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Ghosts of the Confederacy

Updated on January 8, 2008

They fought with a vigor that is only produced from a great pride. When the call to battle sounded they rejoiced in the opportunity to prove themselves as equals. When their surrender came, it was quick and devastating. When confusion abounded and they had no where to turn for stability, the rise of the memorial organizations gave them a rock to stand on; The Lost Cause. When that rock had served its grander purpose it was chiseled away into something that was used for private and political gain; so much so that its true meaning was lost. Its beginning was from a need to remember and persevere in order to accept change, it ended as a tool that slowed change to a snail's pace under the flag of racial segregation and white supremacy, and ultimately created the South as America knows it today. These words adequately, if not precisely, describe the ideas set by Gaines M. Foster in his book titled Ghosts of the Confederacy: Defeat, the Lost Cause, and the Emergence of the New South, 1865 to1913.

Through his countless research of many manuscripts, essays, diaries, memoirs, and other sources, Foster tries to prove an argument focusing on the acceptance of defeat after the Civil War and the embracing of a New South by southerners. His approach in this is both interpretive as well as narrative. He recounts this period of history as told by the personal accounts and opinions of those who lived through it and interprets the information given to coincide with his argument.

About the defeat he speaks of the disheartened rebels returning from battle after the Confederate surrender at Appomattox by General Lee. He describes how the women mourned the loss of spirit and dejected nature of there veterans. In his argument, the south's surrender was more than that of a war; it was the surrender of their ideals, beliefs, pride, and lifestyle. Where they were once full of spirit and vitality, now they were left with nothing but memories of a life long past and a future that held many uncertainties. The war was the final moment of true southern independence and its ending meant a huge change was imminent. Foster points out that once the shock had worn off and people realized that the war was indeed over, many did not hesitate in rebuilding southern society and reestablishing an economy.

The main focus of Foster's argument is the significance behind the establishment of the Lost Cause. Once the acceptance period was over, southerners had to enter the adjustment period. The Lost Cause can be seen in several ways, as Foster shows. When it began in the 1880's, it personified a need for stability in a chaotic, unfamiliar world. In his opinion, the memorial organizations such as the United Confederate Veterans and the Daughters of the Confederacy helped to provide the reconstructed south with relief from the fear that they had been dishonored by defeat and offered a model of social order that met the needs of a society in disorder. Towards the end, however, the true meaning of the cause had been forgotten and was used for everything considered southern. It was used to promote racial segregation, political campaigns, and white supremacy in the New South. He argues that once groups such as the Klu Klux Klan began to use the Lost Cause as a campaign, it became apparent that the true feelings behind the war had been forgotten.

When one reads Ghosts of the Confederacy: Defeat, the Lost Cause, and the Emergence of the New South, 1865 to 1913, one can imagine the progression of defeated soldier to New South. Interestingly, Foster seems to state in some places that the Lost Cause was the most important part of post-war evolution yet in other places brings forward the idea that the cause was of no great consequence to the south, merely a ghost in itself that appeared quickly with much influence then disappeared again. He does allow, however, for a reader to take into account all the aspects of the Lost Cause and form for themselves an opinion of whether or not its influence and existence warrants merit. It is a difficult task to create a completely accurate history from personal opinions as Foster did by using letters, diaries, and memoirs. He was very careful to form his argument around facts and the feelings of the times, which he then led to a logical and solid conclusion; the south went through much soul searching before she became united again. As for the importance of the lost cause, as stated before, one is free to deviate from the beaten path and choose their own road.

The book is very descriptive when speaking of the emotions that ran through the south after the surrender of the Confederacy as well as the social confusion that made the Lost Cause necessary. He speaks of the Lost Cause as a celebration which gives the reader an insight into how he perceives the cause. His recounting of the traditions, rituals, and interpretations of the Lost Cause inform one of how the south saw this cause and how it helped to transcend her people through some of her roughest times. It is sad, when considered, how much the south today ignores her history and thinks not of all that she went through to become what is known today. It is a thought provoking material for both southerners and northerners and has the ability to bring both together on common ground by showing both sides how much this war meant to the south and how important it was to be honored for bravery and loss. It also shows one that all today's society seems to have in common with that of the Civil War society is southern pride and takes from the memories of the defeated only the parades and statues established to memorialize them.

This article is the opinion of the writer and the writer has sole ownership of this content.


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