Civil War. Southerners had not believed they could lose in their struggles with the North, as they believed God was on their side and that they were...

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5. Creating the Myths of Reconstruction, Redemption, Reconciliation, and the New and Future South: The Rest of the Story

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pp. 96-115

Lost Cause rhetoric included not only defense, glorification, and justification of the Confederacy and the Old South and its war heroes, but also the clearly connected and relevant mythology of what happened to the region after Appomattox. The Civil War may have been the great epic event of southern...

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6. The Persistence of a Myth: The Lost Cause in the Modern South

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pp. 116-146

There is no question that Confederate ceremonial events and the rituals and rhetoric that created the cult of the Lost Cause made a deep and abiding impression on the white citizens of the post–Civil War South. A typical example of these celebrations and their impact on their communities occurred...


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pp. 147-163


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pp. 165-182


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pp. 183-190

E-ISBN-13: 9780817385811
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817317522

Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 772845452
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Enduring Legacy

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Memory -- Social aspects -- Southern States.
  • Speeches, addresses, etc., American -- Southern States -- History and criticism.
  • Group identity -- Southern States.
  • English language -- Southern States -- Rhetoric.
  • Southern States -- Languages -- History.
  • Confederate States of America -- History.
  • Oratory -- Southern States -- History.
  • Southern States -- Civilization.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Influence
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