Lost Cause of the Confederacy

I'm writing a story about the "Lost Cause" of the Confederacy. Timely, I think, given all the statue-toppling in the USA.

I studied the topic in university for a course on American history, so I have some notes I can draw on for the actual history.

I'd like to ask your recommendations for examples of the Lost Cause in alternate history.

The idea of the article is to caution against letting elements of the Lost Cause mythology seep into steampunk and alternate history. I know there's a huge amount of alternate history about a Confederate victory in the Civil War. After WW2, it's probably the most popular alternate-history topic. But it's not a field I specialize in, so I welcome your recommendations -- which are the best (worst) examples of alternate history that glorify or romanticize the Confederacy?


  • Not exactly glorifying but certainly a good read: Stars & Stripes Forever (Stars & Stripes, Book 1) by Harry Harrison.

  • And, of course! - The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove.

  • Thanks!

  • It's an interesting question, because the key to the "Lost Cause" of the Confederacy is that, well, the cause was lost. I wrote a literature review of works of history about the Lost Cause, and one thing that really stood out to me was that for most Lost Causers, them being part of the US was accepted. The Lost Cause was sort of a longing for a romanticized past that never really existed, but wasn't really an active desire for secession

    And that's hard to find in A-H, because the central conceit of nearly all alternate history featuring the US Civil War is that the Confederacy wins. It's hard to have a "lost cause" if the cause isn't lost! And a trend in more recent alternate history about the Civil War tends to go in the opposite direction - featuring a Union victory as a good thing, and the "alternate-ness" focusing on reconstruction

    That being said, a lot of older Civil War alternate history about the ACW tends to be written in an environment imbued with Lost Cause tropes, and can't shake it. You really see this in Turtledove's earlier works about the Civil War, specifically How Few Remain and The Guns of the South. Gingrich's Gettysburg is another example

    Lee is a brilliant, gentlemanly man who is a reluctant warrior for the Southern cause. Slavery is something uncomfortable, but largely happens offscreen aside from a few slaves who have a servant role. Union generals are arrogant, bumbling, butchers. Stonewall Jackson is an almost mythical military mind, and avoiding his death alone will provide the South victory.

    The Southern cause is assumed to be valid and legitimate, and if slavery is discussed, there's usually a counter-narrative at least being provided. For example, in How Few Remain Stonewall Jackson and Frederick Douglass have a conversation - and Douglass does not come off with his viewpoint as clearly in the right

    If one book very clearly leans into this, it would be Stars and Stripes Forever by Henry Harrison. In this series, the Confederacy actually joins the union in a war against Britain and France, while remaining independent. The book presents both Union and Confederate generals as heroic Americans fighting against a foreign invasion, which is perhaps the ultimate Lost Cause trope

  • Thanks for your comment, @bigseb31213! You're right that technically it isn't a "lost cause" anymore if the South wins the Civil War, but you're also right about the tropes pervading alternate Civil War fiction.

    Another one I would add is that the North is usually depicted as an amoral, bankrupt place that is economically and socially backward compared to the victorious Confederacy.

    I believe the earliest example is Frank Williams’ Hallie Marshall: A True Daughter of the South (1900). It suggests black slaves could have been mobilized to fight for the South and would have been happy to live under while rule whereas nominally free African Americans in the North would have suffered terrible working conditions in factories, unemployment and starvation.

  • As a counterpoint, the Confederacy is surely not portrayed positively in Ward Moore's Bring the Jubilee.

  • No, but it does suggest Lee would have abolished slavery after winning the Civil War and it portrays the rump United States as somehow more racist than the Confederates.

    Both are Lost Cause tropes.

  • edited September 2020

    As a counterpoint, the Confederacy is surely not portrayed positively in Ward Moore's Bring the Jubilee.

    EDIT - ignore the double post - was trying to figure out the draft post system.

  • Thank you all for the input and recommendations!

    The story is now online: Lost Cause: Genre Trope to Avoid

  • Sea Lion has a good review of Turtledove's The Guns of the South that touches on the Lost Cause theme as well.

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