California once housed over a dozen monuments, memorials, and place-names honoring the Confederacy, far more than any other state beyond the South. The list included schools and trees named for Robert E. Lee, mountaintops and highways for Jefferson Davis, and large memorials to Confederate soldiers in Hollywood and Orange County. Many of the monuments have been removed or renamed in the recent national reckoning with Confederate iconography. But for much of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, they stood as totems to the “Lost Cause” in the American West. Despite a vast literature on the origins, evolution, and enduring influence of the Lost Cause myth, little is known about how this ideology impacted the political culture and physical space of the American West. This article explores the commemorative landscape of California to explain why a free state, far beyond the major military theaters of the Civil War, gave rise to such a vibrant Confederate culture in the twentieth century. California chapters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) carried out much of this commemorative work. They emerged in California shortly after the organization's founding in Tennessee in 1894 and, over the course of a century, emblazoned the Western map with salutes to a slaveholding rebellion. In the process, the UDC and other Confederate organizations triggered a continental struggle over Civil War memory that continues to this day.
The “Lost Cause” Goes West: Confederate Culture and Civil War Memory in California
kevin waite is an assistant professor of history at Durham University in the U.K. His first book, a history of slavery and the Civil War in the American West, will be published by University of North Carolina Press next year. Alongside Sarah Barringer Gordon, he is codirector of a major National Endowment for the Humanities–funded project, “The Long Road to Freedom: Biddy Mason and the Making of Black Los Angeles.” He has written about California's place in the controversy over Confederate monuments for the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the New Republic, among other popular publications.
- Views Icon Views
- Share Icon Share
- Search Site
Kevin Waite; The “Lost Cause” Goes West: Confederate Culture and Civil War Memory in California. California History 1 February 2020; 97 (1): 33–49. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ch.2020.97.1.33
Download citation file: