Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Lost Cause: Ol' Jube

This post is a continuation of our discussion of the Lost Cause mythology and the Civil War. If you have not read the previous posts on this subject, I invite you to browse through the archives to get caught up as the following will make much more sense. That said, on we go!

Jubal Anderson "Ol' Jube" Early was a lawyer before the Civil War and served as a general under Robert E. Lee with the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. He rose from brigade command to division and later corps command, participating in every major campaign in the Eastern Theatre of the war, including the 1862 Shenandoah campaign under General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and the Overland Campaign.
He made his name and his legacy; however, in the 1864 Valley Campaign, where he commanded an army corps on the last Confederate invasion of the North. His force made it all the way to the outskirts of Washington D.C. before being pushed back into the Shenandoah Valley and eventually crushed out of existence in the fall of 1864.
After this campaign ended in disaster, Early was relieved of command by Gen. Lee in March of 1865. From there he fled to Texas after the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox. Next he went to Mexico, then to Canada, where in 1866-67, he got down to business.

Early was a well-educated, erudite man who understood that, at the end of the war, a struggle for control of the public memory would ensue, and he immediately went to work shaping this memory. His goal (and this is important) was , as elucidated by Prof. Gary Gallagher of the University of Virginia in his essay "Jubal A. Early, the Lost Cause, and Civil War History" to build an interpretation and written record of the war, that would, if accepted by southern survivors, as well as future generations of Americans, help restore honor, virtue, and credibility to what would otherwise be seen as the massive and complete disaster that was the true end result of secession and the Confederacy. In this effort, Early achieved a level of success that is still hard to fathom.
Prompted by a letter from General Lee in November, 1865, asking him for information and recollections about his various campaigns, Early began compiling his own memoirs and opinions about the war and how it was fought. He published the first post-war reminiscence by any Civil War officer in 1866 entitled "A Memoir of the Last Year of the War for Independence, in the Confederate States of America".
Over the last 25 years of his life, Early became the de facto expert on the Confederate war effort, and a prominent member of the Southern Historical Society. In these dual positions, Early helped supervise the publication of the Southern Historical Society Papers. This was a massive, 52-volume effort in which former Confederate officers (no Union representation) reexamined and explored old battles, at once excoriating and lauding various participants.

By compiling information in this way, Early and the Southern Historical Society began a tradition that became essential in building and propagating the Lost Cause mythology, and one that is anathema to good and accurate historiography. He began using the memories and opinions of people obtained after the fact in question, instead of looking at their writings, statements, and public records before and during the events. In addition, only side of the events in question were represented properly.
An accurate and responsible historian is trained to focus their efforts on data available as close to the time/event in question, thus assuring that the interpretations and opinions collected are as close to the real emotions of the moment. When data is collected after the fact, outside influences including self-aggrandizement or self-protection, justification, credit-hoarding, and just plain forgetfulness all begin to take root. Thus, retrospective data is nowhere near as accurate as data that is prospective. In addition, one must pay attention to both sides of an argument, and glean pertinent information on a topic from all participants, not just one side.
For Early and the SHS, this point did not matter, and was in fact, counterproductive. It was more important to have retrospective opinions from people who were desperately trying to justify the disastrous result of not just the Civil War, but of the sectional crisis and secession which had preceded it.
Early himself explained the society's goals in August, 1863 at the SHS convention. As the keynote speaker, he said "the history of our war has not yet been written, and it devolves upon the survivors of those who participated in that war, to furnish the authentic materials for that history."
These goals were roundly met, and from his efforts and the efforts of others, sprang an entirely new interpretation of important people, events, and ideas in the Southern cause and the Northern cause against which the Confederacy fought. From these efforts came a significant part of the Lost Cause mythology.
In our next section, we'll begin to look, one at a time, at the essential tenets that make up the primary interpretations and foci of the Lost Cause mythology, as well as the actual history from which they sprung.

1 comment:

Jenny Weddel said...

I'm loving your analysis, Mark! This is a part of history I never knew about, and I'm really enjoying nerding out to your blog. Have fun in Portland!