Heroes of the “Lost Cause”


Brave Deeds of Confederate Soldiers
(G. W. Jacobs and Co., 1916)

The phrase “Lost Cause,” first assigned to the Confederate loss of the Civil War by historian Edward Pollard in 1866, came to represent a romanticized idea of the entire war and its origins. For decades after the war’s end, southerners believed that the Confederacy was doomed from the start in its struggle against the superior might of the Union, but its forces fought heroically against all odds for the cause of states’ rights.

As southerners memorialized their defeat, they celebrated certain men who represented the ideals of Confederate honor and nobility. Among the lasting testaments to their heroism are books that not only detail their lives and regale readers with tales of their deeds, but also wear covers that proudly display the icons’ distinguished faces.

Jefferson Davis (1808-1889)

Descended from a Kentucky family of Revolutionary War and War of 1812 veterans, Jefferson Davis split his life between the military and politics. The West Point graduate retired briefly from the Army after serving in the Black Hawk War, wedding first Sallie Knox Taylor (daughter of President Zachary Taylor) and then Varina Howell, daughter of a wealthy Mississippi plantation owner.


Life and Reminiscences of Jefferson Davis
(Woodward, 1890

A six-month stint in Mississippi’s U.S. House of Representatives seat ended when Davis was called to fight in the Mexican War. Soon after the war’s end, he filled a Congressional spot vacated by the death of one of Mississippi’s senators – a seat he held intermittently from 1847 to 1861. He left the Senate briefly in the 1850s to serve as Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce.

Although Davis attempted to dissuade Mississippi from seceding when sectional hostilities reached fever pitch, he stood by his home state’s decision and resigned his Senate post. The newly formed Confederacy sought to use Davis’s political and military expertise, electing him to serve as president and commander-in-chief of the army and navy. Davis reluctantly accepted the position, in which he served throughout the war, and for which he was imprisoned for two years after the Confederacy’s dissolution.

After his release from prison, Davis retired to his Beauvoir estate in Biloxi, Mississippi. He spent the Reconstruction years advocating for the South to recover lost resources and maintain its unique principals. When he died in New Orleans in 1889, his life was celebrated in funeral services fit for a dignitary. In 1893, a funeral train bore his body from New Orleans' Metairie Cemetery to its permanent resting place near his monument in the former Confederate capitol of Richmond, stopping several times along the way so that southerners could pay their respects.


Lee and His Lieutenants
(E. B. Treat and Co, 1867)

Robert E. Lee (1807-1870)

Son of a Revolutionary War hero, Robert E. Lee graduated second in his class at West Point and, after a stint in the Mexican War, became superintendent at the military academy. Former leader of mounted cavalry in western Texas and a marine force against John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry, Lee was the logical choice to command Union troops after the initial wave of secession early in 1861.

Instead, Lee chose instead to resign from the U.S. Army and serve his state of Virginia when it seceded after the initiation of armed hostilities that April. Lee worked his way through the ranks of the Confederate military, starting as commander of Virginia’s land and naval forces and eventually becoming commander-in-chief of the Confederate armies. He also served as advisor to President Davis.

After the war, Lee returned to Virginia as a paroled prisoner of war. The last years of his life were spent as president of Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) in Lexington, Virginia. He is buried under Lee Chapel on the college grounds.


The Life of Gen. Thos. J. Jackson
(B. F. Johnson Publishing Co., 1899)

Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson (1824-1863)

Clarksburg, Virginia-born Thomas Jackson graduated seventeenth in his West Point class, but he spent only five years in the army (including service the Mexican War). During the next decade, he taught at Virginia Military Institute and traveled Europe. However, he returned to the military when hostilities between the Union and Confederacy began.

Although he was unknown at the war’s start, he impressed his compatriots and earned the nickname “Stonewall” at the First Battle of Bull Run (also known as Manassas). He was promoted to lieutenant general of the Confederate army on 10 October 1862.

Wounded by friendly fire on 2 May 1863 at Chancellorsville, Jackson died of pneumonia eight days later on the Chandler plantation in Guinea Station. His body was transported to Lexington, Virginia for burial.


Wearing of the Gray
(E.B. Treat and Co. , 1867)

J.E.B. Stuart (1833-1864)

James Ewell Brown Stuart, known as “Jeb,” launched his military career after graduating West Point in 1854. Prior to the Civil War, he earned his reputation fighting on the fields of Bloody Kansas and squelching rebellion at Harper’s Ferry. He commanded the Confederate cavalry during many of the most famous Civil War battles. He also was a raider, and he temporarily took over command of Stonewall Jackson’s corps after Jackson was wounded.

Stuart died in battle as well, taking enemy fire during a skirmish with Sheridan’s cavalry at Yellow Tavern, on the outskirts of Richmond, on 11 May 1864. He is buried in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery.

Searching the Collection for Related Materials

Try using keywords such as "Confederacy" and the individual men's names to explore the PBO database, or browse the subject headings.

Related Online Resources

Civil War Biographies

First Person Narratives of the American South, The Learning Page, Library of Congress
(See lesson 6, "The 'Lost Cause' Movement")

Great Southerners, CSAnet: The E-Voice of the Olde South

The Men Behind the Myth: Who's Who Among Confederate Heroes

The Myths of Reconstruction, Reconstruction: The Second Civil War, American Experience, PBS (See "Myth: Confederate soldiers were heroes because their cause was noble.)

Old Virginia: The Pursuit of a Pastoral Ideal, Virginia Historical Society

Selected Readings

Anders, Curt. Fighting Confederates. New York: Putnam, 1968.

Anderson, Paul Christopher. Robert E. Lee: Legendary Commander of the Confederacy. New York: PowerPlus Books, 2003.

Alexander, Bevin. Lost Victories: The Military Genius of Stonewall Jackson. New York: Holt, 1992.

Cox, Karen L. Dixie's Daughters: United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture. Gainesville: University of Florida, 2003.

Davis, Burke. Jeb Stuart: The Last Cavalier. New York: Rhinehart, 1956.

Hendrick, Burton Jesse. Statesmen of the Lost Cause: Jefferson Davis and His Cabinet. New York: The Literary Guild of America, 1939.

Gallagher, Gary W. Lee and His Generals in War and Memory. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998.

Gallagher, Gary W. and Joseph T. Glatthaar. Leaders of the Lost Cause: New Perspectives on the Confederate High Command. Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 2004.

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

Pollard, Edward. The Lost Cause: A New Southern History of the War of the Confederates. New York: E.B. Treat & Co., 1866.

Robertson, James I. Stonewall Jackson: The Man, The Soldier, The Legend. New York: Macmillan, 1997.

Thomas, Emory M. Bold Dragoon: The Life of J.E.B. Stuart. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.


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