Burying the Dead But Not the Past: Ladies’ Memorial Associations & the Lost Cause
By Caroline E. Janney
(July 2012 Civil War News)
Illustrated, photos, notes, bibliography, index, 304 pp., 2012, North Carolina, http://uncpress.unc.edu/books, $39.95 hardcover, $24.95 softcover.
Within a month of the surrender of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox, a group of women in Winchester, Va., organized the first Ladies’ Memorial Association (LMA). Their purpose was to reinter the remains of fallen Confederate soldiers.
By the end of 1866, at least 70 other LMAs had been formed throughout the defeated South. In time the ladies’ efforts resulted in the reburial of more than 72,000 slain Rebels, or roughly a fourth of all dead Confederates.
Virginia, with its many battlefields, became the center of LMAs. Upper- and middle-class Virginia women also formed memorial associations in Richmond, Fredericksburg, Petersburg and Lynchburg.
They sought funds, held gravesite services and, as the years passed, gathered for Confederate Memorial Day ceremonies, with flowers, flags and speeches. The LMAs were at the forefront of the creation of the “Lost Cause.”
As author Caroline E. Janney demonstrates, these remembrance organizations were founded by women devoted to the Confederate cause during the conflict. They belonged to sewing circles, raised money for equipment and arms, and tended to the wounded in their local military hospitals.
They were among the Confederacy’s elite and used their connections with important men to aid the war effort. Their wartime associations brought them into the LMAs.
The LMAs continued into the 20th century, with many members joining the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), an organization still active today. The ladies battled with male veteran organizations, such as the Southern Historical Society, over the nature and control of Confederate memory.
The ladies remained more bitter about the defeat of the Confederacy than army veterans and voiced opposition to reconciliation efforts with the North during the 1890s and early 1900s.
The legacy of the LMAs remains to the present in sections of cemeteries with Confederate dead, monuments, the Museum of the Confederacy, the Lost Cause interpretation of the war, and the ongoing activities of the UDC. It is a legacy not without controversy, then and now, but patriotic Confederate women helped to shape our memory of the Civil War.
Originally published in 2008 and reissued in softcover, Janney’s book is a detailed account of the LMAs. Her research in unpublished manuscripts, periodicals and published works is commendable and thorough. She writes very well, explores the importance of gender roles, and offers sound judgments.
Memory as a subject has been increasingly examined by historians, and Janney’s study is a worthy addition to this field of Civil War historiography.
Reviewer: Jeffry D. Wert
Jeffry D. Wert is a retired Pennsylvania high school teacher. He is the author of eight books on the Civil War, including his recent Cavalryman of the Lost Cause: A Biography of J.E.B. Stuart.