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Films that continue the Lost Cause Myth

By Edited Apr 27, 2014 0 2

The Lost Cause Myth or Lost Cause of the Confederacy was a label given to the literary, and intellectual movements that attempted to cope with the loss of the Confederacy. The myth often portrays Confederarte leadership as the Cavaliers of old, as noble, brave, warriors. The Union in these films do not "best" the Southern armies on the field, through superior tactics, but through sheer numbers. Some of the major beliefs of the Lost Cause Myth is that Southern Generals showed exception and chivalry (opposed to Northern Generals like Sherman who devastated much of the South). They believed that the Confederacy fought for state rights instead of slavery. That, secession was a justified response to a rapidly growing Union, dominated by the North. Several films, continue this myth such as Birth of a Nation, Gone with the Wind, Gettysburg.


D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation attempted to justify white supremacy and reconcile a defeated southern culture, years after the Civil War. The film condemns the policies of Reconstruction and actually makes heroes out of the KKK. The Film promotes the disenfranisement of African American voters during the post-reconstruction period. This film is a backlash to Reconstruction Policies, in certain respects it glorifies the chivalry of the Old South, and promotes white supremacy and the culture of the Old, antebellum, South.


Gone with the Wind is a 1939 romance-drama film. The film takes place in the Old South and starts days before the outbreak of the Civil War. It allows the viewers to glance the majesty, splendor, and traditions of the Old South, before the collapse. This film also tells the story of the American Civil War and Reconstruction, like Birth of a Nation. But, Gone with the Wind is more covert in its message than Birth of a Nation. When the war begins, the young men rush to battle and done the Confederate Grey. They appear the very definition of honor and nobility. However, the film is not from the persepctive of the young men, but from Scarlett. The film is important because it depicts the Reconstruction and Civil War from the perspective of a young woman in southern society. Like other Lost Cause films this film does continue the lost cause myth by portraying southern leaders and gentlmen with a certain nobility or chivalry attached to them. It also depicts Northern generals as villians and cutthroats.


The film Gettysburg is different from Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind because it does not focus on the Reconstruction or the entire Civil War. Gettysburg focuses on one moment in the Civil War. Also, unlike the other films, this film does not portray the Northern Generals and their soldiers as honorless. A good portion of Gettysburg takes place from their perspectives. However, the film does portray the cause of the South to be one for state rights. It portrays the Southern leaders as gentlemen and courageous leaders. This film to a certain extent uses another tenet of the Lost Cause Myth. In some Lost Cause circles, General Longstreet is portrayed as a blundering, traitor. (Traitor) because he became a republican after the war and was friends with General Grant. He is often portrayed as a blunder because of his actions on the second and third day of Gettysburg.

In the film the film-makers spend a good deal of time focusing on General Lee's grand battle plans. The plans to take little Round Top, and later the center of the Union line. Both times, Lee places Longstreet in command, and Longstreet fails to attack early. He attacks late in the afternoon on the second day and after mid-day on the third day, after the canons are out of ammunition. While he is shown as a southern gentleman and honorable, he is often shown as blundering in command decisions. Lee is shown as a masterfully, skilled, tactician.

While Gettysburg does not focus on the Reconstruction it focuses on other tenets of the Lost Cause Myth that Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind do not. Such as Longstreet as a blundering tactician.

All three of these films show the Southern generals as gentlemen, honorable, and courageous. These films have continued the Lost Cause Myth into the present day, and I am sure there will be future films that continue the tradition.



Oct 27, 2010 6:28am
Great article. It is common for the losing side in most conflict to justify/romanticize their side of the issue after the fact. I imagine Southern Generals were no more "Gentlemen" that Northern Generals. As an example Nathan Bedford Forrest was worse then Sherman.

Is the Confederacy the only loser of a war that is allowed such a free hand in telling "their" story? I wonder what the German side would say about WWI?
Feb 7, 2011 2:32pm
Well, I do agree with you to a tee. To answer your questions about the Germans, I believe the loss of the war triggered a "power-complex" in the mind of Adolf Hitler, and through his hate led the country to WW2. But, that's just my opinion.
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