Lost Cause Nostalgia

Next month I will be taking part in another Teaching American History Grant workshop in Virginia Beach with Fitzhugh Brundage of the University of North Carolina.  The subject is the Civil War and historical memory.  I am putting together a couple of lesson plan outlines for the teachers and in doing so I came across this wonderful video that I posted a few years back.  It’s worth airing again for those of you who are relatively new to the blog.  Enjoy.

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43 comments… add one
  • MAHistorian Oct 3, 2010 @ 13:58

    As a historian, I absolutely agree with fellow historian, Mr. Dresner about the historian’s mission. The historian mission is, to find the truth, beneath the layers of myths, of legends, and on stories because historical truth matters to our present world. The present world should not be merely base upon the myths, legends, and stories alone because some myths, some legends, and some stories has been use to distort the historical truth, for nefarious political, social, and economic ends.

    The Lost Cause Nostalgia Video is a perfect example of showing how one society’s (the white South) distorted the historical truth about the Civil War through the myth of the Lost Cause and its legends and its stories for nearly a century.

    For nearly a century, the vast majority of white Americans, North and South, believed that Emancipation and Citizenship for African-Americans and Suffrage for African-American men was the greatest mistake, in United States history that had long lasting and devastating political, social, and economic effects not just towards African-Americans but also for the entire nation until the Civil Rights Movement.

    We, as historians, have, to show the light on historical truth because it would be an injustice to allow or permit a false history of myths, of legends, and of stories to cause devastation in our present world.

    Therefore, I would suggest an historian’s oath base on the Green Lantern’s oath.

    “In brightest day, in blackest night,
    No false history shall escape my sight
    Beware my power … the historian’s light!”

  • Wayne Carlson Sep 30, 2010 @ 19:54

    It should be obvious to anyone who lives in the united States, or any other country, that it is not necessary to “air your dirty laundry” when celebrating your love and your pride for your family, your home, or your country. The video “message” might be considered credible by thinking people were its creator to extend his criticism toward EVERY country, or people, who fail to point to all the flaws in their society, past and present. Considering all the sins that the usa is guilty of, and following this persons logic, no one could possibly celebrate the 4th of July, now could they? His selective criticism undermines his message and exposes his hypocrisy.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 1, 2010 @ 1:10


      Thanks for the comment, but I see no reason why such a video needs to be made. This individual is apparently interested in this aspect of the American past and chose to make a video about how it’s remembered. The video is not so much about the sins of the past, but about the extent to which we remember the past in a way that minimizes or completely ignores those sins. The viewer either deals with the content of the video or doesn’t. To suggest another video is beside the point.

      • Wayne Carlson Oct 1, 2010 @ 17:54

        Kevin, I think you need to reread my comment. I never suggested that more videos like this be made because they are inappropriate in my opinion. I would like to know if its creator has made any other videos that attack any other groups of people that are attempting to celebrate who they are and what they love about their home and their people? I sincerely doubt it. Again, it is a form of selective discrimination that reveals a deep seated bigotry that should be condemned, not extolled.

        • Kevin Levin Oct 2, 2010 @ 1:27

          Thanks for the clarification. I don’t know if this is the only video. As far as I am concerned no one is being “attack[ed]” in this video. It is a commentary on how the Civil War has been remembered. You may not agree with the content of the video, but that does not imply an attack of any kind. I’m not even sure what that means.

          • Wayne Carlson Oct 2, 2010 @ 7:02

            Kevin, I hate to belabor the point, but it is an attack upon the person who wrote the song and made the original video because someone felt they had to project their views on the “correct” way to remember the past. It is an attack upon those who are capable of celebrating Virginia/Southern history without always having to offer up an immediate mea culpa because the institution of slavery existed. To be clear, that doesn’t mean they don’t regret the errors and mistakes in their countries past. I’m just saying that there are elements in society today that are so consumed by America’s slave history that they cannot help but to interject themselves and their obsession whenever anyone remembers, or celebrates it differently than they think they should. This insistence that we all have to remember the past exactly as they do is Orwellian because it is totalitarian.
            Just so you have a clearer picture of who I am and where I’m coming from, I’m in my 30th year as a Middle School teacher. I hold a Masters degree in History from Radford University and have taught History, Science and presently teach Health and Physical Education. I’ve had a very strong interest in Southern history most of my life and have come to believe that aside from the institution of slavery, I believe the South has been greatly wronged and that the invasion and subjugation of the Confederate nation was not merely unconstitutional, but criminal. Thanks for the opportunity to offer a different opinion from almost all of the comments I’ve seen on your blog.

