The Lost Cause

Myths, Monuments, & Murals

On Display
Exhibition Type
Long Term Exhibition

Admission: Included with Museum Daily Admission

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About the Exhibition: The Lost Cause was a widespread effort by former Confederates after the American Civil War (1861–1865) to justify and glorify the Confederacy. The Lost Cause manifested in different ways over many generations—from history textbooks to street names to various forms of memorialization. As with most of their counterparts, the monument and murals displayed in this gallery, as well as the gallery itself, tell us more about the intentions and values of the people who created them than about the historical subjects they depict.

About the Artifacts:

  • Commissioned by the Confederate Memorial Association and executed by Charles Hoffbauer, the Confederate Memorial Military Murals were unveiled at the Confederate Memorial Institute in 1921. The Virginia Historical Society acquired them when it acquired the CMA in 1946 as its new home. The murals have remained on exhibit in the south wing of the former CMI building until the present time.
  • The Edward Valentine sculpture of Lee stood as one of Virginia’s entries in the National Statuary Hall Collection at the U.S. Capitol from 1909 until 2020, when it was given to the VMHC by the Commonwealth of Virginia.
A gallery view of a bronze statue and large scale paintings
Inside the Exhibition

The exhibition, displayed in the historic Battle Abbey, includes the Memorial Military Murals by Charles Hoffbauer, Robert E. Lee statue by Edward Valentine, interpretive rails, and reproductions of other historical artifacts.

An interior view of a gallery with large scale paintings of Civil War battle scenes
Battle Abbey & the Memorial Military Murals

In the 1890s, a group of Virginians began planning a public memorial to the Confederate military and the more than 250,000 Confederate lives lost during the Civil War. Their vision came to fruition in 1921 with the opening of the Confederate Memorial Institute or “Battle Abbey.” Its main feature was this gallery with a monumental cycle of murals glorifying the Confederate military, the Memorial Military Murals.

Battle Abbey descriptive rail
Battle Abbey & the Memorial Military Murals

In-gallery descriptive rails add context to the murals ensuring visitors understand the motivations behind the public works of art erected during The Lost Cause era.   

Statue of Robert E Lee
Statue of Robert E. Lee (1909), in front of a photograph of the artist Edward V. Valentine

In 1909, Virginia sent this bronze sculpture of Confederate general Robert E. Lee to the U.S. Capitol as one of two statues—along with George Washington—representing the Commonwealth in National Statuary Hall. Lee was removed in 2020 and given to the VMHC for preservation.

A mural of Confederate soliders on horseback in an autumn landscape of hillside and trees
Autumn - Gen. J. E. B. Stuart Leading His Cavalry In A Charge

From "Four Seasons of the Confederacy," Charles Hoffbauer (1875-1957), 1913-1920. The murals equate the passage of time with the change of seasons and depict scenes from the beginning of the Civil War to its end. Hoffbauer was commissioned to do this work by the Confederate Memorial Association for its Battle Abbey. From the VMHC Collection, 2005.340.A-H.

Chart of timeline of confederacy symbols
A Multi-Generational Movement

Although the Lost Cause originated in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, it surged dramatically in the early 1900s in the era of Jim Crow laws and oppression, and again in the 1950s and 1960s during the peak of the Civil Rights Movement.