Friday, June 29, 2012

Just Finished Reading

Civil War era gender studies have been receiving the proper attention they deserve for quite some time now, but this particular area of scholarship continues to produce significant and interesting books. Purdue University professor Caroline E. Janney's Burying the Dead but not the Past: Ladies' Memorial Associations & and the Lost Cause adds to this growing list. While the subtitle does not indicate it, the focus of the study is specifically on the ladies' associations of Virginia.

In this book Janney explains that the postwar Virgnina Ladies' Memorial Associations (LMAS) grew largely out of Confederate women's wartime efforts and contributions. Southern women had helped their men battle the enemy by performing numerous functions including, but certainly not limited to nursing, sewing and even raising funds to manufacture gunboats.

After the war, these women continued to serve the South proudly by organizing themselves into groups to see that their beloved Confederate soldiers who had died during the war received properly decorated graves and were reinterred in Confederate cemeteries. Like in wartime, they afterward too raised funds, but instead of having gunboats built, they worked to have monuments built to honor their Southern soldiers. As Janney explains, the Southern landscape, particularly that in cemeteries and around courthouse squares, would probably look much different than they do without the LMAS influence.

One major goal of the Virginia LMAS was to bring home soldiers that had been buried in places such as Gettysburg and Antietam. The women felt their soldiers could not receive the proper recognition and respect they were due buried in "foreign soil." In fact, the LMAS were so aggressive in this mission that they went into significant debt, a debt that they really never retired, trying bring their boys home.

The LMAS were not without conflict. Janney explains that during the Reconstruction years Confederate men let the ladies handle much of the memorialization effort because the women were viewed as largely harmless by the occupying United States armed forces and Republicans that ran state government. But, as Virginia was redeemed to home rule in 1870, the men started to take more control of Confederate commemoration, much to the LMAS chagrin. These women had worked had to have a prominent place in Southern society and they did not want to give it up.

If this threat to their memory hegemony was not enough, the LMAS also faced playing second fiddle to a new heritage organization; the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC). The UDC, founded in 1894, brought a youth and energy that the LMAS could not meet and the older generation was soon overtaken in popularity and membership by the newer group. 

Despite all of these challenges Janney explains that the contributions to the Lost Cause by the LMAS of Virginia were not insignificant. The Virginia LMAS accomplished much in a erea when money was scarce and most people's concerns were on just surviving and providing for their families, not perpetuating the Lost Cause. Among the accomplishments the ladies can claim was the reinterrment of thousands of Confederate soldiers, the creation of six major Confederate cemeteries, the founding of the Museum of the Confederacy, helping fund the building of the Lee and Soldiers and Sailors Monuments in Richmond, and making Blandford Church in Petersburg into a "Confederate shrine."

On a scale of 1 to 5, I give Burying the Dead, but not the Past a 4.75. I highly recommend it to anyone that is interested in how the Lost Cause has maintained a grip on the South's Civil War memory.   

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