We Wish to be Remembered

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania July 2, 1863, said in his 1884 Memorial Day Address,[1] “We wish to be remembered. Willing to die, we are not willing to be forgotten.” How the American Civil War is remembered has changed over time and locale. Where the American Civil War is remembered and by whom, is also a determinant of how it is remembered. What is forgotten over time and locale is equally important as to what is remembered. The memories of the war needed to serve a purpose, especially for the people who lost the war, that would connect them not only with their past but with their future as citizens of the post-bellum United States. One of the earliest shapers of the memories of the Civil War was the Southern historian, Edward A. Pollard.

Pollard, one of the people of the Confederate States of America therefore re-wrote their history to justify their past, and to create a place for the Southern people in the re-united States to reconcile their conflicting memories in a “slaveless,” northern-dominated union. Rather than seeing themselves as defending slavery and the extension of slavery, the Southerners sought to believe that they were defending state’s rights, preserving Southern culture and civilization, and protecting private property. The secessionists claimed that they only wanted to respect the founding fathers’ vision of an American union of Sovereign States; their Southern virtue was destroyed by Northern might.

Pollard viewed their actions as defensive, and regrettably necessary to repulse unwarranted northern aggression; to shield the African Americans in their care from rebellious and immoral influences. Antebellum Southerners claimed that they cherished the child-like innocence of the African Americans, and had a paternal desire to maintain their good social order. As one their spokesmen, the Southern historian Pollard and his works would at first defend slavery as morally good and then later the Confederacy itself as a necessary move to defend the south, its way of life, and their peculiar institution of slavery.

However, Pollard represents one of the better known examples of the reconstruction of a rebel’s antebellum views to a post-bellum unionism. He was born in the “Old South” on his family’s plantation in Virginia, February 27, 1832. He grew up on family plantations and was educated at the University of Virginia. He prospected for gold in California but gave it up to write for newspapers. While he was employed in the early 1850s in newspaper work, his assignments had him traveling in eastern Asia. Pollard returned to the American East in 1856 and he toured the South Atlantic states. He wrote and published articles about the benign life of Southern plantations.  Contrasting the life of the slave in the “Old South,” to the miserable life of slaves in the “Orient,” Pollard declared that American slaves were fortunate to live in Southern civilization rather than the “Orient.” He defended American slavery as benign and paternalistic.

His best known antebellum work was, Black Diamonds Gathered in the Darkey Homes of the South, extolling the humanitarian aspects of slavery in the south. The book also discussed the common schemes of Southern planters to colonize south of America. Pollard’s proclaimed that Central and South America could be a new American Empire of slavery for the United States, given that expanding slavery into the western territories was problematical due to the American abolitionists, “… the destiny of Southern civilization is to be consummated in a glory brighter even than that of old, the glory of an empire, controlling the commerce of the world, impregnable in its position , and represent in its internal structure the most harmonious of all the systems of modern civilization.”[2] He argued that slavery elevated the African Americans, not degraded them. Pollard’s vision of a glorious Southern empire based on chattel slavery, reflected the Southerners’ comprehension of their peculiar institution, which they were prepared to protect by “withdrawing” from the union.

During the secession of the Southern states in 1861, Pollard was in Washington serving as a clerk for the House Judiciary Committee. During the secession he left Washington for Maryland, where his brother H. Rives Pollard, was the news editor of the Baltimore Sun. With the outbreak of hostilities (First Battle of Manassas) between the north and the south, the Pollard brothers moved to Richmond, Virginia, and joined the staff of the Southern Rights newspaper, the Examiner. Edward A. Pollard shared editorial duties with his brother and the senior editor, (a friend of Edgar A. Poe), John Moncure Daniel. Edward A. Pollard, nonetheless found time to continue his chronicles of the war.

