Wouldn’t you know, all the action is somewhere else. At the Encyclopedia Virginia blog—which you should definitely check out—a series of posts considers that well-traveled intersection of myth and history, and in particular the case of Robert E. Lee. (Seeing the old man’s visage on a World War II recruiting poster is alone worth the click.)
This, by the way, is Confederate Heritage Month, and while some commentators have an understandable desire to mock that fact, Bruce Catton—the great Civil War historian and, I believe, Michigan native—was more sympathetic to the usefulness of the Lost Cause mythology.
The things that were done during the Civil War have not been forgotten, of course, but we now see them through a veil. We have elevated the entire conflict to the realm where it is no longer explosive. It is a part of American legend, a part of American history, a part, if you will, of American romance. It moves men mightily, to this day, but it does not move them in the direction of picking up their guns and going at it again.
These observations are followed by an acknowledgment—vis-à-vis that awesome Lee poster—that some traditions are invented out of whole cloth. Or poster board, or whatever.
An additional post takes a look at this Lost Cause mythologizing up close—and shivers.
[Douglas] Freeman is, shall we say, genteelly elliptical when it comes to matters of race. The Virginian, he tells us, is by his nature superbly considerate, this having to do with “the first law of the South—that a white man is a white man and must be treated as such regardless of his station.” As for those men who are not white: “The Virginia Negro is the blue-blood of his race” and “lynchings are rare”; in fact, he enjoys “the moral support of nearly all the whites.”
Never was a nearly more necessary!
Finally, Kevin Levin at Civil War Memory has gotten in on the fun by responding at length to a question of mine concerning myth, memory, and General Lee. He writes:
What I am suggesting is that while I understand the need to use Lee as a point of reconciliation and reunion I have to ask whether or not the way in which it was done involved too great a price.
It’s an interesting question, an interesting discussion, and I urge you to weigh in.