Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Volume 113 / Number 4
William Mahone, the Lost Cause, and Civil War History
- Kevin M. Levin, pp. 378–412
This essay examines the postwar political career of Confederate Major General William Mahone. By 1883, Mahone had become one of the most controversial and divisive politicians in the country. As the organizer and leader of the Readjuster Party, Mahone led the most successful independent coalition of black and white Republicans and white Democrats. The legislative agenda of the Readjusters and Mahone's prominent role within the party and the U.S. Senate generated heated attacks in newspapers and more personal forms of communication. Similar to former Confederate general James Longstreet, Mahone incurred the wrath of a growing Lost Cause movement that in addition to rationalizing Confederate defeat sought to maintain Democratic Party solidarity by fostering white supremacy and states' rights. Such Lost Cause advocates as Jubal Early and others assumed an aggressive posture against ex-Confederates like Mahone who threatened the conservative social and political agenda. That Mahone was not an outsider, but a successful Confederate general had to be dealt with severely, and they did so by attacking his war record, including his leadership at the battle of the Crater. A close look at Mahone's postwar difficulties sheds light on the heated debates or "reputation war" surrounding the political limits to which the Confederate past could be utilized. Finally, it reminds us that James Longstreet was not the only target (perhaps not even the most important target) of the Lost Cause crowd's wrath.