Pollard attempted to write the history of the war as it occurred. The Southern History of the War was prepared in annual volumes as the war progressed. However, his work was interrupted in 1864. He planned to travel to Great Britain on behalf of the Confederate States of  America. He was captured by the Union when the blockade runner (ship) he was on attempted to run the Union blockade of Richmond, Virginia on its way to Great Britain. He was temporarily imprisoned in New York, as a prisoner of the United States and then taken south to spend the last part of the war in custody at Fortress Monroe, Virginia. When he was paroled and released in a prisoner exchange in January 1865, he rejoined the Richmond, Virginia Examiner staff, and continued his work on the Southern History of the War. After the final volume of the Southern History of the War was published in 1865, Pollard decided to write a new Southern history of the war of the Confederates. His efforts culminated in his 752 page book, The Lost Cause; a New Southern History of the War of the Confederates.

The Lost Cause, according to the author, was the loss of Southern civilization, the ameliorating rule of white slave owners, and the excision of slavery from the United States. According to Pollard in his 1866 book, the war did not decide the issues of, “negro suffrage, State Rights or Southern Politics.”[3] The war was lost, but the ideals of the slave holders were still a part of Southern culture and politics. Pollard said that the “accident” of defeat did not tarnish the “heroic record of the Confederacy.” He looked for the armed conflict to resume in the near future. Pollard exhorted his Confederate readers at the end of his books to remember their Confederate heritage. He anticipated the failure of emancipation and the restoration of African American servitude, because it was their “natural” condition. The racist opposition in the North to civil rights for the African Americans would help bring about the failure of emancipation, according to Pollard.[4] His views as a popular author reflected the opinions of his Southern readers. Some of his Southern fans found it difficult to give up the master/slave mentality and they (whites) continued to think of themselves as masters after the war.

A letter from a Mississippi planter October 22, 1865, to his state legislators warned of the dangers of the black union soldiers stationed in Panola, Mississippi, talking to the local freedmen and telling them “stories” about their rights. In his letter the planter E. G. Baker, writes that he wants the black union soldiers removed. He writes that he finds it very strange that freedmen would listen to the soldiers. “Strange to say the negroes believe such stories in spite of facts to the contrary told them by their masters (sic) employers.”[5] The ex-slave holder’s memory of recent events slips as he writes. It is an understandable slip considering that the whites had been the masters of the African Americans for many generations.

During the later years of reconstruction Pollard wrote another book about the “Lost Cause” called, The Lost Cause Regained. In the introduction to his new book he explains the title by stating that “… the true cause fought for in the late war has not been “lost” war immeasurably or irrevocably, but is yet in a condition to be regained by the South on ultimate issues of the political contest.”[6] His new work attempts to reinterpret the transition of the Old South (representative of the Confederacy) to the New South (of the restored Union), by explaining that the true battle had not been for slavery or its expansion, but rather for white supremacy and constitutional limitations. “As long as white men governed by limited powers they could reassure themselves that the essence of their “Lost Cause”  still remained with them.”[7]

Many of Pollard’s readers in the South welcome the “redefining” of the popular memory of the “late war.” They did not lose the war because their ideals were false or indefensible. The war was lost by the accident of the North’s overwhelming numbers of materiel and men. According to Pollard, the issue of slavery and state’s rights was a misunderstanding on the part of the North. The North did not understand that the South was fighting for the supremacy of the white race, and along with it the preservation of the political traditions of the country.[8] Pollard wrote that the “Negro” race was considered inferior to all other races of men. “It is from this inferiority that we deduce all the benefits of slavery in the past. The fact is important as a historical vindication of the past. It is also important as a supreme instruction for the future.” He then proceeds to reshape the Southern memory of the war as a war of defense against the dangers of the inferior race unbound by uncaring abolitionists. Pollard asks what this inferior race would be able to do without the guidance of the white people who cared for them. The issue of “Negro” suffrage is another example of re-shaping the public memory of the war.

