The Construction of Confederates: How the South Created an Identity During and After the Civil War

Before the Civil War, the differences between the North and South seemed relatively small.  Apart from differing economic and social systems, the two groups were essentially homogeneous, and the “South had little to give it national identity” (Gallagher and Nolan, 22).  In order to justify secession and the war it caused, it became the job of the media in the Confederacy to construct a distinct character of the American South and the people who lived there.  The South began to cultivate a sense of honor and chivalry for itself, which the North was perceived as lacking.  A purpose of the war was to protect this honor.  In 1865, the Confederacy surrendered and lost the Civil War, and it became necessary to rewrite the events of the past four years in a way that aligned with the identity created during the war.  The former Confederacy needed justification for the loss of life, land and wealth which they had sustained during the Civil War, and they needed to do so without sacrificing the honor which had been their claimed identity during the war years.  Following the end of the Civil War, Southern historians and people began to cling to the notion of the Lost Cause, “a public memory of the Confederacy that placed their wartime sacrifice and shattering defeat in the best possible light” (Gallagher and Nolan, 1).  The ideas of the Lost Cause have integrated themselves into American history, becoming a part of the public memory of the Civil War for both Southerners and Northerners.  The identity of Southerners created during the war and solidified through the creation and spread of the Lost Cause theory is still present in today’s Southern society which today juggles the identities of both American and Southerner.

After the attack on Fort Sumter, the Confederate states called upon their people to join the military and support the noble cause of secession.  News articles from this early portion of the war explain the developing ideas surrounding the Confederate identity.  The April 25, 1861 issue of the Richmond Inquirer indicated that the troops who had thus far enlisted in the Army of Northern Virginia “all appeared so well,” and these men who “rush to arms at countrycall” are of the highest honor (“The Military”).  The same issue of the Enquirer recounts the arrival of other Confederate troops to Virginia in the article “Arrival of Troops from South Carolina.”  This article again constructs the image that the average Confederate soldier is far superior to other men, especially those of the North.  The article describes that “every man of them looked a hero” both physically and in their actions (“Arrival of Troops from South Carolina”).  These types of articles were useful to the Confederacy for many reasons.  First, they justified the cultural need for secession for surely this “gallant… and heroic race of men” was culturally unique from its foes in the North.  Articles like these also created the identity of Southern men as a genteel and supremely honorable race of men.  Ultimately, this was the first step in the formation of a distinct Confederate, and later Southern, identity.

The Confederate media epitomized the Southern man through its description of the leader of the Army of Northern Virginia.  The article, “Capt. Robert E. Lee,” also in the April 25, 1861 issue of The Richmond Enquirer, begins by praising Lee for leaving the Union Army and states that all honor is given to Lee and to Virginia.  Since Lee was born in the state of Virginia and rejected the offers of the tyrannical North, Robert E. Lee was seen and expressed as a “true Virginian” and true Southerner with Confederate values (“Capt. Robert E. Lee”).  Lee is described as having “acknowledged ability… chivalric character… honor” and many other features which represent the values of the Confederacy (“Capt. Robert E. Lee”).  This article gives the Confederacy a clear guide to follow in terms of being a true Confederate and places the perceived qualities of Lee – bravery, chivalry, skill and morality – in the forefront of the ideal Confederate man.  The praise of Lee helps to construct the image of the man that each Southerner should be, and eventually these descriptions become the image to which the South would cling.

As the war waged on, the Confederacy continued to appeal to its people using the concepts of honor and courage as the main characters of the Confederates in contrast to the oppressive, despotic Union.  The September 10, 1863 issue of the Charleston Mercury displays this portrayal of contrasting enemies in both victory and defeat.  The article is entitled “Progress,” and it stated that even when the Union had made “material progress” in their invasion of the Confederacy, the Southerners had “made a greater moral progress” (“Progress”).  This article also expands upon the image of the valor of Confederate soldier.  It claims that, although the Union has won battles, their “success has been a mere affair of mechanics, not of valor” (“Progress”).  The article goes on to explain that in battles where combat was man to man, the Confederacy has shown itself to be far superior.  These claims exemplify the identity of both the honor and valor of Confederate soldiers and of the moral superiority of the South.  These identities are key factors in the way that the Confederates deal with the end of the war and its aftermath.

By 1865, the Confederacy was in a poor position.  U.S. Grant and the Army of the Potomac had invaded Virginia, headed to Richmond, and William T. Sherman had marched through the South, destroying much of the Confederacy along the way.  Despite the encroaching Union Army and the possibility of losing the war, the Confederate press continued to maintain the honorable and righteous image of the American South.  In the February 11, 1865 issue of the Charleston Mercury, it was reported that to “submit to our enemies now would be more infamous than it would have been in the beginning” (“Spirit of the Army”).  Even in the face of losing the war, Confederates preserved the ideals upon which they believed the Confederacy was founded.  The article continues that losing to the Union would be “cowardly,” and in losing, they would “acknowledge ourselves wrong in the assertion” of the freedoms they sought (“Spirit of the Army”).  This article, probably made to boost morale of the failing Confederate troops and reaffirm their commitment in the face of defeat, appeals to the ideas that had become a key part of Southern society.  The article indicates that being cowardly is not an option, and it enforces the idea that the Confederacy was righteous in their fight to keep slavery and secede from the Union.  As stated in the article, a loss for the Confederacy would prove them wrong in their attempt to leave the Union, and being wrong or immoral did not fit into the honorable, freedom-loving identity they had carved for themselves during the war.  As the war came to a close in April 1865, the Confederacy was left with the question of how to maintain their honor despite being the defeated rebels of the conflict and proponents of slavery, a practice which had been condemned and abolished by the winning Union.

