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Book Reviews Poet of the Lost Cause: A Life of Father Ryan. By Donald Robert Beagle and Bryan Albin Giemza. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2008. xii, 342 pp. $48.95. ISBN 978-1-57233-606-1. More than a century after his death in 1886, Father Abram Joseph Ryan has been the focus of two recent biographies. David O’Connell wrote Furl That Banner (Macon, Ga., 2006), and now comes this biography . These authors possess particularly strong credentials. Beagle is the curator for the Father Ryan archives at Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina, and Giemza is a fellow at the University of South Carolina’s Institute for Southern Studies. Beagle and Giemza have valiantly investigated the many mysteries which surround this enigmatic “poet-priest” of the Lost Cause. Born to Irish immigrants on February 5, 1838, in or near Hagerstown, Maryland, Abraham Joseph Ryan and his family soon migrated to Ralls County, Missouri, about a hundred miles northwest of St. Louis. In 1846 the family moved again to St. Louis, where they lived until Ryan’s adulthood . At thirteen, Ryan entered St. Mary of the Barrens in Perryville, Missouri, a school operated by the Vincentian order. Ryan entered the Vincentians and was ordained a priest on September 12, 1860. He certainly had strong political views; for example, he so detested any association with newly elected President Abraham Lincoln that he changed his name to Abram Ryan in early 1861. Although residing in the North until 1864, Ryan always kept his sympathies and sentiments with the seceding southern Confederacy. As with most Americans of his generation, the Civil War deeply affected Ryan’s career as priest and poet. Historian John Tracy Ellis once wrote that Ryan penned verses for the South “during and after the war,” an assertion these authors accept (pp. 41, 44). Assigned positions in Missouri, New York, and Illinois, Ryan took long absences, claiming ill health kept him from his duties. Where Ryan went during these long periods away from his assignments is still disputed. While O’Connell maintains that stories of his sojourns to the Confederacy in 1861–1862 are legends, Beagle and Giemza believe Ryan appeared with Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard in Nashville, Tennessee, on February 3, 1862; moreover , they assert that his role as a chaplain in Virginia in the fall of 1861 should not be so readily dismissed. Ryan left the Vincentians, but not the priesthood, on September 1, 1862. Seven months after his brother was J A N U A R Y 2 0 1 0 73 killed in Kentucky in the Confederate military service, Ryan abandoned his parish in Peoria, Illinois, in October 1863. Resurfacing in Nashville on May 15, 1864, he later served at churches in Tennessee, where he completed his soon-to-be famous poetic anthem to the Lost Cause, “The Conquered Banner.” This poem was first published in a Catholic newspaper in New York City on June 24, 1865. Fifteen months later, a Nashville paper published his other famous poem, “The Sword of Robert Lee.” While Ryan composed other verses for the Confederacy and his religious faith, these two poems composed at the war’s end immortalized him as the poet laureate of the Lost Cause. In his last two decades as an editor and writer the opinionated Ryan frequently clashed with his superiors. Georgia’s bishop fired him as editor of the Banner of the South in 1870, and Louisiana’s archbishop removed him from the New Orleans Catholic paper five years later. After 1875, he became more of a religious poet, public dramatist, and fund raiser for the church and its charities. While technically a priest for the Mobile diocese , Ryan actually spent little time in postwar Alabama. He maintained, however, his association with the Lost Cause, especially through his close friendship with Jefferson Davis. While in New Orleans, Ryan received former Confederate General James B. Longstreet into the Catholic Church in 1877. Never in good health, Ryan died in a Benedictine monastery in Louisville, Kentucky, on Holy Thursday, April 22, 1886. Beagle and Giemza uncover much regarding Ryan. They explore the priest’s relationship with his most “insightful reader and critic,” Sister...


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