Book Review: Lost Causes: Confederate Demobilization and the Making of Veteran Identity


by Bradley R. Clampitt

Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2022. Pp. xx, 324. Appends., notes, biblio., index. $50.00. ISBN: 0807177164

Confederate Veterans and the Formation of the "Lost Cause"

In Lost Causes, Prof. Clampitt (East Central University) examines the important changes “between soldier and veteran, proposing that loss and disbandment reinforced Confederate distinctiveness as well as public recollection of the war and southern opposition to African American civil rights and the end of slavery”.

He paints an intimate portrait of soldier and veteran and explains how defeat of the Confederacy and the disbandment of its armies strengthened people’s purpose and identity. He argues that ex-fighters declined to accept the authority of “outsider” Federal armies and government that wanted to change important ideas of Southern culture, determined to maintain their former lives.

At the end of the war, most Confederate veterans tried to their make their way home. Most left places like Appomattox penniless, and had to travel long distances to return home to their families. We get a look at the parole process, how Union troops provided rations and transportation to the surrendered soldiers, who were often helped by fellow Southerners. First-hand accounts by soldiers of what they went through on their journeys home give the reader an opportunity to walk in their shoes, as it were.

Surprisingly, Clampitt found that many veterans failed to avail themselves of the Federal assistance, choosing their own ways to get home. Many men traveled in small groups in order to provide security, they often overtaxed the hospitality of Southern citizens. He also makes the excellent point that some of the veterans chose not to return home to their loved ones.

Clampitt also documents evidence that some Confederate veterans resorted to any means “necessary” to secure sustenance and transportation. At times, when citizens were unwilling or unable to provide assistance, the use of pistol and rifle served to secure what was needed. In addition, veterans and civilians alike would often pillage Confederate government stockpiles across the South. In urban areas chaos often ensued in residential neighborhoods, while some rural areas became virtual no-man’s-lands for lawbreakers of all types

We get a look at continuing tensions between the former Johnny Rebs and the former Billy Yanks during the wind down from the war. Clampitt also shows how, and why, in many areas, as the Confederates departed, Federal troops often encountered enormous difficulties, particularly in cities, where the war had left a legacy of filth, disease, and a never-ending stream of black and white refugees. Union leaders had to respond to the needs of the newly free people and to persistent guerrilla and bandit violence in some regions.

Clampitt argues that common sentiment of many of the discharged Confederates was that they deserved the property due to their sacrifice during the previous four years. Some felt that the amount of food and other resources stored in government warehouses or held by well-to-do civilians was inhumane hoarding, given the suffering and privation of Confederate service men.

Clampitt notes that the presence or absence of Federal troops often determined the timing or degree of lawlessness.

In many ways, these developments were a preview of some of the problems of the post-war South during Reconstruction and into the Jim Crow era, as Clampitt argues the experiences of returning veterans played a role in establishing the philosophical foundations of the “Lost Cause” and produced a distinctiveness of regional identity grounded upon mutual misery and sacrifice, and an inescapable pledge to white supremacy.

While families and localities usually treated many of the returning veterans as heroes, others were very worried about a questionable future. For some, wives and children were perfect strangers that forced the men to distance themselves from loved ones. For many others, they became permanent rebels.

Clampitt draws upon a vast body of diaries, letters, memoires, regimental histories, and veteran questionnaires in order to analyze the experiences and thinking of the Confederate veterans.

A volume in the LSU series "Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War," Lost Causes fills in a much needed gap in our understanding of how discharged Confederate veterans made their ways home, and how their homecomings helped shape thought processes and later events.

Highly recommended.


Our Reviewer: David Marshall has been a high school American history teacher in the Miami-Dade School district for more than three decades. A life-long Civil War enthusiast, David is president of the Miami Civil War Round Table Book Club. In addition to numerous reviews in Civil War News and other publications, he has given presentations to Civil War Round Tables on Joshua Chamberlain, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the common soldier. His previous reviews here include Stephen A. Swails, The Great ‘What Ifs’ of the American Civil War Chained to History, Grant vs. Lee: Favorite Stories and Fresh Perspectives from the Historians at Emerging Civil War, Spectacle of Grief, Braxton Bragg: The Most Hated Man of the Confederacy, First Fallen: The Life of Colonel Ellsworth, Their Maryland, The Lion of Round Top, Rites of Retaliation, Animal Histories of the Civil War Era, Benjamin Franklin Butler, Dreams of Victory: General P. G. T. Beauregard, Bonds of War, Early Struggles for Vicksburg, True Blue, Civil War Witnesses and Their Books, Love and Duty, and When Hell Came To Sharpsburg



Note: Lost Causes is also available in e-editions.

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: David Marshall   

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