“An Ex-Officer of Lee’s Army…Purged of Southernism”

I just finished re-reading a couple of chapters in Gaines Foster’s book, Ghosts of the Confederacy: Defeat, the Lost Cause, and the Emergence of the New South, 1865-1913 (Oxford University Press, 1987). It is close to thirty years old, but I think it holds up incredibly well next to more recent interpretations of the evolution of the Lost Cause. Foster’s emphasis on the “second stage” of the Lost Cause’s role in smoothing over social and racial tensions in the South at the turn of the twentieth century remains quite compelling.

Foster begins chapter nine with a wonderful example of an ex-Confederate who not only rejected the tenets of the Lost Cause, but argued that his compatriots had essentially rejected the teachings of Christ. J.T. James of Louisiana referred to himself as “An Ex-Officer of Lee’s Army, Cleansed and purged of Southernism in 1868 by the blood of Christ–and a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church.”

James believed that Confederate veterans:

…should be carefully instructed concerning the evil of the war he helped to wage–a war to destroy the American Union, and bind the most abject slavery on the country in this Christian era, and make the South a living hell for millions of poor souls and bodies: a war in which he helped the devil in his great effort to destroy the Church of Christ in the South and make a Sodom and Gomorrah.

We tend to assume a good deal of agreement among ex-Confederates as to how the war should be remembered throughout the postwar years. This is a reminder that such an assessment is not entirely true. The reference appeared in a circulated tract, entitled “Counsel for Old Confederates.” I would love to read more of it, but I can’t locate it online.

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

Purchase your copy today!

6 comments… add one
  • Kevin Dally Nov 2, 2016 @ 14:25

    November 17, 1868.— General George H. Thomas has made his annual report to General Grant regarding affairs in the Department of the Cumberland: (In part)
    “…the greatest efforts made by the defeated insurgents since the close of the war have been to promulgate the idea that the cause of liberty, justice, humanity, equality, and all the calendar of the virtues of freedom, suffered violence and wrong when the effort for southern independence failed. This is, of course, intended as a species of political cant, whereby the crime of treason might be covered with a counterfeit varnish of patriotism, so that the precipitators of the rebellion might go down in history hand in hand with the defenders of the government, thus wiping out with their own hands their own stains; a species of self-forgiveness amazing in its effrontery, when it is considered that life and property—justly forfeited by the laws of the country, of war, and of nations, through the magnanimity of the government and people—was not exacted from them.”
    GEO. H. THOMAS, Major General U. S. A., Commanding

  • Steve Nov 2, 2016 @ 10:11

    I do think it is important to avoid reading anecdotes and presuming they represent the thoughts of thousands or even millions. If one paid attention to anecdotal comments about Trump theyy would infer he has no support.

    • B Thomas Nov 2, 2016 @ 14:05

      Kevin in no way said this anecdote was a universal belief. He presented it because:
      1) it has an interesting perspective from a former Confederate and he makes it clear this one is a bit unique.

      2) It makes clear that former Confederates were not a monolithic group. “The South Will Rise Again!” Was not necessarily the representative narrative amongst former Confederates.

      3) It also hints at the fact that the argument about imposing modern ideas and morality on the Civil War is a sham argument. This former Confederate refers to the Confederate cause as being evil in 1868.

      4) This website is about the memory of the Civil War. James lived through it and this account presents his memory of it and it exposes a much more complex understanding/memory of the war than many would suppose. Confederate defenders refer to the Secessionist soldier as noble and having sacrificed for a cause they believed in and pined over until they died, and this account shows a man literally say he realized the sacrifices were in vain and nowhere near as noble as he probably used to think.

      It must have felt like he was kicked by a mule when he realized he was “the bad guy.”
      What an interesting account.

      There’s probably even more there, but I see no real validity to your objections. You present a dim and one dimensional view of Southerners.

      • Kevin Levin Nov 2, 2016 @ 14:08

        Thanks for responding to this previous comment. I couldn’t make heads or tails of it, which is why I didn’t bother to respond.

  • Joyce Harrison Nov 2, 2016 @ 9:42

    I purge my book collection annually, but “Ghosts of the Confederacy” will always stay on my shelf.
    I’d love to see “Counsel for Old Confederates,” too!
    Thanks, Kevin! Great post.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 2, 2016 @ 11:27

      That’s another way to make the point. 🙂

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