Enduring Legacy: Rhetoric and Ritual of the Lost Cause (2012)

W. Stuart Towns.  University of Alabama Press

Book Cover for Enduring LegaciesRhetoric and ritual commemorating war has been a part of human culture for ages. In Enduring Legacy: Rhetoric and Ritual of the Lost Cause, W. Stuart Towns explores the crucial role of rhetoric and oratory in creating and propagating a “Lost Cause” public memory of the American South.

Enduring Legacy explores the vital place of ceremonial oratory in the oral tradition in the South. It analyzes how rituals such as Confederate Memorial Day, Confederate veteran reunions, and dedication of Confederate monuments have contributed to creating and sustaining a Lost Cause paradigm for southern identity. Towns studies in detail post–Civil War southern speeches and how they laid the groundwork for future generations, from southern responses to the civil rights movement and beyond. The Lost Cause orators that came after the Civil War, Towns argues, helped to shape a lasting mythology of the brave Confederate martyrs and of the southern positions for why the Confederacy lost and who was to blame. Innumerable words were spent—in commemorative speeches, newspaper editorials, and statehouse oratory—condemning the evils of Reconstruction, redemption, and reconciliation, and praising the new and future South. Towns concludes with an analysis of how Lost Cause myths still influence southern and national perceptions of the region today, as evidenced in debates over the continued deployment of the Confederate flag and the popularity of Civil War reenactments.

Comments from book reviewers:

“No southern historian has ever brought such a wealth of source material to bear on a subject. Primary sources dominate every chapter. The work has a solid core of rhetorical/artifactual sources that, woven carefully together, never waiver from the centrality of Towns’ thesis—Lost Cause rhetoric tells the story of the South. No other region of the country can make such a claim.” — Carl L. Kell, author of Against the Wind: The Moderate Voice in Baptist Life

“By careful attention to the ceremonial settings and the persistence of the speech-making themes over several generations, the author shows how the status of the orators, the pervasiveness of the rituals, and the repetition of themes for so long created a new white-dominated southern public identity out of the social chaos, uncertainty, and despair at the end of the Civil War in the South.” — Charles Reagan Wilson, author of Judgment and Grace in Dixie: Southern Faiths from Faulkner to Elvis and Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1868–1920

Ordering Information

The first chapter of Enduring Legacies, entitled Rhetoric, Celebration, and Ritual: Building a Collective Memory in the Post-War South, is available to read at Scribed.

The entire book is now available for ordering directly from the publisher.  Please see the the book at the University of Alabama Press website, or download the Enduring Legacy Order Form (PDF) for more information.

Dr. Towns is also currently on a book tour.  Please contact him by email if you are interested in having him speak at your event.