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Essay Forever Faithful: The Southern Historical Society and Confederate Historical Memory by Richard D. Starnes An important campaign of the Civil War began in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1869. Sporadic outbreaks of resistance had occurred since 1865, and the events in New Orleans merely gave organization and direction to Confederate resistance efforts. Like the military operations undertaken between 1861 and 1865, the dedicated white southerners who carried out the campaign were fiercely loyal to the Confederate cause. Unlike previous hostilities, this campaign, however, was bloodless, fought with pen rather than sword. On May 1, 1869, the Southern Historical Society was founded. It dedicated itself to preserving the Confederate perspective of the Civil War.1 Across the South at the time, Klan violence against blacks, carpetbaggers, and scalawags had spurred occupying federal troops to mobilize and state militias to be called out. As a result, conservative political movements opposed to Reconstruction in several Southern states began attracting popular support as Republican parties in these states split over how to implement the new government. The Southern Historical Society's establishment then came at a time when conservative white southerners were striving to reassert themselves both politically and socially, and power relations in the South were in disarray.2 During the period, it was only natural for white southerners to want to reestablish themselves historically as well, championing their view of the Civil War. Known to historians as "the Lost Cause," this southern view of the war held that secession had been a just reaction to an increasingly oppressive federal government . The Confederate attempt at southern nationalism had reflected a noble experiment, which was constitutionally and morally right. The South had done everything in its power to fight for the cause, but in the end it had succumbed to superior northern resources. Basically, the rationalization served as an explanation of defeat. Antebellum romanticism, southern religious beliefs, war experiences, and the social, political, and economic upheaval of Reconstruction made the explanation especially appealing to white southerners.3 While the Southern Historical Society purportedly was dedicated to history 's preservation, this was not exactly the case. The Society was uninterested in academic history, with its emphasis on objective evaluation of facts, sources, and 178Southern Cultures interpretations. Rather, the organization dedicated itself to the creation of a Confederate historical memory. Historical memory is an individual's or a group's recollection of past events. Historical memories do not represent the past as it occurred, but rather the past as it is perceived. Such perceptions do not arise spontaneously . Instead, they are created, and often bear the stamp of the times during which they were constructed. Many times, such historical memories allow a certain segment of society to come to terms with some contemporary calamity.4 This, in fact, was the mission of the Southern Historical Society. Creating a Southern Historical Memory: The Print Campaign Print was the best way to carry out the Society's campaign. Of course, the Society was not the first to present the Confederate interpretation of the "late unpleasantness ": In 1866, Richmond journalist Edward A. Pollard published The Lost Cause: A New Southern History ofthe War ofthe Confederates. In 1867, Virginia theologian and Confederate chaplain Robert Lewis Dabney published A Defense of Virginia (And through Her the South). These and other books rhetorically defended the South's cause as constitutionally and morally right. They portrayed Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, and other Confederate leaders as men dedicated to freeing the South from Yankee tyranny. These books placed any blame for defeat on Jefferson Davis and other Confederate politicians, although the superiority of northern resources in terms of both men and materials was also emphasized. Books were not the only forum used to defend the Confederate cause. In 1866, former Confederate general Daniel Harvey Hill began publication of The Land We Love, a periodical dedicated to "literature, military history, and agriculture ." Hill concentrated his efforts on developing the theme of Confederate military prowess. Man for man, he argued, the Confederate forces were superior to those of the Union. Only lack of resources and lack of foreign recognition prevented the South from permanently establishing a new nation. (Several other magazines with similar...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 177-194
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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