UDC played key role in South's vindication

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Dr. Karen Cox makes her presentation on the UDC.
Are you familiar with the term, "The Lost Cause?"

Edward A. Pollard, a secessionist newspaperman turned historian, may have penned the phrase in his 1866 book "The Lost Cause: A New Southern History of the War of the Confederates."

The end of the Civil War left large areas of the South, like Murfreesboro and Franklin, defeated and in economic ruin. Little was left but the region's pride and out of that rose a movement – both literary and political – to put a new face on the Confederacy.

Leading this effort to vindicate the South was a surprising group, the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

"Did they succeed in vindication? I say they did," said Dr. Karen Cox of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Cox spoke at the recent symposium "The Legacy of Stones River: Remembering the Civil War." She's the author of the 2003 book, "Dixie's Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture."

The United Daughters of the Confederacy was an outgrowth of the various benevolent aid societies and ladies memorial groups that developed during and after the war, Cox said.

Initially these groups had worked to aid the war effort and to help the widows and children of Confederate soldiers who died in battle.

The ladies memorial groups were centered on bereavement and to returning the bodies of the war dead from far-flung battlefields. It wasn't until the South had been returned to home rule that the real vindication efforts began.

Vindication was an important goal of the UDC, which was founded just up the road in Nashville, Cox said.

The National Association of the Daughters of the Confederacy was organized in Nashville on Sept.10, 1894, by founders Caroline Meriwether Goodlett of Nashville and Anna Davenport Raines of Georgia. At its second meeting in Atlanta, in 1895, the organization changed its name to the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

"The two founders ... their career was the Lost Cause," Cox said. "From the beginning this would be a very elite organization."

The general goals of the group were:

· To memorialize those who fought for and fell in battle for the Confederate cause.

· To preserve the history of the "War Between States."

· To educate future generations about the Confederacy from a pro-Southern viewpoint.

· Social in nature. The group even had blackball provisions to keep out women who weren't from the top social strata.

"All the early members were well connected and they came from all over the country," she said. "New York even had a UDC chapter."

Members were well educated and came from the elite part of the community. They were the wives and sisters of Confederate officers, judges, and politicians. They even had the ear of the president.

"The group grows very, very fast. It was very popular nationally," she said.

It started with two members corresponding, and 35 women attended the first meeting in Nashville.

Within 10 years, the UDC had 30,000 members and by World War I, it had more than 100,000.

"It was a way for women, who did not have the vote, to be politically active," Cox said.

At the time, the UDC was best known for the monuments they erected in high-profile places. They didn't hide their statuary in battlefields or cemetery, preferring locations like public squares, she said.

The memorials and their unveilings were always accompanied by ritualism often involving children.
Among the most notable is the bronze monument at Arlington National Cemetery that features a woman _ not a soldier _ who represents the South. In most cases, the monuments were designed to serve as a reminder for future generations.

"Education is the most lasting contribution of the United Daughters," Cox said. Children were "living monuments" to the pro-Southern viewpoint.

The UDC's education efforts advanced the Lost Cause narrative through publications and the Daughter's influence in school's curriculum through text and library books and other supplemental materials. The organization strived to connect children to their Confederate ancestors, she said.

The pro-Southern points they wanted future generations to know:

· Confederates fought for states' rights not slavery."

· Confederate veterans are heroes.

· Southern women are heroines.

· Slavery was a benevolent institution.

· Slaves were faithful to their Southern masters.

· Reconstruction was a great tragedy.

· The first members of the Klu Klux Klan were heroes.

The UDC even provided supplemental information for school systems about the "positive influence" of the Klan.

Other Lost Cause tenets contrasted the Southern nobility of Confederate generals like Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson versus the low moral standards of Northern generals, including the "alcoholic" U.S. Grant, William T. Sherman who "burned" Atlanta and Philip Sheridan who laid waste to Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.

Lee's Army of Northern Virginia emerged as the most glamorous ... heroic ... example of the Lost Cause, while much less attention was focused on the Western Theater of the War (Tennessee.)

The Lost Cause also contended that secession was a justifiable constitutional response to Northern cultural and economic aggressions against the Southern way of life.

"Did they succeed in vindicating the Confederacy? I say they did," Cox said.

They altered the curriculum in schools. They were successful in promoting a pro-Confederate history. They provided benevolent services to both soldiers and widows. And through their efforts, the North acknowledged the South's patriotism.

"They succeeded in cultural reconciliation," Cox said.

Because of the UDC's efforts it became popular to look kindly upon the South. Even the songwriters of Tin Pan Alley picked up on that theme with writers as well known as Irving Berlin penning songs about the glory days of the Old South. Berlin, who wrote "God Bless America," "White Christmas" and the "Easter Parade," also wrote "I Want to be in Dixie."

But ultimately, "the Lost Cause has a lot to do with white supremacy, or as they would have said at the time, Anglo-Saxon supremacy ... and Jim Crow politics," she said.

In Tennessee, there were 20 Jim Crow (segregation) laws on the books between 1866 and 1955. As of 1954, segregation laws for public transportation, public accommodation and miscegenation were still in effect in the Volunteer State. Jim Crow laws were named after an antebellum blackface minstrel show character.

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April 18, 2007 at 12:00am

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