Title

Robert E. Lee and Southern Memory

Presenter Information

Kellie Hedgers

Document Type

Oral Presentation

Location

SURC 271

Start Date

16-5-2013

End Date

16-5-2013

Abstract

Immediately following their defeat in 1865, the Southern people underwent a period of intense spiritual and social upheaval. How could a righteous people, who believed they had the favor of God, suffer such a monumental defeat? This troubling question led to a fierce belief in the Confederacy as a Lost Cause, a glorious and noble society doomed to failure. Belief in this particular vision of Southern society was so powerful that it came to be viewed by many of its proponents as having a near-religious element. This mentality also led to a belief in the knightly chivalry of its leaders. The most venerated Confederate leader in the postwar South was Robert E. Lee, whose military achievements, gentleness, and graceful acceptance of defeat defined him as the embodiment of Southern virtue. By venerating the military glory, admirable personal qualities, and humble postwar life of one man, the South was able to present a noble and defiant face to the world in the shadow of crushing defeat. Drawing on the works of many Lee biographers, including Douglas Southall Freeman, Burke Davis, Emory Thomas, and a host of others, along with some leading experts on Southern memory, including C. Vann Woodward and David Blight, I will trace the changing circumstances that have led to Lee’s current veneration in the South and also the South’s complicated relationship with its Confederate heritage.

Faculty Mentor(s)

Daniel Herman

Additional Mentoring Department

History

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May 16th, 9:00 AM May 16th, 9:20 AM

Robert E. Lee and Southern Memory

SURC 271

Immediately following their defeat in 1865, the Southern people underwent a period of intense spiritual and social upheaval. How could a righteous people, who believed they had the favor of God, suffer such a monumental defeat? This troubling question led to a fierce belief in the Confederacy as a Lost Cause, a glorious and noble society doomed to failure. Belief in this particular vision of Southern society was so powerful that it came to be viewed by many of its proponents as having a near-religious element. This mentality also led to a belief in the knightly chivalry of its leaders. The most venerated Confederate leader in the postwar South was Robert E. Lee, whose military achievements, gentleness, and graceful acceptance of defeat defined him as the embodiment of Southern virtue. By venerating the military glory, admirable personal qualities, and humble postwar life of one man, the South was able to present a noble and defiant face to the world in the shadow of crushing defeat. Drawing on the works of many Lee biographers, including Douglas Southall Freeman, Burke Davis, Emory Thomas, and a host of others, along with some leading experts on Southern memory, including C. Vann Woodward and David Blight, I will trace the changing circumstances that have led to Lee’s current veneration in the South and also the South’s complicated relationship with its Confederate heritage.