The Cause Lost
Myths and Realities of the Confederacy
Modern War Studies
Sales Date: October 30, 1996
236 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
- Published: October 1996
Winner: Laney Prize
For nearly a quarter of a century, Pulitzer Prize nominee William C. Davis has been one of our best writers on the Civil War. His books—including Breckinridge: Statesman, Soldier, Symbol; Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour; and “A Government of Our Own”: The Making of the Confederacy—have garnered numerous awards and enlightened and entertained an avid readership. The Cause Lost extends that tradition of excellence with provocative new insights into the myths and realities of an endlessly fascinating subject.
In these pages, Davis brings into sharp focus the facts and fictions of the South’s victories and defeats, its tenacious struggle to legitimize its cause and defeat an overpowering enemy, and its ultimate loss of will. He debunks long-standing legends, offers irrefutable evidence explaining Confederate actions, and contemplates the idealism, naiveté, folly, and courage of the military leadership and would-be founding fathers.
Among the most misunderstood, Davis contends, was Jefferson Davis. Often branded as enigmatic and incompetent, the Confederate president was simply a decent and committed leader whose mistakes were magnified by the war’s extraordinary demands. Davis scrutinizes Jefferson Davis’ relationship with his generals—most of whom were unproved talents or cronies with proven deficiencies—and reveals why only Robert E. Lee succeeded in winning Davis’ confidence through flattery, persuasion, and a sense of responsibility. He also examines the myths and memories of the nearly deified Stonewall Jackson and John C. Breckinridge, the only effective Confederate secretary of war.
Davis also illustrates why the cause of the war—a subject of long-standing controversy—boils down to the single issue of slavery; why Southerners, ninety percent of whom didn’t own slaves, were willing to join in the battle to defend their homeland; how the personalities, tactics, and styles of the armies in the turbulent West differed greatly from those in the East; what real or perceived turning points influenced Southern decision making; and how mythology and misinterpretations have been perpetuated through biography, history, literature, and film.
Revealing the Confederacy’s myths for what they really are, Davis nevertheless illustrates how much those myths inform our understanding of the Civil War and its place in Southern and American culture.
“Celebrated author William C. Davis here offers us stimulating essays full of provocative opinions. Will provoke plenty of healthy debate.”—Blue & Gray Magazine
“A wonderful book, written by a man with full command of, and great love for, his subject. Davis grasps the war in its totality, decently and respectfully. He does not so much demolish myths as clarify and nuance them.”—Washington Times
“This splendid collection, characterized by the same insight, humor, and delightful irreverence found in all Davis’s writing, has something for everyone.”—Journal of Southern History
“Davis advances strong opinions without qualification and often in a bold, memorable way.”—Georgia Historical Quarterly
"This provocative book challenges readers to look at old questions in new ways. It’s a splendid read, entertaining and enlightening in equal measure and leavened with more than a dash of humor."—Gary W. Gallagher, editor of The Third Day at Gettysburg and Beyond
"The Cause Lost provides interesting and informative reading, in the process presenting some new ideas and fresh facts while exposing some old fallacies."—Albert Castel, author of Decision in the West: The Atlanta Campaign of 1864
"William C. Davis is one of the best and most prolific historians of the American Civil War. His many books on battles, commanders, and Civil War photography have added immeasurably to our knowledge and understanding."—James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom
List of Illustrations
Part One: Jefferson Davis and His Generals
1. Jefferson Davis: The Mystery of the Myth
2. Davis, Johnston, and Beauregard: The Tripple Play That Crippled the Confederacy
3. Davis and Lee: Partnership for Success
Part Two: Forgotten Wars
4. The Siege of Charleston
5. A Different Kind of War: Fighting in the West
6. Forgotten Wars: The Confederate Trans-Mississippi
Part Three: Excuses, Turning Points, and Defeats
7. Lost Will, Lost Causes
8. The Turning Point That Wasn't: The Confederates and the Election of 1864
9. John C. Breckinridge and Confederate Defeat
Part Four: The Confederacy in Myth and Posterity
10. Stonewall Jackson in Myth and Memory
11. Myths and Realities of the Confederacy
12. The Civil War and the Confederacy in Cinema