Pollard points out that the people of the North show extreme “sensitiveness” on the issue of entertaining the “Negro” as an equal at the polls. He uses the reluctance of Northern politicians to grant suffrage to African Americans, to castigate the white Northern politicians as scalawags and hypocrites. In 1865, Negro suffrage was voted down in Connecticut, Colorado, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. In 1867 a joint resolution was passed by the Legislature of Ohio to propose an amendment to the state constitution, striking the word “white” from the franchise law of the state. It was rejected by a majority of over 50,000 voters when a popular vote was taken. Similar results occurred in Minnesota and Kansas that year, rejecting the franchise for “people of color.”[9] Freeing the slaves by the Northerners obviously was not the same as granting the freedmen social equality in northern American society. This did not really surprise Pollard who held a dim view of the North. His description from his earlier work, The Lost Cause concerning Northern society was as blunt as it was judgmental.

Pollard, like many Southern gentlemen of the times, found the culture of the North to be coarse and materialistic, charactierized by individual acquisitiveness. Northerners, he wrote, were “a people corrupted by a gross material prosperity …” Their ruling elite was “a coarse ostentation aristocracy that smelt of the trade …” Their animating force was an “unremitting hunt after selfish aggrandizement,” often disguised by self-righteous pretenses. The capitalist elite, out of envy for the Southern gentry that was its natural superior, had launched the campaign of aggression against Southern institutions. According to Pollard, North and South were incompatible societies.[10] In spite of his disdain for the North he did eventually undergo a conversion from a proslavery Southern nationalist world view, to a supporter of the Unionist and free-labor paradigm.

He remained a bitter opponent of the Radical Republic Reconstruction politics. According to historian Jack P. Maddex Jr.,[11] Pollard actually “reconstructed” the tradition of the Old South to fit post-bellum definitions of American loyalty. Like many other Southerners, Pollard wanted to participate in local and eventually national politics. Where his stance of Southern nationalism had kept him from identifying with conservative unionists, the lure of local politics had him publishing articles extolling the American Union in patriotic terms that excluded his former secessionism. The reconstruction of the Southern memory of the Civil War continued with the reconstruction of its favorite Southern historian. He wrote a series of articles that showed the direction of his change.

In The Living Politicians of To-day (sic) Pollard denounced the Republican Party’s leaders. He lauded however, President Johnson, Secretary of State William Seward, and Democratic congressman “Gentleman” George H. Pendleton of Ohio who was a noted anti-war Democrat. As he continued his series, Pollard started to refer to secession as a “violent and revolutionary measure.” The fact that his new writings contradicted his old writings did not seem to faze him. In the space of a few years, he said that his thinking had matured. Along with his new maturity, shared with many citizens of the South, were his alterations of history. In another surprising change, Pollard wrote that John C. Calhoun, the great Southern Rights statesman, had been a “sound Union man” who had never believed in the right of secession.[12] President Lincoln was extolled for his intentions of a “generous restoration of rights” to the Southern states after the war. President Johnson was praised for his reconstruction policy, including freeing the slaves and the repudiation of Confederate public debts. African American suffrage however, was still another issue.

Most Republican leaders, he thought, advocated “Negro” suffrage only as a means to perpetuate their party’s “despotism.” Only “Negro” suffrage could keep the Republican Party in power. Pollard argued in The Lost Cause Regained that the original opposition (the Civil War) to the Republican Party of Lincoln was for white supremacy and constitutional limits. Slavery was not the reason for the South’s secession and Civil War. The Republican Party was now showing its “true colors” with their “black” rule and military despotism. “The new cause,” he wrote, was “the true question of the war revived,” and it consisted of “the supremacy of the white race” and “the protection of our ancient fabrics of government.”[13] The myth of the South only fighting for States Rights and Independence was now established in Southern memory. The new cause, according to Pollard was the supremacy of the white race.

Historians must make judgments about the people they choose to research. Historians, as professionals, have a responsibility to be honest, fair, objective and unbiased. In order to avoid propagandizing, it is important to verify all the relevant facts that the historian uses in interpreting history. Pollard did not live up to the responsibilities of being an historian. His distortions of the ex-slaves and the African Americans in general were racists and appealed to many Southerners.

