Southern Post-War Views of Slavery

Once the guns went silent, Southerners embraced fascinating views about slavery and the war’s cause. Edward A. Pollard, wartime editor of the Richmond Examiner and the first to popularize the South’s “Lost Cause” mythological version of the war in his book The Lost Cause; A New Southern History of the War of the Confederates, opined, “…the system of negro servitude in the South was not ‘Slavery’ (but) …one of the mildest and most beneficent systems of servitude in the world.” Nonetheless, Pollard claimed that “Slavery established in the South a peculiar and noble type of civilization,” due to “the relief of a large class of whites from the demands of physical labor,” which helped the South develop an “extraordinary culture” with an attendant chivalry. He even touted slave patrols: “order was preserved by an unpaid police.”

Most Southerners were extremely bitter over their defeat and loss of their largest economic assets. Only two major Southern military leaders viewed membership in the Republican Party as the best way to rebuild the South: Lieutenant General James “Old Pete” Longstreet, commander of Lee’s First Corps, and Colonel John Singleton Mosby, the “Gray Ghost,” commander of the 43rd Partisan Ranger Regiment which ran rings around Yankee cavalry in the Shenandoah Valley while destroying wagon trains and waylaying isolated Union detachments. Both were ostracized by their wartime comrades.


Mosby’s assessment is telling: “Why not talk about witchcraft if slavery was not the cause of the war? I always understood that we went to war on account of the thing we quarreled with the North about. I never heard of any other cause of the quarrel than slavery.” He remarked in 1894, “I can’t see how letting the negroes go free could have saved the Union unless slavery was the cause of the breach.”

Mosby later commented “…I think as bad of slavery as Horace Greeley did (but) I am not ashamed that my family were slaveholders. It was our inheritance. Neither am I ashamed that my ancestors were pirates and cattle thieves.” In 1907, the Gray Ghost penned a reminder for historians, “People must be judged by the standard of their own age. He admonished, “If it was right to own slaves as property, it was right to fight for it. The South went to war on account of slavery…”

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Gene Betit

Retired intel analyst with Ph. D. in Soviet Area Studies from Georgetown, love to write. Two Defense Intelligence Agency studies, over ten magazine articles on Soviet military and strategic capabilities. Current publications include War's Cost: The Hites' Civil War, Manhattan's Walloon Settlers, Collective Amnesia: American Apartheid, and Forbidden, Forgotten, Formidable: Blacks in America's Wars.

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