The major components of the Lost Cause theory are rooted in the image the Confederates had constructed for themselves during the Civil War.  The theory addresses both the reasons for the Civil War and the way in which the war occurred.  Many of the Lost Cause interpretations concerning to start of the war deal with slavery and its role in creating the Confederacy.  The first claim of the Lost Cause as to the reasons for the war is that the war did not start over the issue of slavery, and the provocation of slavery as an issue was brought on by the abolitionists of the North (Gallagher and Nolan, 15).  This has developed into a common belief about the war.  However, this statement is in sharp contrast to the March 6, 1861 Charleston Mercury which claimed, “slavery is the immediate cause of the existence of the Confederacy” (“The Veto”).  Many proponents of the Lost Cause also claim that the South would have freed their slaves independently in a matter of time.  Historically, there is no evidence of this assertion.  In the years leading up to the war, the South was not “relaxing the laws which guarded the system,” but they were actually strengthening the slave system (Gallagher and Nolan, 21).  Because slavery is today a shame to the history of the United States, Southerners seeking post-war honor needed to erase the stain of slavery from their history.  In making states’ rights or tariffs the agitating issue for the Civil War, the Confederate heritage could still be viewed as honorable and moral.

The Lost Cause also accounts for the military failures of the Confederacy.  The Lost Cause espouses the ideal of the southern soldier and southern culture that was created by the Confederate press.  In creating an idea of a chivalric, courageous group of men, the public directly following the war could not devalue the effort of these honorable men.  The other major foundation of the military aspect of the Lost Cause is the way in which Robert E. Lee was viewed.  After the war, Lee, who had turned down the position as general of the Union army, took on a god-like status.  Lee has been described as having been “bathed in the white light… from the smile of an approving and sustaining God” (Gallagher and Nolan, 18).  Robert E. Lee’s portrayal in the late 1800s, 1900s and today differs very little from the description of him as an “able, brave, experienced, officer: – no man his superior” in 1861 (“Capt. Robert E. Lee).  In making their soldiers and leaders seem untouchable, the Lost Cause’s authors and supporters could legitimize the effort of the army while simultaneously admitting defeat.

Characters like Robert E. Lee and the portrayal of Confederate soldiers turns the focus in the Confederate defeat from the inabilities of the South to the total dominance of the Union.  Rather than focusing on the actual outcome of the war, the Lost Cause evaluates the valiant effort of the South in an unwinnable war.  The North’s mechanical and population superiority are the most commonly used reasons for the South’s loss in the Civil War.  Many Lost Cause supporters claim that defeat was inevitable.  This relieves some of the shame of losing because “if the Confederacy could not have won, it somehow did not lose” (Gallagher and Nolan, 17).  These major points of the Lost Cause theory of the Civil War were created purposely and quickly.  They have been able to work their way into the American narrative because they were generated immediately following the war.  The events of the past two centuries have only helped to reinforce these ideas as Americans attempted to make sense of a bloody war between its own people.

In order to justify their rebellion and maintain their honor, the South began creating a new account of the Civil War almost immediately after surrendering.  Southern writers like Jubal Early went to work to create a printed account “celebrating the Confederacy’s military resistance” (Gallagher and Nolan, 34).  Early and his colleagues realized the power they could have and the image they would repair by distributing their version of the war.  By the end of 1866, Early had already published his memoir of the war A Memoir of the Last Year of the War for Independence, in the Confederate States of America.  Jubal Early dispensed his account of the Civil War through the Southern Historical Society and their publications as well.  His major points were that General Lee was the most important role model of the war, Confederate armies put up the best fight they could against a much larger Union army, U.S. Grant “paled in comparison to Lee as a soldier,” Stonewall Jackson was the second most important figure of the war and Virginia was the most important location of the Civil War (Gallagher and Nolan, 40).  These interpretations of the war are the basis for the larger argument of the Lost Cause, and this representation of the Civil War has become a part of the larger US public memory.

With the Confederate take on the war firmly carved out in Early’s work, people of the South began to collectively remember the war in this way.  By the 1880s and 1890s, the US started to celebrate and remember the Civil War. A decade earlier, the country was attempting to reconstruct itself and the public largely blocked the terrible memories of the 1860s.  During the 1880s and 1890s, many veterans’ organizations were formed and army reunions became common throughout the country.  This helped to expand upon the ideas of the Lost Cause as Confederate soldiers and Northern soldiers met up to “clasp hands across the bloody chasm” (Gallagher and Nolan, 94).  The Lost Cause Theory was aided by these reunions because Northern visitors to Confederate conferences largely ignored addressing controversial issues such as slavery or the shortcomings of the Confederate army.  These reunions were large public forums for former soldiers to express their views on the war.  Since a majority of the reunions took place in the South, it was the Southern view of war that was most often discussed.  Reunions gave Southerners a chance to “instruct younger generations on the ‘truths’ of Southern history,” and they gave an extremely public platform on which the Lost Cause rested (Gallagher and Nolan, 105).  The Lost Cause became a convenient theory that helped to bind the country together after the Civil War and the difficulties of Reconstruction because it allowed for the defeat of the Confederate Army, but maintained honor for them as well.  Celebrations of the public memory of the war like reunions and reenactments enforced the image of the chivalry and honor of the South and its people that had been constructed during the war and spread after it.

