Dr. W. Stuart Towns speaks to the Civil War Round Table of the District of Columbia on March 11, 2014, at the Fort McNair Officers' Club in Washington D.C. on the topic: "Enduring Legacy: Rhetoric and Ritual of the Lost Cause."
Summary of Presentation:
Rhetoric and ritual commemorating war has been a part of human culture for ages. In Enduring Legacy: Rhetoric and Ritual of the Lost Cause, Dr. W. Stuart Towns explores the crucial role of rhetoric and oratory in creating and propagating a “Lost Cause” public memory of the American South. Enduring Legacy explores the vital place of ceremonial oratory in the oral tradition in the South. It analyzes how rituals such as Confederate Memorial Day, Confederate veteran reunions, and dedication of Confederate monuments have contributed to creating and sustaining a Lost Cause paradigm for southern identity.
Dr. Towns studies in detail post–Civil War southern speeches and how they laid the groundwork for future generations, from southern responses to the civil rights movement and beyond. The Lost Cause orators that came after the Civil War, he argues, helped to shape a lasting mythology of the brave Confederate martyrs and of the southern positions for why the Confederacy lost and who was to blame. Innumerable words were spent—in commemorative speeches, newspaper editorials, and statehouse oratory—condemning the evils of Reconstruction, redemption, and reconciliation, and praising the new and future South. Dr. Towns concludes with an analysis of how Lost Cause myths still influence southern and national perceptions of the region today, as evidenced in debates over the continued deployment of the Confederate flag and the popularity of Civil War reenactments.
W. Stuart Towns, Ph.D., has spent more than 40 years following his passion for history. His educational pursuits in his undergraduate and graduate studies developed a love for public speaking and the impact words have had on history, especially Southern history.
The 1950s and 1960s led Dr. Towns to the University of Arkansas on a track and cross-country scholarship; he continued his education at the University of Florida where he received his masters and doctoral degrees in Speech (1962 and 1972 respectively). Through his career he served as chair of the Communication departments at The University of West Florida, Appalachian State University, and Southeast Missouri State University. He retired in 2011.
Dr. Towns had a parallel second career in the U.S. Army, which began when he enrolled in R.O.T.C. at the University of Arkansas. He earned a spot on the United States Modern Pentathlon team; he competed in the 1964 Olympic Trials in modern pentathlon, marathon, and fencing. After completing his active duty, Dr. Towns served the rest of his military career in the Active Army Reserves in the Civil Affairs branch, mostly with the 361st CA Brigade in Pensacola, FL. He took an opportunity to become a member of the Consulting Faculty Program at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas in 1973 and served in that role until 1996. Dr. Towns retired as a Colonel in the Active Army Reserves in 1996.
Dr. Towns’ most recent publication, Enduring Legacy: Rhetoric and Ritual of the Lost Cause (University of Alabama Press, 2012), demonstrates his interest in examining the history of southern rhetoric and oratory. He was working on an anthology of southern speeches and saw that some of the segregationist speakers in the Civil Rights era of the 1950s and 1960s were making some of the same points and using many of the same words as southern orators from the 1880s and 1890s. He soon discovered that debates of the 1990s and on into the 21st century over Confederate flags, Confederate monuments, and other memorabilia were still repeating some of the same 19th century messages. The Civil War was alive and well in southern public memory. As a result of seeing that connection, Dr. Towns wrote Enduring Legacy.
For information about the Round Table or to apply for membership, visit www.cwrtdc.org
- US Civil War History