Monday, April 30, 2012

Review: "Burying the Dead but not the Past: Ladies' Memorial Associations and the Lost Cause"

Earlier, I posted a great video from Caroline Janney of Purdue about women's involvement in the Civil War. She also has written a book called "Burying the Dead but not the Past: Ladies' Memorial Associations and the Lost Cause."

Many people think that Southern women's involvement in memorializing both the dead and the cult of the Lost Cause (read: "we may have lost, but we did it nobly, dang it") did not begin in earnest until the 1890s when the United Daughters of the Confederacy was established. Janney shows that this actually began during the war itself when nursing and sewing circles and the like evolved just after the war into Ladies' Memorial Associations. The LMAs were primarily the domain of middle and upper-class ladies who had such time and resources, as well as lingering anti-Yankee feelings.  There were LMAs all over the old Confederacy (which often helped each other financially), but Janney focuses on those in Virginia - particularly in Richmond, Lynchburg, Winchester, Petersburg, and Fredericksburg. It goes on even after the establishment of the UDC, which supplanted the LMAs, up until about the First World War.
Ladies' Memorial Associations sprang from a great need in the postwar days: to reinter Confederate soldiers with proper burials as well as to commerorate them, along with the Lost Cause. Part of this was out of anger toward Union men who disinterred the bodies of their own men from Southern ground for reburial, which sparked feeling that Confederate graves were being desecrated. Large cemeteries for the purpose of reburial were established, such as Hollywood and Oakwood in Richmond.
The postwar years were still part of the Victorian era, in which women were "supposed" to be apolitical, and not involve themselves with politics as men did. However, in the LMA's work in memorializing fallen Southern soldiers, it kept the idea of the Lost Cause alive because ladies often did work with living former Confederates. Because LMAs were run by women (and not men, as most of their Northern equivilents were), it looked like they were simply remembering their loved ones rather than keeping the ideology of the former Confederacy going for future generations.

"Burying the Dead" is a great resource for those students and scholars of Southern women's involvement in the postwar era. As with many scholarly works, it may be a bit dry for the average reader outside the field. However, for those so inclined, it is a great addition to your Civil War/Reconstruction book collection.

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