Evidently versions of this print with actual currency attached to them are rare — two recent sources note that there is “at least one known copy” in which actual bills were pasted over their lithographic representations (Neely et al., Fisher). The Library of Congress has this print in their collection, but, unlike this one, with no publication information; theirs’ also lacks the heavy black border. In comparing the two versions, the currency that is attached matches those in the lithograph, with the exception of the one-dollar bill, which is a different design.
The poem sympathetically portrays the Confederacy as “Liberty born of a patriot’s dream,” and asserts that the currency, though rendered worthless by the result of the Civil War, still serves as a memento of “our history…from the birth of the dream to its last.” In this print, the poem has been retitled “The Lost Cause,” a defiant phrase that caught on a year into Reconstruction with the publication of secessionist Edward Pollard’s book, The Lost Cause: A New Southern History of the War of the Confederates. According to historian David Hackett Fisher, “The legend of the lost cause was born in the hour of Confederate defeat, and it flourished longer in the South than the Confederacy itself, even to our own time.” Fisher identifies this lithograph as a leading example of the iconography promoting the romantic image of the “Lost Cause.” As early as 1866 a romantic legend also grew up around the poem itself, that it had been written by a despondent Southern soldier, sometimes identified as Major Sidney Alroy Jonas, on the back of $500 Confederate bill after the army surrendered. A bill with the first and last lines of the poem inscribed on the back is even shown to Scarlett O’Hara in Margaret Mitchell’s Civil War novel Gone With the Wind. The poem reads as follows:
Representing nothing on God’s earth now,
And naught in the water below it;
As a pledge of a nation that’s dead and gone,
Keep it, dear Captain, and show it.
Show it to those that will lend an ear
To the tale this this paper can tell
Of Liberty born, of the patriot’s dream,
Of a storm-cradled nation that fell.
Too poor to possess the precious ore,
And too much a stranger to borrow,
We issue to-day, our “Promise to Pay,
And hope to redeem on the morrow.”
Days rolled by, and weeks became years,
But our coffers were empty still;
Coin was so rare that the Treasury’d quake
If a dollar should drop in the till.
But the faith that was in us was strong indeed,
And our poverty well discerned,
And these little checks represented the pay
That our suffering veterans earned.
We know it had hardly a value in gold;
Yet as gold the soldiers received it;
It gazed in our eyes with a promise to Pay,
And each patriot soldier believed it.
But our boys thought little of price or pay,
Or of bills that were over due;
We knew if it bought our bread today,
‘Twas the best our poor country could do.
Keep it! it tolls all our history over,
From the birth of the dream to its last;
Modest, and born of Angel, Hope,
Like our hope of success it passed.
Full publication information: “Entered according to Act of Congress by J.B. Wilson in the year 1872 in the Office of the Librarian of Congress at Washington.”
Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning and wear. Professionally cleaned and deacidified. Some restorations to chips on Confederate bills. Few short marginal tears and minor marginal chips restored as laid on Japanese paper. Some minor associated abrasions or losses to ruled border supplied in manuscript.
Fisher, David Hackett. Liberty and Freedom, Vol. 3 of America, A Cultural History. U.S.: Oxford University Press, 2005. pp. 356-357. Online at Google Books. http://books.google.com/books?id=uc8KP_QtW-sC&dq (3 December 2009).
Mitchell, Margaret. Gone with the Wind. Reprint ed. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008. p. 715. Online at Google Books. http://books.google.com (3 December 2009).
Neely, Mark E., Harold Holzer and Gabor S. Boritt. The Confederate Image: Prints of the Lost Cause. 2nd ed. University of North Carolina Press, 2000. pp. 103-106. Online at Google Books (3 December 2009).
“The Confederate Note.” Valley Virginian. 31 January 1866. Online at The Valley of the Shadow: Civil War-Era Newspapers. http://valley.lib.virginia.edu/news/vv1866/va.au.vv.1866.01.31.xml (3 December 2009).
“The Lost Cause.” Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Collection Online. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pga.01734 (3 December 2009).