Another manifestation of the Lost Cause and Confederate identity that has developed over the twentieth century is the Confederate and Southern heritage groups.  These groups engage in “historical, memorial and educational activities” which promote the Lost Cause and maintain Southern identity (Gallagher and Nolan, 186).  Groups like the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy express views of the South in terms of the ideals and traditions of the South, excluding the outright racist views which were such a part of the foundation of the Confederacy.  Many of these groups have come into conflict with various groups because of their inability to recognize the racism that is inherent in certain parts of the South’s history.  These organizations have propagated the idea of Southerners as “fiercely independent as well as suspicious of… a strong central government,” and they also promote the Lost Cause account of the Civil War (Richardson, 244).  These groups, still popular in today’s Southern society, maintain the Confederate identity that makes the South so distinct among other regions of the United States.

The Lost Cause and the Confederate identity that exists because of it continued to influence South throughout the twentieth century.  An example of this was the fight in the 1990s over the Georgia state flag.  In May 1992, the Governor of Georgia, Zell Miller, supported the removal of the Confederate flag from the state flag of Georgia (Richardson, 322).  However, he faced a great amount of opposition to this move, which he saw as simple and necessary.  Miller stated that the flag was “the last remaining vestige of days that are not only gone, but are also days that we have no right to be proud of” (Richardson, 322).  The reaction from the public differed greatly from that of the Governor.  While many Southerners, especially African Americans, agreed that the Confederate symbol represented a racist history, many other Southerners saw the symbol as a part of the history of the state that did not promote racism, but rather served as a reminder of the complex past of the region and the legacy left by history (Richardson, 322).  This argument between those who view southern heritage as a code word for racism and those who see it as a complex yet rich history waged on for nine years.  It was not until 2001 that a compromise flag, which showed the history of all of the state flags on the bottom, was adopted.  Many Southerners have grown up hearing the legends of brave soldiers like Robert E. Lee and learning that states’ rights, not slavery, caused the Civil War, and therefore, there has never been a reason for many of them to be ashamed of their past.  Clearly, the image of the Confederacy as it was in the 1860s as a moral and righteous group of states is not the way in which the Confederacy and its creation is viewed by historians today.

The construction of a Confederate identity during the Civil War was promoted by the theory of the Lost Cause.  The theory allowed Southerners to cling to the notion of an honorable and traditional Southern attitude which morphed into a cultural “self-understanding” (Gallagher and Nolan, 186).  The Lost Cause helped extend the constructed identity of Southern people which had been created by the media during the Civil War.  This has created in the South a unique identity that continues to live on in contemporary times.  The Southern identity that exists today recognizes an extreme respect for “ideals of nobility, valor and … Southern traditions” (Richardson, 243).  This constructed identity is important in the South because of the outcome of the war.  Contemporary proponents of the Southern identity wish to correct the “twentieth century arguments about Southern history [which] often focus on the negative aspects of slavery and the plantation economy of the antebellum period” (Richardson, 245).  No other area of the nation was faced with the dilemma of justifying both their secession from the Union and their loss in the Civil War.  It is this need for justification both during and after the war that helped to create both a distinct Confederate identity and the theory of the Lost Cause.  Today, these ideas exist throughout the nation, and they have become both a part of the national story and a point of much contention throughout the country.

As the 150th anniversary of the Civil War began in 2010, 150 years after the election of Abraham Lincoln and the secession of Southern states that followed, the existence of the Confederate identity in the South once again became evident on a national scale.  As events were planned and speeches made, the unique image of Southerners, both in the past and today, was revived.  Many of the celebrations in Southern states that deal with the Civil War celebrate events of the Confederacy, and questions concerning these practices have arisen.  The issue with the two sides lies in the legacy of, slavery and the need to insert that piece of the South’s history into the public discussion instead of disguising it as the Lost Cause has done for years.  The question has become whether the Southerners who cherish their historically rooted image can embrace the ideas of the Confederacy and its legacy without embracing ideas of racism and white superiority.

In honor of the anniversary of the Civil War, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, or SCV, is attempting to gain the right to have license plates which bear the Confederate flag in three states – Florida, Kentucky and Texas (Latshaw).  The SCV sees this as an attempt to refocus the views of Confederate soldiers.  The plates, according to the SCV “promote a positive image of the Confederate States of America” and attempt to “divest ourselves of the negative associations” that people have with the Confederacy (Latshaw).  These Southerners wish to celebrate the identity that they have acquired through the past two centuries’ reworking of the Civil War and the image of the Confederacy that has come out of it.  However, groups such as the NAACP see these state-sanctioned license plates as endorsement of Confederate ideals.  To those whose Southern heritage is not that of the white Southerner, the Confederate image is not one deserving of honor and celebration.  For many, the “emblem is a hurtful symbol,” representative of the struggle by the Confederate States of America to carry on the institution of slavery.