Southerners, following the reasoning of Pollard, should base their rationale for white supremacy on the claim that African Americans are intellectually inferior because of their race. This was a way of thinking that former slave holders could sympathize with and embrace as a logical rationale. The Unionist Democrats, Pollard wrote, had laid the true foundation for post-bellum conservative policies. He now preferred them to the Confederate sympathizers in the North, and he took their slogan of 1864, “The Union as it was,” as his own slogan for the 1868 election. Their kind of Unionism, not “the Lost Cause,” was the source of his policy of white supremacy and constitutional limitations.[14]

The issue of white supremacy was becoming an issue in national politics with Reconstruction an extensively debated policy in the North and the South. The Democrat presidential nominee, New York Governor Horatio Seymour, ran an openly racist election with the campaign slogan, “This is a white man’s country, let white men rule.” Racism failed to sway the voters, and General Ulysses S. Grant was elected President of the United States with a landslide victory for the Republican Party. The “Lost Cause” was continuing to lose in national politics, even in the South.

According to historian David W. Blight, the “Lost Cause” bred dissenters. The scalawags, ex-Confederates who joined the Republican Party during Reconstruction, were the first dissenters from “Lost Cause” ideology. The much maligned James Longstreet of Georgia, former colonel and legendary partisan cavalry leader in Virginia John S. Mosby, political leaders such as James W. Hunnicut in Virginia, James Lusk Alcorn of Mississippi, Amos T. Ackerman of Georgia, and Thomas Settle Jr. of North Carolina, and many others embraced new economic development and acted with a spirit of unionism to resist the “Lost Cause” mythology.[15]

While it was assumed that the battles of conflicting ideology, racial and racist politics, and the memories of why the United States fought a Civil War, would continue to be a source of contention and distrust, there were some people willing to work together to overcome these differences. Some white Southerners eventually formed a biracial, political alliance in Virginia to strengthen their party by taking advantage of the many African American voters, to contend with the conservative Democrats. They were called “Readjusters” and wanted to repudiate at least part of the state debt, incurred before the war to finance railroads, canals, and other public works. Conservative Democrats, known as “Funders”, wanted to take money from the education budget to pay down the state debt.

The “Readjusters” promised to readjust the state debt and wanted a public investment in the expansion of schooling, and economic development that would serve ordinary black and white people in their lives.[16] It was an alliance party with a short period of history that ended about 1883. After the “Readjuster” Party lost power, Virginia’s Democrat Party ruled Virginia’s politics for the next 80 years. Another prominent American, Frederick Douglass was also concerned with the issue of how the Civil War was to be remembered, particularly in an emerging culture of reconciliation.

Douglass was concerned about the new myths of “failed” emancipation, reconstruction and freedom resulting in African American barbarism. In a speech in 1888 Douglas said, “It (the theory of black degeneration) has gone forth to the North. It has crossed the ocean. It has gone to Europe, and it has gone as far as the wings of the press, and the power of speech can carry it.”[17] The memory of the Civil War as espoused by Pollard, of a bipartisan patriotic legend with white supremacy and constitutional limitations was not the memory that Douglass wanted passed on to future generations of Americans. The culture of reconciliation however, continued to encompass the white consciousness of remembrance.

By the 50th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg in 1913, reconciliation and the commemoration of a “glorious fight” in which everyone was declared by the speakers as “right,” was celebrated by over 53,000 white veterans in their blue or gray uniforms. By the rules of the Pennsylvania Commission, African American GAR members with honorable discharge papers were eligible to participate in the battle’s commemoration. There is no evidence, according to Civil War historian Blight that any African Americans participated in the reunion as veterans.[18] There was however an “army” of African Americans, who labored to set up the miles of tents in the tent city, distribute mess kits and blankets, dig latrines, build kitchens, and install the electrical facilities for the 50th reunion. The irony of it would not have been lost on Douglass, or Pollard, had they been able to witness the encampment celebration.