            • Kevin Levin Oct 2, 2010 @ 7:11

              Seriously, enough with the “Orwellian/totalitarian” references – they mean nothing to me. What makes you think that someone who makes a video of this intends to attack “Virginia/Southern” history? Why are you reducing such broad categories to 4 years of history? The video is a commentary on the way we tend to remember (or not remember the past). Americans continually engage in selective remembering and forgetting. It’s a fairly creative video. No one is making demands on how the past should be or should not be remembered. You are free to make those decisions as is this individual.

              You say the South and Virginia were “wronged” as a result of the war. Do you include black Southerners/Virginians in that count? Where do they stand in terms of the outcome of the war? That’s part of the point of the video.

              • Wayne Carlson Oct 2, 2010 @ 12:12

                Well, since you asked:
                The outcome of the war turned the Constitution on its head and made the federal government the Master and the States subservient. It meant the death of the original compact and the Republic that was created. It resulted in the deaths of 600,000+ soldiers on both sides and countless Southern civilians, black and white. It resulted in the emancipation of the slaves and left them to struggle on their own as “freedmen” without the skills or knowledge that are necessary to do much more than farm, and without the support of an embittered white population. It should be noted that the union league and freedman’s bureau that descended on the South, did everything they could to drive a wedge of hatred and distrust between the races. They disenfranchised the mass of the white population and enfranchised a vulnerable and politically naive black population. Almost every other nation ended slavery peacefully, why was it necessary to end it violently in our country? I could go on but that will give you an idea what I think of it. In fact, the South continues to suffer in many ways today. Perhaps I’ll write an article on that sometime….

                • Kevin Levin Oct 2, 2010 @ 12:34

                  Clearly, you haven’t read a book on Reconstruction published in the past two decades. Start with Eric Foner’s Reconstruction (abridged version). With all due respect, did you take any classes on the Civil War/Reconstruction at Radford? This is unfortunate, given your inability in the previous comment to distinguish between totalitarianism and free speech.

                • mcvouty Oct 3, 2010 @ 15:32

                  “Almost every other nation ended slavery peacefully, why was it necessary to end it violently in our country?”

                  If you ask this question in sincerity, I must assume that you do not fully understand the circumstances leading up to, and ultimately causing, the Civil War. It is the job of the historian (and amateur historian) to educate himself on these topics and draw an informed conclusion.

    • Jonathan Dresner Oct 1, 2010 @ 8:39

      “But other people do it, too” is one of the weakest, whiniest arguments possible. While the video in no way precludes nostalgia, love of land and country, etc., it makes it very clear that in this instance what’s being commemerated is deeply distorted and, in reality, offensive.

      Arguing “selective criticism” and “hypocrisy” does, however, have the virtue of conceding the point of the video, even as it fails to deflect the critique.

      • MAHistorian Oct 1, 2010 @ 10:49

        I completely agree, with Mr. Dresener’s post, because I have heard this “But Other People Do It, Too” argument all the time. The argument is a pseudo-defense, for slavery, by shifting the moral blame away from both white Northerners and white Southerners, who permitted and allowed this inhuman institution, to not only exist, but also, to flourish, for decades is no excuse. Slavery is wrong, period. Even though almost every human society had slavery in their history; it does not make it right. Nor does shifting the moral blame away, to others, for example, African slave traders, European slave traders, whose involvement has been pointed out, time and time, by apologists from all kinds of political, social, and academic professionals and non-professionals, who “talk away slavery,” from the U.S. history books, there is no justifiable defense, whatsoever, for slavery.

      • Wayne Carlson Oct 1, 2010 @ 17:46

        To Jonathan,
        The “point” of this video was not to point to the selective memory of all nations, peoples, or cultures when they choose to celebrate the supposed virtues they embrace, but to specifically target the Southern people (in this case Virginians),as somehow uniquely guilty of this universal human characteristic. Unless we are prepared to deny all nations, peoples, or cultures the privilege of celebrating their achievements, their bravery, their sacrifices, etc.,because their society was imperfect, IT IS HYPOCRISY to applaud the selective persecution and demonization of the Southern people. How, pray tell, were Southerners MORE guilty for the institution of slavery than Northerners upon whose ships they were transported. There is plenty of guilt to go around if self-righteous condemnation is where you derive your sense of self-worth. If you feel the South must be targeted as extraordinarily heinous, you haven’t made your case.

