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Guide The Long Reconstruction: The Post-Civil War South in History, Film, and Memory

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The Myth of the Lost Cause: Revealing the Truth About the Civil War

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Without cookies your experience may not be seamless. No institutional affiliation. LOG IN. The Velvet Light Trap. In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content: Reviewed by:. There were many ways of glossing over controversial aspects of the war. If a no-fault war cannot be readily achieved, the next best thing is to stress that both sides had their drawbacks.

The easiest way to do that is to condemn war and violence no matter what the cause. This is the path of Shenandoah. Made in , it is generally noted as a turning point film of the Civil Rights era, when the Lost Cause narrative began to be challenged in American film.

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Shenandoah makes an obvious end run around many divisive issues of the Civil War. It stars the least controversial of actors, Jimmy Stewart, as the patriarch of a Virginia farming clan who opposes slavery on principle and is determined to keep his family out of the war. Of course, maintaining neutrality while battles are fought across your front lawn is almost comically impractical, and one Anderson family member after another gets picked off by Yankees or Rebs. Remarkably, Charlie Anderson is never drawn into the conflict beyond attempts to recover family members.

The undertakers are winning. And the politicians who talk about the glory of it. Anderson anything. So Gabriel goes off to join the Yankees, which sets up the inevitable reconciliation scene when he finds himself fighting on the opposite side of a battle from Boy Anderson, his old friend. But instead, Gabriel carries the wounded Boy to safety so he can go back home to his worried pacifist Pa and unite the shattered remnants of the Anderson family.

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Grant cranked out by Hollywood in the old days when admiring biopics of prominent Americans were a favorite genre. The film was regarded as useful World War II propaganda, making Johnson a hero of reconciliation and national unity. Speaking of Lincoln, it seems that reverent film bios of the sixteenth president are about the closest we have come to pro-Union narratives in American film. Lincoln and Abe Lincoln in Illinois attest: before he took office as president, before the Civil War, before the Emancipation Proclamation.

Griffith takes great pains to make these characteristics monstrous so that Stoneman is a twisted, creeping gargoyle manipulated by his black mistress, an evil, scheming loony. The president is assassinated by John Wilkes Booth in the very next scene. For a newer update of post—Civil War narratives of noble, innocent Southerners who never conspired to assassinate Lincoln, see the film The Conspirator , directed by Robert Redford.

It features Robin Wright as the improbably slender and beautiful Mary Surratt, asserting her martyred innocence with every tremulous chin-lift. At least John Ford did some wonderfully accurate casting of the conspirators in Prisoner of Shark Island , including the heavy-set, middle-aged, highly unglamorous Surratt.

But Southern theater owners, regional distributors, and moviegoers soon began to complain, particularly after the release of Escape From Andersonville , a one-reeler about the notorious Confederate prison camp in Georgia. Most scholarly studies of Civil War films start with Birth of a Nation , never acknowledging that there might be valuable antecedents.

According to John B. Thirty-five Civil War films were made before , and if Chadwick is right, most of those are pro-Union films. It just figures that the heyday of the pro-Union film would turn out to be the early silent film era. These are the films that are most likely to be lost, or to exist in archives if they survived at all. And anyway, the pro-Northern film trend was soon cut short. By , a new industry standard had been set by Confederacy fans D. Griffith and Thomas Ince, who romanticized the South and pro-reconciliation themes in their films.

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There are many other factors that account for the swift shift from pro-North to pro-South. Early film studios were concentrated in the Northeast and tended to cater to audiences in the region, but by they began to move to warmer climes like Florida as well as west to California. Producers everywhere were delighted to discover an enthusiastic regional audience for films reflecting the Southern view of the Civil War, and found that these films did well in the North too.

All regions were seeking an escape from the ills of modernity in the agrarian Neverland of the Old South, and Griffith and Ince specialized in them, making so many influential pro-Confederacy films between them that together they may have turned the tide. These films tended to advocate North-South reconciliation, and given Southern sensibilities, that meant narratives favoring the South. What all these explanations ignore is how anomalous those early silent pro-Northern films were in an American popular culture that by the early twentieth century was thoroughly saturated with pro-Southern rhetoric.

Beginning with the publication of Edward A. By the end of the century, histories, biographies, popular novels, plays, and patriotic art celebrating the Lost Cause were big business.

The Center for Civil War Research

Chivalric portraits of Robert E. Lee far outsold those of any other military figure from the Civil War.

It began with a legendary speech given by Henry Grady , influential editor of the Atlanta Constitution , at the annual New England Society meeting in Grady painted a picture of can-do white Southerners who had laid down their arms at Appomattox and, without wasting a moment on regret or bitterness, immediately picked up their tools to rebuild a thriving modern society. Think of him as ragged, half-starved, heavy-hearted, enfeebled by want and wounds. Once we get this noble wreck of a man home to a South devastated through no fault of its own, we have to make the biggest imaginative leap yet:.

What does he do, this hero in gray with a heart of gold? Does he sit down in sullenness and despair?