Typical of the encampment theme of reconciliation, was the reenactment of Pickett’s Charge on July 3, 1913, when the members of the Philadelphia Brigade Association  and the Pickett’s Division Association, clasped hands across the stone wall they had fought over fifty years earlier. It was reported as an emotional event that sealed the reconciliation of the North and South, and of the American union. The memory of the occasion for the veterans and spectators was recorded by the press photographers. The photographs of this celebrated event were published in most newspapers in the United States.

The black newspapers were wary of the celebration at Gettysburg during this time of increased lynchings, and deepening segregation.  President Wilson’s recent forced segregation of federal workers and facilities in Washington, because of the increased number of southern workers that came in with the Wilson administration, rankled. “We are wondering,” declared the Baltimore Afro-American Ledger, a major Maryland newspaper, “whether Mr. Lincoln had the slightest idea in his mind that the time would ever come when the people of this country would come to the conclusion that by the ‘People,’ he meant only white people.”[19] White supremacy joined arms with Reconciliation in the Civil War remembrances during the fiftieth Gettysburg reunion in 1913.

The burden of those memories, and their oppressive results would eventually be ameliorated however, with the unheralded birth of the future civil rights activist, Rosa Louise McCauley in 1913. Born fifty years after the battle of Gettysburg, as the 42 year old Rosa Parks she would say “no” in 1955 to Montgomery, Alabama bus driver James Blake’s demand that she relinquish her seat to a white man. She was also saying “no” to Pollard and his twisted reconstruction of the nation’s historical memories of the Civil War.


[1] Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Excerpt from his Memorial Day Address, 1884.

[2] Edward A. Polland. Black Diamonds Gathered in the Darkey Homes of the South, (New York: Pudney & Russell, Publishers 1859), 108.

[3] Edward A. Pollard. The Lost Cause; a New Southern History of the War of the Confederates. (New York: E. B. Treat & Co, 1866), 752.

[4] Pollard, The Lost Cause, 729.

[5] Ira Berlin et al., Free At Last, (New York: The New Press), 520.

[6] Edward A. Pollard. The Lost Cause Regained, (New York: G.W. Carleton & Co., 1868), 13.

[7] Jack P. Maddex Jr., The Reconstruction of Edward A. Pollard, (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press 1974), 84.

[8] Pollard. The Lost Cause Regained, 13.

[9] Pollard. The Lost Cause Regained, 133.

[10] Pollard. The Lost Cause, 49 – 52.

[11] Maddex. The Reconstruction of Pollard, 45.

[12] Edward A. Pollard. “Personal Recollections of John C. Calhoun.” New York Citizen, 9 May 1868, p. 2.

[13] Pollard, The Lost Cause Regained, 102, 106-7, 154.

[14] Pollard, The Lost Cause Regained, 207.

[15] David W. Blight, Race and Reunion: the Civil War in American Memory, (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2002), 293.

[16] Blight, Race and Reunion, 293.

[17] Blight, Race and Reunion, 317.

[18] Blight, Race and Reunion, 385.

[19] Blight, Race and Reunion, 390.

Bibliography

Berlin, Ira, Barbara J. Fields, Steven F. Miller, et al. eds. Free At Last: A Documentary History of Slavery, Freedom, and the Civil War. New York: The New Press, 1992.

Blight, David W. Race and Reunion: the Civil War in American Memory. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2002.

Maddex Jr, Jack P. The Reconstruction of Edward A. Pollard: A Rebel’s Conversion to Postbellum Unionism. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina, 1974.

Pollard, Edward A. The Lost Cause; a New Southern History of the War of the Confederates. New York: E. B. Treat & Co, 1866.

Pollard, Edward A. The Lost Cause Regained. New York: G. W. Carleton & Co, 1868.

Pollard, Edward A. “Personal Recollections of John C. Calhoun.” New York Citizen, 9 May 1868.