Symbols are not the only way that Confederate heritage is displayed.  One of the celebrations in the early weeks of the Civil War anniversary festivities was South Carolina’s Secession Gala held on December 20, 2010.  This event was a celebration of the anniversary of the secession of South Carolina, the first state to secede from the Union, and the formation of the Confederate States of America.  As previously stated, the Confederacy was aware in its founding that the immediate cause for the creation of the CSA was slavery (“The Veto”).  However, in the remembrance of such events, that immediate cause is often ignored.  Confederate heritage groups who often help run and support these memorial events often claim that “slavery was not the single nor primary cause” of the Civil War (“Civil War’s 150th…).  People who oppose these events not only find them offensive, but also in some ways dangerous.  They fear that remembering these events without the important aspect of slavery will “glorify the Old South and the Lost Cause” (“Civil War’s 150th…).  Confederate heritage, which has become so engrained into the history and culture of the South, has become extremely difficult to celebrate as the country attempts to struggle with the ideas that connect the Confederacy, the American South and slavery.

The major problem facing the Confederate heritage and identity today is that it is, by name, inextricably linked to the Confederacy.  However, this has only become an issue in the past twenty years.  The Civil War differs from other wars in one major way.  Usually the winner of a war is responsible for publishing its history, but “the Lost Cause really was the message about the Civil War well into the 20th century” (“Civil War’s 150th).  Before the mid-twentieth century, the idea of the Confederacy was not one which fixated upon the issue of slavery.  The reintroduction of slavery as the major cause of the Civil War in the past few decades has created the parallel between the Confederate spirit and slavery.  To deal with this, many who wish to cling to their historic Southern identities have to espouse the Lost Cause theory.  In order for the controversy of possessing a Confederate identity to die, the Confederacy must be reevaluated.  During the next four years as the celebration of the Civil War continues, the Confederate identity will continue to meet with criticism.  However, if this generation of the SCV and other similar groups could “tell stories that weren’t told 50 years ago,” the stories that the Lost Cause has buried, the Confederate image could be revamped (Civil War’s 150th).  It is possible for Southerners to be proud of the contributions that individuals made in their war effort in today’s America; however, this is not possible without the recognition that the theory that developed out of the justifications of their ancestors possesses some serious flaws.

The South faced a need to differentiate itself from the rest of America at the dawn of the Civil War, and the image that was constructed by Confederate media lived on throughout the war era.  In creating for itself a distinct identity that did not coincide with the image of the United States of America, the Confederates separated themselves not only by location and economy but by culture and belief system as well.  These images were positive ones, and after the defeat of the Confederate States of America, this positive image was injected into the South’s account of the war.  The Lost Cause theory was prominent in American public memory until the second half of the twentieth century.  This image, which still exists today, is not fully based on the ideas of the Confederacy, but rather on the idealized identity that had been created as early as 1861.  In ignoring the issue of slavery in the celebration of a Confederate identity, those who wish to identify with the past of the South alienate those who are aware of the role that the institution of slavery had in causing the Civil War.  The direct relationship between the Confederate identity and the Lost Cause needs to be broken down in order for the identity to live on.  While it is still possible for Southerners to celebrate their region’s role in the war, it is no longer acceptable to do so under the guise that the Confederacy was founded on issues other than slavery.

Works Cited

“Arrival of Troops from South Carolina.” Richmond Enquirer. 25 April 1861. Accessible Archives. May 6, 2011.

“Capt. Robert E. Lee” Richmond Enquirer. 25 April 1861. Accessible Archives. May 6, 2011.

“Civil War’s 150th Anniversary Stirs Debate on Race.” Associated Press. 10 Dec. 2010. <>.

Gallagher, Gary W. and Allan T. Nolan. The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2000.

Latshaw, Greg. “Confederate Group Fights for State Specialty Plates.” 9 May 2011. USA Today. May 10, 2011.

“Progress.” Charleston Mercury. 10 Sept. 1863. Accessible Archives. May 6, 2011.

Martinez, J. Michael, Richardson, William D. and McNinch-Su, Ron eds. Confederate Symbols in the Contemporary South. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2000.

“The Military.” Richmond Enquirer. 25 April 1861. Accessible Archives. May 6, 2011.

“Sprit of the Army.” Charleston Mercury. 11 Feb. 1865. Accessible Archives. May 6, 2011.

“The Veto.” Charleston Mercury. 6 Mar. 1861. Accessible Archives. May 6, 2011.

