Hunter Moyler, '19

August 7, 2018
Senior studies "The Lost Cause" in literature and film

Growing up in Virginia, Hunter Moyler recalls learning about the Confederacy and the Civil War in school. “In fifth grade, my teacher referred to the Confederacy as ‘we’ and that didn’t sound right to me, but I didn’t know to question it,” he said.

After the Charleston Church shooting in 2016, and the controversy that followed over the Confederate flag being flown over the South Carolina State Capitol, Moyler was spurred to dig deeper. “I wanted to learn more about the Civil War, and why it’s still a controversial topic today,” he said. He started by reading James McPherson’s For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War and was surprised to find the book lending support to the idea of slavery and its benefits. “I was surprised and confused to read about how people thought it was a noble thing trying to end the United States as we knew it, so that they could keep slavery,” he said. “The people who probably would have considered themselves the most patriotic were the ones trying to end the country they claimed to be so supportive of.”

For Cause and Comrades also introduced Moyler to the concept of “The Lost Cause,” an ideological movement that describes the Confederate cause as an honorable struggle for the Southern way of life, while minimizing or denying the central role of slavery. 

The ideology of "The Lost Cause" was also represented in major works of literature written during the time, so Moyler, an English and journalism major, used an A&S Summer Fellowship to study the impact of "Lost Cause" literature and film in the post-Civil War era, with particular focus on Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell and Thomas F. Dixon Jr’s The Clansman

Gone with the Wind portrays its Southern characters as noble heroic figures, living in a romantic and conservative society, who succumbed to the Union Army’s destruction during the Civil War. In The Clansman, the Ku Klux Klan is portrayed as continuing noble traditions of the South. 

By studying both books and their film adaptations, Moyler plans to analyze how each of the four works used selected historical facts to construct narratives that aided the perpetuation of the "Lost Cause" and advanced white supremacist ideologies. “I’m trying to determine how these works, which idealize a certain way of life, have convinced others, even up to present day, that this sort of rhetoric and these sorts of ideals are accepted,” he said. 

“Reading Gone with the Wind helped me gain a better understanding how people like to remember the Civil War, and why they like to remember it the way they do, even though their narrative doesn’t tell the full story,” Moyler said.

While the topic has present day ramifications, Moyler’s main interest is in trying to understand the history. “I’m grateful for the chance to dig deeper into such a tragic period in our nation’s history,” he said.