An eye-opening book, well documented and easy to read. The Myth of the Lost Cause: Why the South Fought the Civil War and Why the North Won by Edward H. Bonekemper III shows that much of what you think you know about the Civil War is probably wrong.
- Lee wasn’t a better general than Grant.
- Ulysses S. Grant wasn’t a butcher who beat the strategic genius Lee by sheer brute force.
- The South wasn’t doomed to lose the war to the superior numbers and equipment of the North. If they were smarter, they could have actually won their independence.
- There were no “Black Confederates.”
- And no, the South didn’t start the Civil War because of states rights. They started the war to defend and expand slavery. That’s the main reason they deserved to lose. But there were plenty of others.
Edward H. Bonekemper III, who served before his death in 2017 as book review editor for Civil War News, had no sympathy for propagandists of the Lost Cause of the Confederacy like rebel General Jubal Early or “Lost Cause” author Edward Pollard who spread myths about the war starting soon after Appomattox and continuing right up to the present day. So he busts each one of their myths remorselessly, while replacing pro-Confederate lies with a more accurate version of the Civil War and its meaning for American history.
Grant was a great general, perhaps the best in American history, and the Union deserved to win not merely because it fought a better battlefield war but because its cause was better.
These days, as Confederate statues come down across the country, we might cheer to see the end of the right of the Lost Cause over popular memory of the Civil War.
But we shouldn’t stop by tearing down the traitors, insurrectionists and enslavers who fought for what Grant termed one of the worst causes in history. Instead, we should put up new statues of Grant and real Civil War heroes whose memory deserves to be honored, and the truth of whose stories deserves to be better known by all Americans.
Bonekemper’s book is an excellent start.