cover image Oracle of Lost Causes: John Newman Edwards and His Never-Ending War

Oracle of Lost Causes: John Newman Edwards and His Never-Ending War

Matthew Christopher Hulbert. Bison, $34.95 (356p) ISBN 978-1-4962-1187-3

In this detailed yet disjointed account, historian Hulbert (Martial Culture, Silver Screen) profiles John Newman Edwards (1839–1889), a Missouri Confederate and editorial writer who rose to “B-list celebrity” as he navigated the Midwestern frontier of the Civil War. In his prewar columns of the late 1850s, Edwards railed against abolitionists and Republicans, unleashing reams of sectional grievances. But like many of his contemporaries, he did not foresee the conflict erupting into all-out war. When it did, he rode eagerly into battles in Missouri and Arkansas, less as a fighter than as a reporter seeking to boost the exploits of his comrades in arms. Returning to Missouri after the war’s end, he took up his pen to celebrate “Confederate superheroes” like bank-robbing outlaws Jesse and Frank James, portraying them as victims of Radical Republican overreach. According to Hulbert, Edwards had a long-lasting impact on the historiography of the war; by threading Missouri themes through his works, he created a distinctive Midwestern version of the “lost cause” focused on guerrilla warfare and postbellum resistance. Though the material sometimes feels like it needs a stronger guiding hand, Hulbert uncovers distinctive details and lesser-known perspectives on the Civil War. Midwestern history buffs, take note. (Sept.)