Tearing Down the Lost Cause
The Removal of New Orleans's Confederate Statues
How New Orleans became a Confederate city after the war, and how citizens tore those symbols down
In Tearing Down the Lost Cause: The Removal of New Orleans's Confederate Statues James Gill and Howard Hunter examine New Orleans’s complicated relationship with the history of the Confederacy pre– and post–Civil War. The authors open and close their manuscript with the dramatic removal of the city’s Confederate statues.
On the eve of the Civil War, New Orleans was far more cosmopolitan than Southern, with its sizable population of immigrants, Northern-born businessmen, and white and Black Creoles. Ambivalent about secession and war, the city bore divided loyalties between the Confederacy and the Union. However, by 1880 New Orleans rivaled Richmond as a bastion of the Lost Cause. After Appomattox, a significant number of Confederate veterans moved into the city giving elites the backing to form a Confederate civic culture.
While it’s fair to say that the three Confederate monuments and the white supremacist Liberty Monument all came out of this dangerous nostalgia, the authors argue that each monument embodies its own story and mirrors the city and the times. The Lee monument expressed the bereavement of veterans and a desire to reconcile with the North, though strictly on their own terms. The Davis monument articulated the will of the Ladies Confederate Memorial Association to solidify the Lost Cause and Southern patriotism. The Beauregard Monument honored a local hero, but also symbolized the waning of French New Orleans and rising Americanization. The Liberty Monument, throughout its history, represented white supremacy and the cruel hypocrisy of celebrating a past that never existed.
While the book is a narrative of the rise and fall of the four monuments, it is also about a city engaging history. Gill and Hunter contextualize these statues rather than polarize, interviewing people who are on both sides including citizens, academics, public intellectuals, and former mayor Mitch Landrieu. Using the statues as a lens, the authors construct a compelling narrative that provides a larger cultural history of the city.
"This well-researched book puts into historical context the useful discussion we had in New Orleans about removing Confederate monuments. It is important for us to understand history, to memorialize it, and to continually reassess it. This can be a difficult balance. James Gill and Howard Hunter do a judicious job of listening to all perspectives. "- Walter Isaacson, author of biographies of Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Leonardo da Vinci, and Jennifer Doudna
"Tearing Down the Lost Cause is a highly readable match of narrative history and journalism at its best—probing, dispassionate, with a seasoned take on historical memory warped by myth. Beyond its appeal to general readers, James Gill and Howard Hunter have delivered a gift to college professors and high school teachers tasked with giving young people a fair-minded viewfinder on raging issues of our day and the long arc of justice. "- Jason Berry, author of City of a Million Dreams: A History of New Orleans at Year 300
"Fraught with hard feeling, the subject of the Lost Cause and fallen monuments nowadays is almost guaranteed to end in daggers drawn. So, it’s refreshing to discover a narrative that manages to stay evenhanded without pulling punches. Tearing Down the Lost Cause is how history is supposed to be written. James Gill and Howard Hunter revisit the bygone days surrounding New Orleans’s Civil War statuary. In so doing, expertly and without fanfare, they nudge us closer to common ground. The fact that it looks increasingly unattainable is all the more reason for making the effort. A must read. "- Lawrence Powell, Professor Emeritus, Department of History at Tulane University
"As if untangling Mardi Gras beads, Gill and Hunter deftly deconstruct the bruising history behind the removal of the New Orleans Confederate monuments: a satisfying read. "- Carolyn Kolb, author of New Orleans Memories: One Writer's City