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Marketing the Civil War: Then and Now

In the decades leading up to the Civil War, the country experienced a revolution in communication by means of the telegraph and new papers.  As James McPherson describes, “innovations in printing and paper making… increased the influence of newspapers, the country’s principle medium of communication” (McPherson, 12).  By the time of the attacks on Fort Sumter, the role of newspapers and print media had changed significantly.  No longer did these mediums simply communicate the happenings of the day to the public.  Rather, news papers became the chief means by which both the Union and the Confederacy garnered support for their individual goals.  Newspapers were a critical element to the marketing scheme of both sides of the Civil War, who at different times needed to convince their respective citizens that their cause was worthy.  Whether it was in the appeal to Southern honor and ego used by Confederate journalists to enliven Southerners against the “rabble of the North” or the construction of the identity of the “Union” created by Lincoln but espoused and reinforced by news sources of the North in order to give Northerners a tangible goal in the War, news sources played a key role in guiding the American public through the ideology and goals of the Civil War.  Today, the marketing of the 150th Anniversary celebration in some ways mirrors and opposes the tactics used by journalists of the 1860s.  Southern news outlets still appeal to Southern pride and identity in the remembrance of the War while most Northern sources make little mention of the regional importance of the war.  Northern states construct the celebration as a memorial to an entire country’s struggle while many Southern states feel more deeply rooted to the celebration as the War was fought largely on Southern soil.  However, both the North and the South have agreed upon certain ways to attract the public to the remembrance of the Civil War- the construction of the War as a war between brothers and the idea that the Civil War’s main cause was not slavery.  The blunder of slavery and the bloodshed it caused is masked by all parts of the country; however, the more interesting aspect of today’s reconstruction of the Civil War in the North and South is the seemingly little change in regional attitudes which largely laid dormant until the anniversary of the War.

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The PR of Defeat

As the tide of the Civil War turned and the Union became the dominant force on the battle field, the Confederacy needed to keep the public invested in the cause.  As McPherson quotes, the fall of Vicksburg was “a terrible blow, and has produced much despondency.”  The loss at Gettysburg had “set the Confederacy tottering.”  The South needed a way to reconstruct their loss, maintain Southern honor and attempt to keep the public morale high.  Newspapers like the Richmond Enquirer were tasked with finding ways to spin the war.  On July 24, 1863, the Richmond Enquirer reported on the “determined valor” of Pickett’s division.  The article sought to ensure that “the army of Northern Virginia – with zeal unabated; courage intrepid, devotion unchilled; with unbounded confidence in the wisdom of that great chieftain, who has so often led them to victory – stands ready to advance their standards farther into the enemycountry, or repel any new invasion of the Confederacy.”

An 1860s issue of the Charleston Mercury

During this ebb in support, the Confederacy needed to convince not only the public but also its soliders that their cause was one for which it was still worth fighting.  This is clearly displayed in a Charleston Mercury article from February 11, 1865, just two months before the Confederate defeat at Appomattox.  The article reports that the 1st Regiment S. C. Volunteers, McGOWAN’S Brigade still believe in the reasons that they went to war and their resolve to fight for independence has been strengthened.  The men of the Brigade were quoted as saying “we declare our determination to battle to the end.”  Whether this was the true opinions of Confederate soldiers at this point in the war, the article successfully gives the impression that the Confederacy was still a formidable force in the War.

The function of print media in this instance of constructing an image for the South in order for the public and soldiers to continue in the war effort is representative of a larger function of the media during the Civil War.  In a time of complication, newspapers and weeklies were used to construct clear and simple agendas for the public to swallow.  For example, the Confederacy was made up of many people with differing opinions; however, Northern newspapers like the New York Times simply refer to them as the rebels.  In order to fight against men who had once been their own countrymen it was necessary for the media to create specific characters and images that would keep the public’s opinion in the North and South in line with those of their respective governments.  Southern honor is another example of this construction as media in the South constantly reported on the honorable deaths and valiant charges of the Confederate troops.  It seems interesting that the images that resonate with us today when thinking of the Civil War may have been a marketing scheme dreamed up by journalists who looked to solidify the region in which they lived.

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The Force of Antietam and the Need for more than the Union

The fighting at the Battle of Antietam was, as McPherson states “among the hardest of the war.”  The soldiers who fought in this battle did so for nothing more than to avoid the shame of defeat.  On September 11, 1861, William Henry Hurlbors’s letter was printed on the front page of the New York Times.  In his letter he recounts his experiences in the South.  He stated that the millions of men who have fought for the “standards of the Union” still see the Confederate flag waving over Fort Sumter, and he asks “how long things are to go on this way.”  The publication of this type of letter in a major Union newspaper like the times shows the discontent with the war that was developing by 1862.

Part of the Killed and Wounded list from Antietam

Fifteen Months at the South expressed hopelessness and a waning fervor for the Union's cause in the War.

After the battle of Antietam, this sentiment probably became even more palpable as the list of dead and wounded at Antietam began to be posted on the front page of the times as well.  This sense of a lost cause needed to be transformed, and Lincoln chose to transform the fervor for the war through the Emancipation Proclamation.  This appeared on the front page of the September 23, 1862 New York Times.  The headlines of Times by October read such things as “Tributes to the Valor of our Soldiers” and “Approval of Emancipation.”  Lincoln’s issuing of the proclamation while accomplishing a virtuous goal seems extremely timely.  The New York Times shows that death tolls were climbing anf support was wavering when Lincoln chose to issue his proclamation, breathing new life into the Union.

A Headline Appearing in October 1862, shortly after the Emancipation Proclamation

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Clinging to the Border States and Upper South

The Right of Secession and The Border States ran next to eachother in April 20, 1861 Harper's Weekly

McPherson describes the dilemma facing states like Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and Maryland.  These states were torn between their identity within “the South” and their hesitation toward secession.  The tactics of the Union to maintain these states (such as the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus) seem both necessary and excessive.  It became apparent to me that the more controversial tactics could not have been highly publicized because of the protestation that would ensue.  Again I looked to Harper’s to see what the print media of April 20, 1861 (just three days after McPgerson says “for all practical purposes Virginia joined the Confederacy) was doing to encourage the border states to stay with the Union.

