Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wesley Moody's "Demon of the Lost Cause"

Wesley Moody is Professor of History at Florida State College.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Demon of the Lost Cause: Sherman and Civil War History, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Demon of the Lost Cause begins by naming a few of the major events of 1891, the year General William T. Sherman died in his New York City home. The general had died several pages earlier. Among the events were the launching of what is considered the first modern submarine by John Holland and the invention of the moving picture camera. Page 99 is just shy of the half-way point of the book. It may seem strange to have already placed the main subject of the book in his grave so early. The main focus of Demon of the Lost Cause is not the life of General Sherman but his public image and reputation.

At the time of his death Sherman was not viewed as the man who ushered in a new destructive form of warfare that intentionally targeted civilians, what is called “total war” today. His opponent in the Georgia campaign, Joseph Johnston, was a pall bearer at Sherman’s funeral. Southern newspaper lamented the death of Sherman. He was still remembered as the South’s political ally during Reconstruction.

There are a number of sources for Sherman’s modern reputation but on page 99 is the introduction to the chapter that discusses how the sons and daughters of Confederate veteran’s rewrote the history of the Civil War. This mythical version of the Civil War came to be known as the “Lost Cause.” Disproving the old adage that “winners write the history books,” large amounts of Lost Cause mythology have been generally accepted. Besides the Civil War having nothing to do with slavery and Grant being a butcher with no concern for the lives of his men, Sherman is a monster with a psychological hatred of the South in the Lost Cause version. To prove this wrong by accurately portraying Sherman is only part of the story. How the flawed view of Sherman came to be so widely accepted is an important key to understanding Civil War history.
Learn more about Demon of the Lost Cause at the University of Missouri Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue