Zander on Clampitt, 'Lost Causes: Confederate Demobilization and the Making of Veteran Identity (Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War)'

Bradley R. Clampitt. Lost Causes: Confederate Demobilization and the Making of Veteran Identity (Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War). Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2022. 324 pp. $50.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8071-7716-7

Reviewed by Cecily Zander (Penn State)
Published on H-Nationalism (March, 2023)
Commissioned by Evan C. Rothera (University of Arkansas - Fort Smith)

Printable Version:

Bradley R. Clampitt’s Lost Causes: Confederate Demobilization and the Making of Veteran Identity joins a host of recent scholarly works concerned not with what happens during major wars, but rather with what happens when such conflicts come to an end. Drawing on sources written by some 400 former Confederate soldiers, and survey answers from an additional 700 Confederate veterans, Clampitt interprets a chorus of more than 1,100 voices to understand how Confederate identity evolved after the guns fell silent in 1865. Through careful analysis and research, Clampitt demonstrates that process of demobilization helped to establish the ideological underpinnings of the Lost Cause.

Clampitt undertakes a notoriously tricky task in Lost Causes: trying to determine the state of mind of historical figures as it existed more than 150 years ago. By sticking closely to the available texts, Clampitt is able to make well-founded assertions about how Confederate veterans perceived and understood their defeat. Among the subjects analyzed are the efforts of veterans to process the meaning of the surrender at Appomattox, the ongoing expressions of Confederate nationalism among former Confederates, and the ways in which the war influenced the racial views of ex-soldiers. Clampitt’s careful handling of his materials, moreover, makes the monograph an excellent example of source analysis for students and scholars of the Civil War era, especially in an age of increased source digitization, whereby more texts become available for researchers every year.

Readers familiar with the broad contours of Confederate demobilization will immediately recognize the key moments in Clampitt’s story. Chapter 1 confirms what historians have long asserted: no matter where Confederates were located at war’s end, nor which army they belonged to, the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia and its talismanic leader, Robert E. Lee, signaled the death of the Confederacy. Though thousands of Confederates remained under arms after April 9, 1865, even the most bullish of Confederate prognosticators acknowledged that Lee’s defeat would likely prove unsurmountable for their cause. And, Clampitt shows, this realization led to widespread expressions of humiliation as soldiers faced the prospect of returning home defeated. Defeat did not, however, lead Confederates to conclude their efforts had been wasted, and they began to look for ways to commemorate their (as they would have viewed it) valiant, but unsuccessful, effort.

The second and third chapters of Lost Causes provide an account of the logistical challenges Confederates faced at the moment of demobilization. Clampitt focuses on the imperfect system of paroles that offered unimpeded passage home for any Confederate who agreed to lay down arms. Though Clampitt’s work on the legal and political contours of this topic is not as extensive as the recent exploration of demobilization by Caroline E. Janney in Ends of War: The Unfinished Fight of Lee’s Army after Appomattox (2021), the author still does an excellent job of shedding light on how individuals negotiated their frustration with bureaucratic machinery and navigated an ailing transportation infrastructure in their efforts to return home. Clampitt also offers evidence of the bond soldiers formed with civilians as they trekked across the war-torn former Confederacy, relying on the food, shelter, and support offered by the residents of communities both large and small across the South.

Chapter 4, “Every Rebel for Himself” offers an exploration of the lawlessness experienced throughout the former Confederacy in the summer of 1865. Clampitt offers compelling evidence that as former soldiers moved away from the more populated eastern theater of the conflict, they were more likely to encounter riots and general lawlessness on their journeys home. There was little the United States government could do to assert control over Confederate veterans moving west. There were simply fewer Union troops in the Trans-Mississippi (by far the most problematic region), and without federal boots on the ground chaos proliferated. Looting and pillaging were a far greater problem in Texas than in Virginia, though no large cities were immune from scavengers who sought food, horses, or wagons to aid them on their journey home.

Clampitt's final chapter deals with the physical and emotional experience of homecoming. Former Confederates confronted a range of feelings when they reached their final destinations. Many found families suffering from the economic toll of the war and turned their minds to survival in the short term. Other found themselves surrounded by newly freed African Americans and had to reconcile themselves to the end of slavery as a result of their defeat. Confronting the devastation and destruction that surrounded them, other ex-Rebels looked west, seeking a fresh start. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, the defeated soldiers nurtured particular hate for freedpeople. Alone and in groups, former Confederates began to cast about for opportunities to redeem the South from African American freedom and the Union occupation that sought to enforce a new racial and political order on the region.

In all, Lost Causes is a thorough, well-researched, and well-written examination of Confederate defeat and its aftermath. Future researchers will find great value not only in Clampitt's analysis but also in his assiduous documentation of his source base, included in an appendix. As one of the latest entries in Louisiana State University Press's Conflicting Worlds series on America's transformational conflict, moreover, the book lives up to the promise of bringing a new dimension to our collective study of the Civil War.

Citation: Cecily Zander. Review of Clampitt, Bradley R., Lost Causes: Confederate Demobilization and the Making of Veteran Identity (Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War). H-Nationalism, H-Net Reviews. March, 2023.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.