Paul Horton is a history teacher at the University of Chicago Lab School, one of the few private schools in the nation that has a teachers’ union. He has studied the history of the Confederacy, and he wrote four posts for Anthony Cody’s blog called Living in Dialogue. Anthony is a co-founder with me of the Network for Public Education.

Here is Paul’s first article, “Historians and the ‘Lost Cause.'”

He begins:

In town squares and public parks across the nation, monuments and memorials commemorating the heroes of the Confederacy are being questioned and even pulled down. Most Confederate monuments and memorials were constructed between 1890 and 1920. It is important to understand the context surrounding the construction of Southern monuments for many reasons.

The effort to unite the nation involved smoothing the edges away from the rebellion. Historians helped by revising the story told about the Civil War, making it sympathetic to the South and the Confederacy.

Horton writes:

As the country was reunited symbolically in the 1890s and early twentieth century, a new school of southern history won the Civil War in academia. The so-called Dunning School based at Columbia University rewrote Southern history to describe the Reconstruction period as a catastrophe for the South. William A. Dunning and his graduate students wrote a series of histories of southern states during reconstruction that essentially downplayed the intelligence and agency of freedmen and southern unionists and sympathized with and underestimated the violence perpetrated by groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Knights of the White Camellia.

At the time that most southern monuments were being constructed, popular histories written by members of the Dunning School were read and discussed by members of groups that shaped southern memory. These perspectives are also reflected in Thomas Dixon Jr.’s novel, The Clansman, and in the subsequent film, “The Birth of a Nation” that premiered in early 1915 and was shown, despite protests from the NAACP, at Woodrow Wilson’s White House. Sociologist and historian W.E.B. DuBois would author the first full scale scholarly critique of the Dunning School in 1935 in his Black Reconstruction which raised serious questions and supplied convincing evidence to challenge the Dunning School’s paradigm of Reconstruction history. In the 1950s, historians Kenneth Stamp and C. Vann Woodward extended DuBois’s critique of the Dunning school and, in 1988, Eric Foner, using primary sources never before used in his, “Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution” finally blew up the Dunning School’s perspective by placing the agency of freedmen at the center of the dissolution of slavery during the Civil War and at the fulcrum of the push for civil rights during Reconstruction.

Horton’s second post in the series tells the story of Southern women and their dedication to restoring the “glory” of the Confederacy.

He begins this post:

The United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) and other groups played a central role in the push to erect Confederate monuments between 1890 and 1920. They read Dunning School histories sympathetic to the South that downplayed the political violence of the Klan in the South during Reconstruction, embracing and promoting the view that the Klan was an honorable organization that defended Southern womanhood. “The Birth of a Nation,” when released, bolstered this perspective. By attacking the image of Black men, many, if not most, Southern middle and upper class Southern women strengthened the Southern white patriarchy and their own power. Their path to power and influence stood in stark contrast to women in the labor movement during the same period.

From 1870-1920, northern women asserted themselves into the public sphere in the women’s suffrage, temperance, social gospel, and settlement house movements. Some women joined unions and advocated for labor causes like Lucy Parsons, Emma Goldman, and Mother Jones. Thousands of women took to the streets during strikes for the eight-hour day, fair wages, and better working conditions. Garment workers, in particular, were active supporters of unions. In the early twentieth century, Margaret Sanger led a campaign to educate women and men about effective birth control.

In the postbellum and early twentieth century South, however, where the bonds of patriarchy held firmer, public sphere outlets for feminist activism were more restricted. Some women did write and speak for southern populists and the Knights of Labor, but the numbers of women who took part in political and social protests was relatively small. Several historians, Anne Firor Scott, Drew Gilpin Faust, and Jane Turner Censer to name a sampling, have all commented on the persistence of the “domestic sphere” for women in the South before and after the Civil War; while Stephanie McCurry in her book, Masters of Small Households, explained and analyzed the strength of male patriarchy in southern yeoman families that represented seventy-five percent of all southern families on the eve of the Civil War. When Southern women did become more active in the suffrage movement in the South during the Progressive movement, they insisted that only white women should be qualified to vote in an effort to preserve white supremacy, according to Yale historian Glenda Gilmore in her book, Gender and Jim Crow.

