Does the term "Lost Cause" with respect to the Confederacy have a contrarian meaning?

The term “Lost Cause” is defined as “a hopeless undertaking”, but I have not seen that definition used with respect Edward Pollard’s expression to describe the antebellum South. How did Pollard use that particular phrasing? What did he mean by it exactly?

"Providence and the Invention of the United States 1607 -1876 by Nicholas Guyatt

" Pollard even defined the Lost Cause in explicitly Unionist terms: its "true and logical expression " was “the Union, as it was,” he argued, Reassuring his northern readers that his racial Unionism was sincere, the final section of his book was entitled “The Growth and Greatness of America.”

So that is the meaning of Lost Cause as I understand it is simply: “the Union, as it was” which was no more after 1865.

In 1865, the Southern states acknowledged they had been defeated militarily. They then began waging a war of ideology. They portrayed the Confederate struggle for independence as inspired by noble and even all-American ideals. That was the “Lost Cause” myth.

You’re right to surmise that today’s generic meaning of “lost cause” has a different connotation.

To put it succinctly, it’s not just “We lost”. It’s “We lost, but we should have won, because we were right”.

Lost Cause mythology was created to play down the central importance of preserving slavery in the South’s decision to secede, in order to dodge moral responsibility and to avoid bitter recriminations for having sacrificed so much for an evil institution.

“If we cannot justify the South in the act of Secession, we will go down in History [sic] solely as a brave, impulsive but rash people who attempted in an illegal manner to overthrow the Union for our Country.”

  • Clement Evans, head of the United Confederate Veterans

“We shall not enter upon the discussion of the moral question of slavery. But we may suggest a doubt here whether that odious term “slavery,” which has been so long imposed, by the exaggeration of the Northern writers, upon the judgment and sympathies of the world, is properly applied to that system of servitude in the South which was really the mildest in the world; which did not rest on acts of debasement and disenfranchisement, but elevated the African, and was in the interest of human improvement; and which, by the law of the land, protected the negro in life and limb, and in many personal rights and, by the practice of the system, bestowed upon him a sum of individual indulgences, which made him altogether the most striking type in the world of cheerfulness and contentment.”

  • Edward Pollard

OK at least he was being honest about what he and his comrades were up to.

OTOH this guy…

…f&#* him.

That the Lost Cause myth’s heavy lifting would be done by the Daughters of the Confederacy suggests and element of the Electra Complex, if you’ll allow there is such a thing.

Running wild with that theory, their “erection” of monuments to their menfolk’s memory is even more Freudian; reclaiming the virility lost on the battlefield. And their lording it over their Black maids came from the same mentality as how the valide-sultan ruled her roost over the harem in Turkey.

Yeah, that’s just breathtaking. I read it with disbelief and ended up having to google the POS.


Is that right? I always interpreted it more as “We lost, and we had no way not to lose, but we still had to fight because our noble and genteel way of life was threatened. Oh, and it wasn’t about slavery, or if it was those Northerners just didn’t understand how good our peculiar institution was for the poor benighted African”.

Sort of like a heroic last stand against impossible odds to protect a noble culture. 300 for racist slaveholders.

As Sherman headed down and Johnston, knowing what the reality was, engaged in retreating and feinting and causing chase and keeping strong defenses to slow and tire the Yankees while minimizing his own losses, Jeff Davis relieved him because he wanted a commander who would “strike manly blows” … though it meant being actually defeated and becoming unable to sustain defense.

It’s the whole “honor culture” thing, the idea that even if you’re not sure who’s at fault, and you know you will get your ass kicked (or shot in the face) if you get into a fight, you have to charge into the asskicking or faceshooting rather than back down, or else you’re not a man.

Yeah – like that quoted confederate stated above, “it can’t just be that we just rashly decided to do something illegal… we just had no choice if we wanted to keep our way of living, or to be able to live with ourselves afterward!”

And the “we had no way not to lose” has implicit within it a messaging that somehow the North’s advantage in numbers and resources was “unfair” and it only makes the Confederates more noble for having faced it.