Professor’s book analyzes religion and the Confederacy’s ‘Lost Cause’

Over 150 years since the Civil War’s end, we’re a country still at odds over what it all meant and how best to commemorate it.

As debates over the existence of Confederate statues and monuments rage on across the South, a new book by Mercer University and Catawba College history instructor and 2005 Campbell alumnus Christopher C. Moore investigates the source behind today’s neo-Confederate movement — the “Lost Cause” ideology that the Southern cause during the war was a just and heroic one and that minimizes slavery’s role in the war buildup.

Moore, who also teaches religion for Campbell Online, focuses on the life and preaching of Baptist minister J. William Jones, a Confederate chaplain known for his devotion to the Lost Cause. Apostle of the Lost Cause: J. William Jones, Baptists, and the Development of Confederate Memory is an objective look at the antebellum South that focuses less on the “what and where” of that time in history and more on the “how and why.” The book’s timeliness is somewhat coincidental — Moore is a self-proclaimed Civil War buff and an ordained Baptist minister. His love of history and religion, as well as his upbringing, played more of a role in researching this topic than current headlines and statue debates.

“I grew up steeped in this tradition,” says Moore, a native of Mount Olive. “I grew up around folks who had portraits of Robert E. Lee on their walls. It wasn’t until I was a student at Campbell when I began to reflect on all this critically.”

He’s quick to point out that he is not a believer in the Lost Cause. In fact, Moore — a stickler for historical accuracy — calls the Lost Cause a manipulation of historical memory. But its impact is undeniable, and Apostle of the Lost Cause gets at the crux of J. William Jones’ motivation to keep the narrative alive.

“The tenor of the past few years [regarding the monuments debate and white supremacy], it seems there’s this destabilization of what history is,” Moore says. “The Lost Cause was a misinformation campaign. It destabilized the memory of the war. J. William Jones even wrote a textbook on Southern history used by schools at the time. In today’s context, we still question what sources we can trust. It’s a sobering conclusion that 150 years later, we haven’t broken free of people creating their own ideas of what is factual and what is not.”

J. Williams Jones was a native Virginian born in 1836 to parents who owned at least six slaves. Jones would go on to attend the University of Virginia and would be a part of the first class at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina, in 1859.  He was a minister in Charlottesville, Virginia, when that state seceded from the Union, and he was 25 when he enlisted in the 13th Virginia Infantry, serving as the company chaplain and eventually regimental chaplain.

Following the war, Jones served as a minister in Lexington, Va., and as campus minister at Washington and Lee University, where he became friends with Gen. Lee. He would later serve as a pastor in Chapel Hill and as campus minister at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He would publish a book about his friendship with Lee in 1974 and a biography on Lee in 1906. By then, he had also helped publish 14 volumes of paper defending the Confederacy as “righteous in waging a holy war against Northern intolerance of states’ rights.”

Moore says the more he researched Jones’ life, the more fascinated he became with him. “I’m by no means a fan of J. William Jones,” he says, “He was a petty sycophant who buddied up to Confederate generals and was very intentional in positioning himself to be pastor in a town where Gen. Lee was a college president.”

“[But] if anyone truly believed in this Lost Cause, it was Jones. He thought you could narrate the story of the Civil War without talking about race and slavery. Today, defenders of Confederate monuments implicitly, if not explicitly, seem to believe you can still talk about the war without slavery being the linchpin that holds it together. They instead point to virtues of bravery and fighting for what you believe in or reacting against tyranny and oppression. They recast themselves as ‘true Americans.’”

Apostle of the Lost Cause: J. William Jones, Baptists, and the Development of Confederate Memory is currently available in hardcover on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other book-selling websites.