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Confederacy

The Collapse of the "Lost Cause"

With the men at war, the women of the Confederacy carried on at home. They did not face wholesale death as did the soldiers in the field, yet they knew war; it was brought to them in the mighty Union invasion of 1864–65. Feeling the pinch of the Union blockade and already lacking the bare necessities of life—shoes, iron goods, paper, clothing—because the South was nonindustrial (the armies were kept supplied with ammunition, but beyond that industry was negligible), they now saw their country devastated by Union forces such as those led by Sherman and Sheridan. Many, both men and women, cried for peace, but the Union price was too great (see Hampton Roads Peace Conference), and most Southerners hung on grimly. Benjamin's proposal that blacks who willingly enlisted in the fight be freed indicates how desperate affairs became before the Confederacy collapsed.

That the Confederacy was able to continue the war as long as it did is a tribute to its stout soldiers and a few brilliant commanders, notably Robert E. Lee. For the South, less populous than the North and largely made up of scattered agricultural communities, defeat was inevitable. However, the measures adopted by the South during the Civil War resulted in a remarkable degree of self-sufficiency and a highly successful mobilization effort. The heroic aspect of the South's struggle was tarnished by its retention and defense of the institution of slavery, yet it long revered the "lost cause" of the Confederacy as its greatest tradition.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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