        • Jonathan Dresner Oct 2, 2010 @ 17:40

          Well, I’m an historian, and I have no difficulty whatsoever denying “all nations, peoples, or cultures the privilege of celebrating their achievements, their bravery, their sacrifices, etc.” if they don’t also acknowledge that “their society was imperfect” and modulate their self-regard accordingly. It’s what we do: explore and explain the truth. I’ve stood up in my own synagogue and said

          If your pride or legitimacy rests on a denial of the realities of history, it’s time to find new sources of pride and legitimacy. Pride or honor which is based on lies will not long endure. Myths, legends and stories are powerful, but impossible to sustain forever. But we do not have to abandon pride when we accept the realities of our history. We have to be proud AND honest, proud AND responsible.

          If I can do that in my own house, so to speak, I have no fear of applying that standard to slave societies like antebellum Virginia.

          But your broader point, the attempt to shift responsibility away from the songwriter and onto the video maker, remains illegitimate. “Everybody did it” is no defense for historical denial.

  • C.C. LESTERS Sep 30, 2010 @ 19:28


    • Kevin Levin Oct 1, 2010 @ 1:08

      Why does she need to do one on slavery just because you are no pleased with this particular video?

  • MississippiLawyer Sep 30, 2010 @ 18:06


    Let me first say that like you I have nothing but contempt for most SCV hillbillies and non-educated folks pretending like they know real history. So please don’t mistake my tone when I ask this:

    Was just wondering what, if anything, you respect about the Confederates i.e. their soldiers, leaders, etc.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 1, 2010 @ 1:08


      Let me be clear that I do not subscribe to this view of the SCV. I suspect that most members of the SCV want little more than to honor/commemorate their ancestors and to do it among others who share the same connection to the past. What frustrates me is the leadership of the SCV and not the rank-and-file.

      I find it difficult to answer your final question because I just don’t approach the study of the Civil War from that particular angle. I don’t respect or disrespect Union or Confederate soldiers. Rather, I spend most of my time trying to better understand them through the available sources.

    • Richard Oct 1, 2010 @ 4:34

      I guess you will need to put them in one of your “reeducation camps” so they can learn “real history”. Peace Comrade

  • Kevin Levin Sep 30, 2010 @ 9:52

    See the following post for more information about the creator of this video: http://cwmemory.com/2009/02/15/visualizing-the-lost-cause-through-really-bad-art/

  • MAHistorian Sep 30, 2010 @ 7:21

    Fantastic and Outstanding Video! The video not only captures the myth of the Lost Cause but also its horrid reality, as a white supremacist political propaganda movement . A movement that I have noticed centers almost entirely on Virginia, virtually the rest of the Confederacy is given lip service, to the near myopic and downright snobbish reverence for the Old Dominion. This snobbish reverence reminds me of a quote from William Faulkner, who said, “I love Virginians because Virginians are all snobs and I like snobs. A snob has to spend so much time being a snob that he has little time left to meddle with you.” Faulkner is right; the whole Lost Cause myth is a Virginian snob-fest.

    • Andy Hall Sep 30, 2010 @ 8:19

      “Faulkner is right; the whole Lost Cause myth is a Virginian snob-fest.”

      In his memoir of Confederate service, Rags and Hope, Val Giles tells a story from early in the war where his regiment was bivouacked on the property of a self-important old Tidewater aristocrat, whose pomposity extended even to outfitting slaves as liveried footmen for his carriage. Giles simply refers to him as F.F.V. — First Families of Virginia — and does not mean that as a compliment.

      • Ken Noe Sep 30, 2010 @ 9:24

        Yep, my grandfather the coal miner was one heck of an FFV and Lost Cause snob alright. Oh wait a minute, he wasn’t at all, that’s just a ridiculous, overblown, ahistorical stereotype. Like that song, which was written by two native New Yorkers. Well, back to my myopia, carry on gentlemen.

        • MAHistorian Sep 30, 2010 @ 9:46

          Now, wait a minute sir, neither me or the other poster, wrote that your grandfather or any grandfather from Virginia is a snob. First, what I wrote is that myth of the Lost Cause is centered almost solely on the role that Virginia played, during the Civil War, at exclusion of brave Carolinians, Georgians, Alabamians, and etc, who fought just as bravely as Virginians did, during the war. Second, the snob quote is from William Faulkner, one of the greatest Southern and American writers, of all time, and he may have been joking when he said that line. Finally, I wrote that the myopia is the reverence towards Virginia, not towards anyone grandfather from Virginia either in the past, the present, or the future.

          • Paul Taylor Sep 30, 2010 @ 15:00

            Speaking of a Virginia snobfest, I recall reading somewhere that an important reason Longstreet became the post-war fall guy for Gettysburg and the main target for Lost Cause mythologists (Gordon, Early, et al) was that he was from Georgia and not a Virginian. Any truth to that?