The April 20 Harper’s Weekly had two articles that ran right next to each other which seem in opposition.  As McPherson stated, Virginia’s convention passed an ordinance of secession on April 17 that would not become ratified until May.  However the April 20 Harper’s stated “The State of Virginia has decided not to secede; but has adopted, in Convention, a series of resolutions affirming, among other things, the right of a State to secede from the Union at will.”  It seemed that the Union was still holding out hope that Virginia, an extremely important state in terms of population and power, would refuse to secede.  The article then goes on to refer to secession as “organized anarchy,” and asks the Northern states if this anarchy is acceptable.  This urges the Northerners to demand the retention of these states.  Clearly an article of this sort would have angered the border states while encouraging the North to support the government.

Next to this article is one called “The Border States.”  This article stated that “There are no States in the Union or out of it which are so deeply interested in the maintenance of peace, order, and good government as Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Missouri.”  The article goes on to praise the border states for their climate, agriculture and potential.  The article also expresses the importance of developing railroads in these states.  It seems to be a plea of the Union to these border to states to remain a part of the Union.  The promise of railroads and protection of a good government act to persuade people of border states to avoid secession.  It is interesting that this runs next to an article describing Virginia’s agreement with the act of secession.  Clearly the Civil War was a time of great conflict and paradox.  Lincoln and his Union looked in all directions to preserve as many states as possible.

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Digital Commonplace Book Ideas

As we discussed in class, McPherson shows that this was a time of many complexities.  Competing ideas came from politicians, radicals, and the public.  I am especially interested in how the iconic events that are explained in the book were explained to the people at the time.  For example, John Brown’s raid prompted fear in the South because slave states lived in constant fear of slave insurrection.  Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry sparked rumors of “black uprisings and armed abolitionists.”  In the North, Brown was initially dismissed as someone who had used terrible tactics to achieve his cause.  However, after some time Brown became remembered as a martyr who who died for the abolition cause.

What interests me though, is less the opinion of the people after hearing the news, but rather the way in which the news was presented.  How did national groups like the associated press write articles which would appeal to all audiences in this time of complicated schism.  For example, Harper’s Weekly’s published a report of John Brown’s raid just twelve days after the raid.  Harper’s weekly was widely distributed in many areas so the article merely reported the basic facts.  Things were stated in a matter of fact way such as “‘What was your present object?’ ‘To free the slaves from bondage’… Various questions of this kind were put to Captain Brown, which he answered clearly and freely, with seeming anxiety to vindicate himself.”  However, I wonder what a northern paper from a more radical area would have reported, and I can only imagine the fervor with which Southerners would have reported on this subject.  It seems likely that things could have been very different if all print media had walked the middle as this Harper’s Weekly issue did.  Since this did not happen, it makes me wonder how much the news affected public opinion.  Did newspapers turn into a quasi-propaganda or were they truly meant to inform no matter how skewed the view?

A cartoon about John Brown published in the November 26, 1859 issue of Harper's Weekly.

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Why did Ishmael Survive?

Melville has Ishmael survive the wreck of the Pequod for two major reasons.  First, Ishmael, in the Bible, became a wanderer after he was cast off by his father Abraham.  Like the son of Abraham, the Ishmael of Melville’s story represents the eternal wanderer.  For the rest of the crew, the sea was their true home, but Ishmael does not necessarily have a home.  The Pequod was not Ishmael’s journey but rather a portion of his larger journey.  His role is to continue on his journey after the wreck in order to further the knowledge of the boat and the pitfalls of the men on board.  Second, Ishmael has the urge to go to sea “whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul.”  Unlike Ahab, he does not seek revenge and unlike the harpooners he is not directly responsible for the killing of the whales.  Ishmael is not enticed into whaling for the pleasure of the money either.  Ishmael wishes to adventure into the ocean, but he does not wish to overpower it or take advantage of it.  The ocean spares Ishmael because his intent was to wander into the ocean even though whaling was the avenue through which he did it.

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Creating Categories in the US: Idolatry and Class

This idol, now housed in the Pacific Island Ethnic Art Museum, was probably at one time a representative of the “pagan” customs of the people of the Pacific Islands.  This idol is probably quite similar to the  “Congo idol” which Queequeg possesses and for which he creates “a very appropriate little shrine” in his first encounters with Ishmael.  This item interests me because one of the most intriguing and problematic aspects of the nineteenth century to me was the way in which society was organized.  Despite the thriving whaling economy, which should have created a society based on work, Queequeg was always going to be held as inferior because of his possession and worship of an idol like this.  Queequeg was an extremely gifted harpooner.  However, he could not hope to achieve the level of a ship owner or captain because of his pagan background.  The “natural” order of American society despite its changing economy held that Christians would always be superior over pagans.  Clearly, the work that was being performed could not outweigh the natural order of God for nineteenth century Americans, and I am interested in the ways that white male Americans used things like this idol in order to maintain a hierarchy in changing American society.  I could introduce this theme with this idol by showing the markers by which America was delineated.  This idol represents the line drawn in US society between Christians and other religions at the time and was a physical indicator of a societal class.

