Photo of Prof. Ty Seidule, retired Brigadier General
Problem Addressed Educating for Democracy
Solution Re-educated himself about the real history of Robert E. Lee, the Civil War, and the Lost Cause before bringing that history to the rest of the country through multiple channels.
Location Hamilton, NY
Impact National

What he’s done

Leveraging his identity as a career Army officer, historian, and born-and-bred Southerner once immersed in the Lost Cause and the heroism of Robert E. Lee, Ty Seidule has pushed the military and the country as a whole to confront and acknowledge the War of the Rebellion, as the war was formally known, for what it was – a treasonous act by the South’s leaders.

His story

Growing up in Virginia in the 1960s and ‘70s, Seidule (pronounced “SID•joo•lee”) idolized Robert E. Lee and believed the Confederate cause was a noble one. Years later, as an Army cavalry officer and historian at West Point, he came to view the Confederates and Lee, a graduate of the military academy, as traitors – a view expressed by West Point leadership during the Civil War. Seidule’s personal education has fueled his commitment to set the public record straight.

Seidule’s “aha moment” came 20 years after his 1984 graduation from Washington and Lee University, half named for the Confederate general and home to what was then called Lee Chapel, where Robert E. Lee and his family are buried. It was also a decade after his first stint teaching at West Point when, as Seidule recalls in his book, “Robert E. Lee and Me”, an old graduate once interrupted his class while they visited a campus monument commemorating Union soldiers killed in action.

“Do you know what that’s called?”, the alumnus asked, then volunteered, “That is the monument to Southern marksmanship.” Seidule laughed at the joke.

He tells the story to make the point that he, like so many others at the end of the 20th century, still accepted the narrative of the Civil War as a devastating but righteous conflict in which honorable Southerners defended their way of life.

It wasn’t until after he returned to the military academy in 2004 as head of the History Department that Lee’s treasonous betrayal and the falsehoods of the Lost Cause hit home. While staring at a monument to Lee and Ulysses S. Grant in a space called Reconciliation Plaza, Seidule began to question the legend of his boyhood hero and the history he’d learned of his southern heritage. He spent the next several years researching the facts.

What he found was that the West Pointers who fought for the Confederacy, led by his one-time hero, “killed US army soldiers. They fought to create a slave republic, and they renounced their oath” to serve and defend the United States. And West Point and the US government regarded them as traitors throughout the war and in its immediate aftermath.

Those were the points Seidule made in 2011 when he argued against including the names of Confederates in a proposed memorial to honor West Pointers who had fallen in battle. It was the first time he’d spoken out with this new-found knowledge. His colleagues and superiors disagreed, and the superintendent told him that the inclusion of the Confederate fallen would help bring people together at a time when the country was increasingly divided along partisan lines. It was reconciliation all over again, just as it was when the matter of reuniting the country took precedence in the years after the war – by, in part, not holding the Confederate leaders accountable for their betrayal.

As Seidule wrote, the story did not end there. After a graduate of West Point obtained and threatened to publicize records of the deliberations, the superintendent changed his mind and held another vote that resulted in the exclusion of Confederate names.

Setting the Record Straight

Seidule eventually took the history public. He and six other historians published, “The West Point History of the Civil War” (Simon & Schuster, 2014), excerpted from a much longer text used to teach cadets the history of warfare since ancient times. In his introduction, Seidule wrote that teaching the Civil War at West Point had only slowly evolved since its battles first became the subject of lessons at the academy even before the war ended. Little or nothing was included about the cause of the war. The text he used when he first taught at the academy, he wrote, had last been updated in the 1970s and “spent less than a paragraph on the cause”, describing it as equal parts states rights and slavery.

The new edition made sure that was no longer the case. Chapter 1 offers a long and detailed explanation of the politics around slavery that led to secession and war. Chapter 6 notes that when Reconstruction ended, reconciliation – marked by the both-sides-fought-honorably narrative – gained widespread support among many Americans.

The book prompted a request from Prager University, a website that describes itself as “the world’s leading conservative nonprofit that is focused on changing minds through the creative use of digital media.” Given complete academic freedom, Seidule made a video for Prager that answered the question he posed in the title, “Was the Civil War About Slavery?”.

Seidule’s message is blunt and unequivocal. The South, he explains in the video’s first 30 seconds, fought “to preserve a morally repugnant institution …. The evidence is clear and overwhelming.”

When the video came out in 2015 just seven weeks after a white supremacist murdered nine people at a church in Charleston, SC, “it was a firestorm”, according to Seidule. He started receiving death threats and was criticized from across the political spectrum. Stars and Stripes, the military publication, suggested Seidule may have inadvertently lent credibility to an otherwise untrustworthy source. The Nation, long a stalwart publication of the progressive left, accused him of promoting Army propaganda. And the Pentagon questioned whether he was engaging in political activity, which the law prohibited him from doing as a member of the military.

Seidule says it was that experience that showed him how really dangerous history can be when it “challenges our myths and our identity.”

