Reflections on Hewitt’s statements about the “Lost Cause”

Posted on March 25, 2008 by


I found Hewitt’s comments about the Lost Cause while surfing the Web a couple of years ago and they have lingered with me ever since. I know that there were many in the North who wanted severe policies when it came to dealing with the postwar South. Despite what some have to say about reconstruction, what the South actually faced was far more mild by comparison. I wonder, however, if the North been more restrictive in terms of obliterating symbols of the Confederacy and denying postwar remembrance, would there not have been another form of Lost Cause mythology?

Not long ago, a friend mentioned James McPherson’s latest book, This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War (regretfully, I have yet to purchase a copy for myself), and a passage that he related to me struck me as very interesting. According to my friend, McPherson states that the Grand Army of the Republic, in essence, “gave up their winnings on the battlefields” in the postwar years and opened the door to the development of Lost Cause mythology. When he said this, I immediately thought back to what Hewitt had written in the last few paragraphs of his book, and I think McPherson is correct.

However, would restricting postwar remembrance activities (Confederate veteran organizations, grave decorating, monument unveilings and the like) been in line with Abraham Lincoln’s vision of healing the nation’s wounds? Were not the Union veterans (well, at least a good number of them as represented in the Grand Army of the Republic) honoring the policies of their former commander-in-chief? In either event, whether postwar policies were harsh or mild, again, I wonder if a Lost Cause mythology was inevitable. Are we experiencing a milder form of Lost Cause mythology (than we realize) because of mild postwar policy (despite what some claim) or, because of this same policy, has Lost Cause mythology blossomed out of control? I think Hewitt  could be considered a forward thinker when making the statement about the Lost Cause. In some ways, I think he was looking beyond his own numbered days, and thinking that other events (such as, perhaps, dissatisfaction with future government policies) could begin to spiral out of control and piggyback on the old Lost Cause mythology.