            • Kevin Levin Sep 30, 2010 @ 15:55

              Perhaps some, but Longstreet’s problems stem as much from his criticisms of Lee at Gettysburg as well as his involvement with the Republican Party.

              • Bob Huddleston Sep 30, 2010 @ 16:46

                Some where I read that Old Peter committed three wrongs: he criticized Lee, he was right and he turned Republican.

                • Bob Pollock Sep 30, 2010 @ 17:31

                  In “Lee’s Tarnished Lieutenant: James Longstreet and His Place in Southern History”, Dr. Piston does make the argument that Longstreet not being from Virginia made him any easier target. My copy of the book is at the office, but this statement on page 12 is from Amazon “inside the book”: “The fact that he was not identified with any particular state…would have grave consequences after the war.”

                • David Rhoads Oct 1, 2010 @ 4:52

                  Longstreet also became a Catholic, which was not a popular thing to be in the post-war South.

                  Another interesting thing about Longstreet is that he is one of the very few, if not only, Confederate generals who actually did lead black troops in combat. The fact that he led them in 1874 in support of the Republican Governor of Louisiana and against White League vigilantes who were mostly Confederate veterans didn’t do much to help his reputation with the proto-Lost Causers, though.

                  • JMRudy Oct 2, 2010 @ 4:56

                    That is a great, ironic one-two punch to have in your back pocket, David! That fact is going in my bag of tricks.

            • Mark Snell Sep 30, 2010 @ 16:59

              Gordon was a Georgian, too.

              • Kevin Levin Sep 30, 2010 @ 17:04

                I completely overlooked that fact. Thanks Mark.

    • Vicki Betts Sep 30, 2010 @ 19:07

      Speaking of Virginia-centric views of the war, does the New Market battlefield museum still show a map of the Confederacy in early 1865, in which all of the South is in federal hands except a stretch between approximately Bentonville and Richmond? I pointed out that in early 1865 all of Texas was in Confederate hands except for sections of the islands off the coast, as were other parts of the South. The person at the desk just shrugged.

      This happened some years back–I hope it has been corrected.

      Vicki Betts

      • Kevin Levin Oct 1, 2010 @ 1:11


        I believe it is still up, but I can’t be sure.

      • Andy Hall Oct 2, 2010 @ 5:54

        Vicki, I’m not remotely surprised at that. One of the (many) unfortunate shorthand “facts” everyone “knows” about the war is that it “ended” at Appomattox in April 1865. My town, on one of the those islands off the coast, didn’t formally surrender until the middle of June. But as a result, we can also claim Juneteenth, so I think we came off with the better end of that deal. 😉

        • Vicki Betts Oct 2, 2010 @ 15:10

          I’m always surprised to see how far afield from Texas Juneteenth has spread. On one hand, I want to say “but that’s OUR holiday in Texas” but on the other hand, it *is* the final military declaration of emancipation in any state, so it’s significant to everybody. I have noticed that it is being reported more accurately now. When I was growing up the explanation was it took that long for news of emancipation to get to Texas instead of the fact that emancipation arrived with the federal troops because the United States had no authority or power over Confederate Texas until then.

          And Juneteenth is just timed better for a celebration than the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1. Bring on the parades and the picnics and the music and the barbecue!

          I’ve got a question. Look forward 150 years. Does anybody see any issue that is legal now, and protested now by some groups but defended by others, that in 150 years our great great grandkids will look back and say “how could they believe in that? How could they possibly defend that? They must have been bad or even evil to go along with it, even if it was legal at the time. Take their names off of the building.” Say, abortion, or having more than one child, or raising animals to kill and eat, or gay rights, or something dealing with energy.

          Vicki Betts

          • Kevin Levin Oct 3, 2010 @ 5:08


            I think that is an excellent mental exercise to engage our students with. After all, very few people ever go through a systematic questioning of their moral/ethical outlook. However, we have no problem critiquing the very same principles of others at different times. There is a certain tension there.

  • Jacob Dinkelaker Sep 30, 2010 @ 6:51

    Great Video. Thanks for posting.

  • Larry Cebula Sep 30, 2010 @ 6:36

    If you click through to the YouTube page you can see that the user is “CCGDH” and that he actually tries to reason with some of the folks who commented on the video. (Trying to reason with YouTube commenters–talk about the Lost Cause!) I dropped him a note and invited him over here to take a bow.

  • Marianne Davis Sep 30, 2010 @ 5:18

    Do we know who did this? I vote we send him our thanks with a case of Scotch.

  • Mark R. Cheathem Sep 30, 2010 @ 3:15

    Wow. I’m speechless.

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