The Cause Lost: Myths And Realities Of The Confederacy, by William C. Davis
In looking at the lost cause of the Confederacy, the author, who is a serious historian of the Civil War, has pondered a great deal about the elements of the lost cause myths of the South and has, in a very implicit way, sought to address those concerns without inflaming the audience of pro-Confederate readers who are likely to be the biggest market for a discussion like this one. Even though I am by no means a partisan of the Lost Cause, it is something I have read about a good deal and so I consider myself generally pretty familiar with the various reasons and excuses that are used by the South to undercut the pain of having lost the Civil War, and it looks like the author is very familiar as well and chooses to address them in a subtle but profound way that is well worth investigating. A great deal of heat and light has been spent in the Civil War and sometimes it is worth addressing questions without raising the hackles of the reader, so as to be able to make one’s point without too much drama being involved.
This book is about 200 pages long and is divided into four parts and twelve relatively short chapters. The author begins with a list of illustrations and an introduction. After that there is a discussion of Jefferson Davis’ toxic relationship with most of his generals (I), with a discussion on Jefferson Davis’ insecurity and the way it has proven to be an enigma for many historians (1), the troubled relationship between Davis, Johnston, and Beauregard (2), and Davis and Lee’s successful partnership (3). This leads to a discussion of forgotten wars (II), such as the siege of Charleston (4), the fighting in the West and its savagery (5), and the forgotten front of the Trans-Mississippi and the way it tied down Confederate troops that could have been useful elsewhere (6). This leads to a discussion of excuses and turning points along the course to Confederate defeat (III), which includes chapters on the relationship between the lost cause and the lost will to fight (7), the turning point that wasn’t in the Election of 1864 (8), and the considerable skill that Breckinridge showed in trying to keep the South’s armies going despite his own pessimism about their cause (9). Finally, the book ends with a discussion of The Confederacy in myth and posterity (IV), with chapters on Stonewall Jackson (10), the myths and realities of the Confederacy (11), and the Civil War and the Confederacy in cinema (12), as well as notes and an index.
In looking at this book as a whole, it appears as if there are a few parallel cases being made for the failures of the Confederacy. Although the Confederates thought that their elan would counteract their inferiority in numbers and material resources relative to the North, Davis gently deals with a few of their more profound weaknesses. For one, they did not have enough strength in leadership to command their armies, having to repeatedly resort to Johnston despite knowing that he did not have enough fight in him because there was no one else available despite his repeated failures, especially after the defeats of Bragg, Hood, Pemberton, and others. In addition to this, the author discusses Davis’ own insecurities and how hard it was for others to work with him because they simply did not realize how much he needed information and have the will to supply that need. Similarly, the author discusses the inability that the South had to fight on interior lines with their inferior numbers, because the political pressure to hold on to their border territory was so intense that it led repeatedly to the loss of armies that were sent in order to retake territory lost to the Union. If the South could have won, it did not, and it is not worth making excuses about it.