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Getting Back to Nature: Correcting Perversions of Nature in the Nineteenth Century

In the early to mid nineteenth century, America’s economy grew as a result of the expanding role of industry throughout the states.  Manufacturing and the transformation of goods into commodities became cornerstones of the American way of life, and this view sharply differed from the idea of the common man that had existed in the Jeffersonian era – the idea of the yeoman farmer.  As the United States focused more on industry, nature became somewhat of a buzzword in American culture.  Many Americans saw the nineteenth century as a time when the country had rejected nature and its rules in order to foster the growth of a man made America.  Whether in the celebrity of Davy Crockett and his adventures in the West, the focus on solitude with nature of Emerson and Thoreau, or the clear perversions of nature asserted by Frederick Douglass, a clear connection to nature was attempting to be reestablished by American thinkers of the time.  Ultimately, nature became something that prominent Americans of the mid-nineteenth century hoped to recover, and these Americans attempted to reclaim a sense of nature that had been lost.

In Susan Sontag’s The Volcano Lover, the Cavaliere marvels at Mount Vesuvius.  He says that “it is impossible to describe the beautiful appearance of the girandoles of red-hot stones, far surpassing the most astonishing fireworks” (Sontag, 129).  The Cavaliere’s obsession with the volcano in Italy is representative of a theme that pervades American culture in the mid-nineteenth century.  The Cavaliere saw the natural power of volcanic eruption as far superior to that of man-made fireworks, and he was in awe of the force of nature.  Americans in the nineteenth century saw nature as something that was fleeting in an industry-driven society, and as a result, many sought to return to nature.  While the American turn toward nature did not manifest itself in awe as it did for the Cavaliere, nature became a guiding force for American ideas.  American personalities and ideals grew out of an attempt to somehow reclaim nature as an integral part of America.

In the early and mid-nineteenth century, many Americans looked to the West as a land of opportunity.  This opportunity laid in the abundance of natural resources that existed in Western territories that had all but disappeared from the United States.  The move of many Americans into Texas was driven and encouraged by the prospects of nature driven ventures.  As Davy Crockett and others like him moved westward, “virgin land opened before him, a flat prairie landscape filled with herds of bison and wild horses, as well as an occasional bear” (Roberts and Olson, 92).  This plethora of natural resources was absent in the East where two centuries of settlement had eradicated many animals and land opportunities.  The reports of “paradise straight out of the mind of Daniel Boone” attracted settlers to Texas in search of the opportunities that nature’s bounty could afford them (Roberts and Olson, 92).  Many Americans saw the West as a place whose natural resources could turn them into rich men and prominent American figures.

The construction of Davy Crockett as a celebrity in the early to mid 1800s also seems to be rooted in nature.  Beginning with the election of Andrew Jackson, American political figures shifted their political ties from Northeastern intellectuals to “men from nowhere important who dreamed to be going somewhere” (Roberts and Olson, 27).  Crockett appealed to the American public and became a representative of the themes common in America at the time.  Crockett was viewed as a man “fresh from the backwoods” who “born and raised honest, hunted bears and fought Indians (Roberts and Olson, 88).  Jackson and Crockett and other “down-home-Western” figures were revered for their rugged personas and their appearance of being self-made (Roberts and Olson).  These men seemed to be closer to the frontier and more in tune with nature.  Crockett’s beginnings in the West gave him the appearance of the common settler of the West, and this connection to the frontier made him seem more relatable to the American citizens of the time who in the 1830s were looking to the bountiful West as a means of monopolizing nature.  In the case of Crockett’s celebrity, a perceived connection to nature was used to create a character that would be a marketable politician and notable figure in mid-nineteenth century American society.

This popular notion of using nature in relation to the frontier was rejected by the transcendentalists who saw nature as something that had been tainted due to increases in commodities and industry.  Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in “Nature” that “the stars awaken a certain reverence, because though always present, they are inaccessible” (Emerson, 1).  However, he laments the fact that certain aspects of nature have become far too accessible, and nature has been manipulated into an unnatural state.  Emerson states that in a landscape “Miller owns this field, Locke that, and Manning the woodland beyond.  But none of them owns the landscape” (Emerson, 2).  Emerson saw that in dividing the land and focusing solely on the sections for which they have the deed, Americans lose sight of nature as an entire entity.  The industrialization of America had created an economy in which goods were readily available.  Emerson stated that this was unnatural because a man should be “fed, not that he may be fed, but that he may work” (Emerson, 3).  To Emerson, nature and man were in balance when a man lived strictly off the land and used no more than he needed.

Emerson saw this type of natural living as unfeasible within the society in which he lived.  He urges Americans not to subscribe to the lifestyle that society demanded and instead to “build, therefore, your own world” (Emerson, 18).  Emerson stated that nature in its purest form would delight a man “in spite of real sorrows,” and in nature’s presence “all mean egotism vanishes” (Emerson, 2).  Emerson, unlike the Western settlers, saw nature as a way to escape the economy and not enhance it.  Nature and the excessive capitalism which Emerson perceived in society were in conflict, and Emerson advised that men work to reclaim the connection to nature that he felt once existed before the time of industry and economy.  In order to find the relationship between spirit and nature, Emerson stated that a man must go into solitude to observe nature on his own.  He stated that alone in nature, he felt “something more dear and connate than in streets or villages” (Emerson, 2).  Emerson inspired many in his generation to rethink the nature that surrounded them.