In part 3 of the series, Horton writes about one Confederate general in particular, Joseph Wheeler, whose name is widely memorialized:

As calls are made to remove monuments devoted to those who fought against the Union during the Civil War are being made, increasing attention is being focused on learning history from differing narratives. As Yale historian David Blight contends, in most of the South today, the Confederate narrative dominates discussions of monuments, memorials, and Southern memory; but two other major narratives and multiple variations of these narratives are excluded: Freedman’s and Southern Unionist histories.

Large areas of the South did not vote for secession or were not allowed to vote for secession and Union regiments were raised from these areas late in the war. Likewise, escaped slaves were given the opportunity to form after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863.

Moreover, many Southerners refused to enlist in the Confederate army until the passage of a Conscription Act in early 1862, when thousands of Confederates joined “Home Guard” units because they could only be motivated to defend local property rather than fight in other theaters of combat. “Home Guard” units were led by local officers who typically resisted secession.

Loyalty for Confederate nationalism was thus much more complicated than most white Southerners who claim that their “heritage” is being destroyed claim. Most Southern white farmers did not own slaves, but large numbers either neither fully committed to the Confederate cause or joined Unionist regiments when the situation permitted in many areas.

All of the controversy surrounding Confederate monuments today raises some big questions: Do we get rid of current monuments, or do we build monuments and memorials to remember the narratives that have been whitewashed by the “Lost Cause”

The following lesson will focus on the case of Confederate General Joseph Wheeler who makes an interesting case because he was recommissioned as a general officer in the United States army during the Spanish American war after serving several terms as a U.S. congressman from Alabama during the 1880s and 1890s.

Horton’s fourth post brings the story of Southern heritage to the present, noting how it is distorted by Southern Republicans who were nurtured on the romance of the “Lost Cause” history:

When Alabama state Rep. William Dismukes proudly shared on social media that he had attended a birthday celebration for the first grand wizard of the KKK, Nathan Bedford Forrest, at the same time that the passing of John Lewis was being commemorated with a solemn last walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, many across Alabama, the South, and the country were outraged.

Similarly, when Arkansas senator Tom Cotton declared that slavery was a “necessary evil,” many reacted in shock.

Many of the supporters of southern politicians like Dismukes and Cotton are quick to label the angry responses to what they said as “political correctness” or the “cancel culture” that characterizes what they think is the strident moral absolutism of the Black Lives Matter agenda.

But the reactions of those who are disgusted with the utterances of Dismukes and Cotton also fail to make important historical connections beyond the simple fact that Forrest was the founding leader of the Klan.

Dismukes and Cotton grew up learning a very narrow construction of Southern “heritage” that is based on one narrative: the narrative of history as Southern white nationalism as preserved in the “Lost Cause” created by the Dunning School and organizations like the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

They grew up reading versions of their state histories that systematically ignored the stories of slaves, freedmen, and Southern Unionists.

To be sure, there is some awareness today of the raising of the United States “Colored Troops” (USCT) in the South that stems in part from the popularity of the 1989 film, “Glory” and its depiction of the heroics of the 54th Mass. USCT. And African American descendants of USCT have recently mustered into “reenactment” regiments. But most Southern school children learn little about the bravery of those who fought in over 100 regiments who escaped slavery in the deep South to fight for their freedom, and who knew that they would receive, to use Tom Cotton’s phrase, “no quarter.”

Likewise, many doubtless know about localities that seceded from the Confederacy because local citizens did not want to fight to keep slavery in a “rich man’s war.” Some have heard about the “free state” of Jones in Mississippi and the “free state” of Winston in Alabama where an historical drama reenacts the vote not to secede led by C.C. Sheets who was elected to congress during Reconstruction. But few Southerners learn of the true extent of Unionist disaffection and persecution of Unionists during the war by Confederate Conscription Cavalry, although they might have seen or read about this persecution in the movie or the book, “Cold Mountain.”

Huge areas of the South resisted secession and resisted cooperation with the Confederate army and were brutally pacified, but never completely subdued. These areas include eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina, portions of eastern North Carolina, western Virginia, northwestern Tennessee, northern and eastern Alabama, northern Georgia, northeastern and southwestern Mississippi, northern Louisiana, northwest Arkansas, parts of the Red River Valley of Texas, and the Hill Country of Texas, where most settlers were liberal 48ers who escaped Germany after a failed revolution in many cities in what eventually become Germany.

Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas is currently promoting legislation in Congress to ban the reading of “The 1619 Project” in public schools. It was published by the New York Times, to tell the story of slavery. The “Lost Cause” fights on to rewrite history.