Monday, July 30, 2012

Book Review--Burying the Dead But Not the Past

Janney, Caroline E. Burying the Dead but Not the Past: Ladies' Memorial Associations and the Lost Cause (Civil War America) . University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC. 2008. 290 pages, 199 pages text. Index, bibliography, notes, b/w photos. ISBN 9780807872253, $24.95.

The "Lost Cause" is a standard mythology in Confederate history as to why the states in rebellion against the Union were unable to secure their freedom. One of the groups responsible for the Lost Cause mythology were the Ladies Memorial Associations, the subject of a fascinating book by Caroline Janney.

Ladies Memorial Associations, or LMAs as they are called in the book, were groups of mostly elite, solidly white women that took shape almost immediately after the war. Within a year of the surrender at Appomattox there were more than seventy such groups. With the federal government of course giving priority to Union soldiers and dead the LMAs in effect took on a governmental role. Some of their goals were the helping of the poor and injured but most important was memorializing the dead and bringing dead Confederate soldiers home for a proper burial.

For Janney the women of the LMAs were becoming more political despite the traditional view that women were not interested in politics. Janney's definition of politics is the "ability of individuals or groups to wield influence in their community, state, or region". Using this definition there can be little doubt that many Southern women were indeed becoming more political.

While there were Associations across the former Confederate states this book focuses almost exclusively on those from Virginia with those from the cities of Richmond, Fredericksburg, Petersburg, Lynchburg, and Winchester. The Hollywood Memorial Association and Oakwood Memorial Association, both of Richmond, appear to have been the leading organizations and take the lead in this work.

These groups experienced much success including the formation of Confederate Memorial Day which helped lead to the celebrating of our current Memorial Day. Due to the hard work and fund raising undertaken by various LMAs many Confederate monuments, including the famous Pyramid at Hollywood Cemetery, were built. Perhaps the greatest achievement however was the finding and returning of Confederate dead and burying them in what Janey calls National Confederate Cemeteries. Thousands of Confederate dead were eventually brought "home" due to the efforts of these women.

While there were great accomplishments all was not roses for these groups. There was the constant struggle to raise money. In fact the Hollywood Memorial Association was unable to pay for the removal of all the Confederate dead from the Gettysburg battlefield. This debt haunted them for many years. Another struggle was with former Confederate men who were regaining their ability to be active politically. The men who had played a supporting role to women for many years in the immediate aftermath of the war expected the women to return to their prewar social position. These women were having no part in this and fought the men bitterly. Another struggle was declining membership as time went on. During the 1890's the rise of the United Daughters of the Confederacy also raised concerns as the UDC was seen as a younger and more vibrant organization.

Janey has put together an impressive listing of sources. She has scouted through many manuscript repositories, has referenced the remaining records of several LMAs, and has a large listing of other primary and secondary sources. The research looks to be very thorough and it shows in the writing which is smooth and easy to read.

This is a book that should be read by anybody with an interest in the post Civil War period, those wanting to learn about a seldom discussed aspect of Confederate women's history, or those interested in the memorializing of Confederate dead. Highly recommended!

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