In response to the ideas of “Nature”, Henry David Thoreau attempted to enact the proposals set forth by Emerson.  Thoreau went to live at Walden Pond surrounded by nature which was relatively untarnished.  He wished to pluck the “finer fruits” from nature and reject the “factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life” (Thoreau, 3).  Thoreau saw nature as bountiful, and he thought that one could live off of the land relatively easily.  He saw the constant work of farmers to yield some sort of monetary profit as unnecessary and juxtaposed to nature’s meaning.  This becomes clear in his interaction with John Field, a poor Irishman who lived nearby.  Thoreau indicated that Field concerned himself with working to procure enough money in order to be able to have tea, coffee and meat every day.  Thoreau saw this as unnecessary because, in living directly off of nature, it was possible to eat enough at very little cost.  He argued against the popular notion of America as the land of plenty, stating “the only true America is that country where you are at liberty to pursue such a mode of life as may enable you to do without these” (Thoreau, 133).  Thoreau condemned the constant push toward consumption in America, and like Emerson, he espoused the belief that in order to be closer to nature a person cannot spend their time, as Field did, constantly working to consume.  America had in the nineteenth century become a land of consumers as mechanical advancements transformed America into an economy of manufacturers.  In consuming, Thoreau saw the destruction of man because of his inability to live purely with nature.

Thoreau condemned other practices to which consumption led.  He directly mentions that the United States is compelled by its economic practices to “sustain the slavery and war and other superfluous expenses” which result from America’s demand of commodities (Thoreau, 133).  Thoreau indicated that slavery was another issue that called nature into question in the nineteenth century.  Thoreau spends little time elaborating on the problems of slavery in terms of nature.  However, the abolitionist movement used these emerging ideas concerning nature to support their cause.  Frederick Douglass’ narrative displays the corruption of nature that Emerson and Thoreau saw as a result of consumption.  Douglass stated that he “should prefer death to hopeless bondage” (Douglass, 88).  Douglass indicates that poorer masters such as Captain Anthony were often barbarous.  He said that Anthony was “hardened by a long life of slaveholding” (Douglass, 20).  The economy of the South, which demanded slavery as a means of labor, not only corrupted the nature of the land, but it also corrupted the nature of human beings.

Douglass also used nature to point out the problems with the slave system.  He pointed to the inadequacies of slavery in supplying any sense of basic human needs.  For example, he discussed the “monthly allowance of food” that slaves were afforded (Douglass, 24).  It is not in human nature to be hungry, and it is a fundamental, natural reaction for a hungry animal to search for food.  However, slaves were prohibited from exercising these basic human urges, and a reader would have been able to see that slavery violated a natural code.  Similarly, slaves were “kept almost naked- no shoes, no stockings, no jacket, no trousers,” and Douglass “suffered much more from cold” than from hunger (Douglass, 39).  It is another instinctual need of humans to be clothed in order to keep one’s self protected from the elements.  Again, Douglass uses natural aspects of humans as animals to call into questions the practices of slavery.

Frederick Douglass also used the concepts of human nature and normal human psychological responses to undermine the slave system.  The extreme and capricious violence performed upon slaves by their masters and overseers seems to violate the norms of human thought.  It is not in human nature for people to kill others “without consultation or deliberation” over the matter (Douglass, 36).  However, as Douglass indicated, this is precisely what happened in the exchange between Demby and Mr. Gore.  Demby, attempting “to get rid of the scourging” of a violent whipping, was shot when he did not willingly return to be beaten (Douglass, 36).  This type of violence was an example of the breach of human nature and an accepted moral code in order to foster slavery.  Douglass uses the nature of humans as animals and the nature of humans as thinking beings to raise questions about the existence of slavery as an American economic institution.

Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, Americans attempted to reclaim nature in many different ways.  Western settlers looked to use the nature of the West to foster their economic desires, and the personalities that emerged from that period had identities rooted in a backwoods connection with nature.  Transcendentalists like Emerson and Thoreau saw nature as something that was pure, and in order to connect with nature, the excessive consumption of Americans needed to be altered.  Abolitionists like Frederick Douglass saw nature as being in direct opposition to the institution of slavery.  For Douglass, in order to connect with nature, slavery must be eradicated.  Different groups throughout the century marveled in different ways at the nature around them.  Whether assessing the opportunities that the land held or attempting to venture into a natural solitude, the force of nature was a clear focus to these groups of Americans.  All of them, like the Cavaliere, saw the eruption of nature as something extremely important, but all Americans harnessed this power in different ways.

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Celebrity and Memory: Why Davy Crockett is not “Natural”

The book version of James Kirke Paulding's The Lion of the West has as its background the playbill of this play which helped to turn David Crockett into the celebrity Davy Crockett who we remember today. This play along with other portrayals of "Davy" Crockett excluded David Crockett from being one of the "new men" which Emerson envisions because he would probably view celebrity as the commodification of a human life.

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