But the video went viral. In its first four days, it attracted more than four million views. As of this writing, it has almost 35 million views on the Prager website and another 3 million views and almost 55,000 comments on YouTube.

Making It Personal

At the urging of his wife, Seidule began to tell his own story of transformation to convey why correcting the narrative of reconciliation and the Lost Cause was so important.

In 2017, he delivered a speech in Washington & Lee’s Lee Chapel in which he explained that he’d grown up believing in southern lies and only recently had he recognized Lee to be a traitor and unrepentant believer in slavery.

Three years later, Seidule chose to retire from the Army so that he could speak more freely and publish “Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner’s Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause”. It was a more detailed story of the southern boy who accepted as equally noble the South’s murderous defense of slavery with the Northern goal to end slavery, and his re-education and transformation to committed advocate for historical accuracy and the preservation of military honor. He also began teaching Civil War history at Hamilton College in upstate New York.

Toward the end of his book, Seidule zeroed in on the many memorials and monuments to Lee and other Conferates, including the many at West Point and other military posts, whose presence dishonored the US military. He took note of the movement to remove Confederate names and take down statues and flags that had begun after the massacre in Charleston.

On December 28, 2020, Congress overrode President Trump’s veto of the the National Defense Authorization Act, which included an amendment to create the Naming Commission, formally known as the “Commission on the Naming of Items of the Department of Defense that Commemorate the Confederate States of America or Any Person Who Served Voluntarily with the Confederate States of America”. Seidule was appointed its vice-chair.

By the end of 2023, the Naming Commission had identified and renamed nine military posts that had been named for Confederate officers. In addition, it made more than 1,100 other recommendations for changes. At West Point, a portrait of Robert E. Lee in his Confederate uniform was removed and placed in storage, the image of Lee at Reconciliation Plaza was replaced, Lee Road is now Grant Road, and multiple other locations and markers commemorating Lee and other Confederates were also renamed.

Revitalizing the Meaning of Words

As a writer and a speaker intent on breaking down the constructed narrative of the Lost Cause, Seidule is very provocative in his choice of words. While “myth” is often used in association with the history portrayed by the Lost Cause, Seidule writes that he uses the word “lie” very deliberately, quoting the linguist Geoffrey Nunberg that a “certain moral opprobrium attaches to [lie], a reprehensibility of motive.”

Rather than talking about the Union army, he prefers to call it the United States Army to emphasize that the war was not a war between the states but a war against an enemy state led by traitors who sought to steal the country’s southern territory.

In conversation about the south, he points out, “Often when we say southerner, the ‘White’ is silent…. somehow it connotes White Southerner.” More Black people live in the South, he notes, than anywhere else in the country. And the Latino and Asian populations there are also growing. (About 20% of the South is Black, with all minorities making up about 35-40% of the population, according to Brookings.)

And when the topic turns to the desire for reconciliation sought by Lincoln and those who came after him, Seidule is typically direct.

“We chose, as a nation, to heal White America at the expense of Black America, and there was no justice for Black America, and there was no healing for Black America. It was a healing between White America in the North and the South, at the clear expense of Black America. And we’re dealing with that.”

What We Mean By “Black” and “White”

Seidule’s emphasis on word choice is a reminder to us that when people use the terms “Black” and “White” in reference to groups of people, there is typically an unspoken meaning. Depending on who is doing the speaking, those terms may mean different things. For our purposes, use of these terms is intended to reference two distinct groups based on a very generalized idea of skin color reflecting a legacy of economic oppression and privilege. We intend no other meaning or inference – not, for example, of geographic heritage, assumptions about mental or emotional capacity, or expressions of pride or superiority.

Author: George Linzer
Published: April 1, 2024

Feature image: Nancy L. Ford

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The URLs included with the sources below were good links when we published. However, as third party websites are updated over time, some links may be broken. We do not update these broken links. If you are interested in the source, it may be possible to find it by copying and pasting the URL into a search on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. From the search results, be sure to choose a date from around the time our article was published.

Interview with Ty Seidule, November 29, 2023 and follow up email

Ty Seidule, “Robert E. Lee and Me”, St. Martin’s Press, 2021

The United States Military Academy, “The West Point History of the Civil War (The West Point History of Warfare Series Book 1)”, Simon & Schuster, 2014, Kindle Edition

Prager University, meta description,, accessed Mar 11, 2024

Travis J. Tritten, “Viral video about Civil War’s cause puts West Point close to right-wing group”, Stars and Stripes, Aug 12, 2024,, accessed Mar 14, 2024

Richard Kreitner, “Stop Turning the End of Slavery Into Army Propaganda”, The Nation, Aug 12, 2015,, accessed Mar 14, 2024

West Point, “Congressional Naming Commission Report”,, accessed Mar 14, 2024

William H. Frey, “A ‘New Great Migration’ is bringing Black Americans back to the South”, Brookings, Sep 12, 2022,, accessed Mar 14, 2024

Michael Bezilla, “Historian explores how Civil War Northerners reconciled treason with leniency”, Penn State University, Jun 30, 2014,, accessed Mar 14, 2024

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