Oracle of Lost Causes


Oracle of Lost Causes

John Newman Edwards and His Never-Ending Civil War

Matthew Christopher Hulbert

360 pages
16 photographs, 7 maps, index


September 2023


$34.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

September 2023


$34.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

September 2023


$34.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

2024 Spur Award Finalist

John Newman Edwards was a soldier, a father, a husband, and a noted author. He was also a virulent alcoholic, a duelist, a culture warrior, and a man perpetually at war with the modernizing world around him. From the sectional crisis of his boyhood and the battlefields of the western borderlands to the final days of the Second Mexican Empire and then back to a United States profoundly changed by the Civil War, Oracle of Lost Causes chronicles Edwards’s lifelong quest to preserve a mythical version of the Old World—replete with aristocrats, knights, damsels, and slaves—in North America.

This odyssey through nineteenth-century American politics and culture involved the likes of guerrilla chieftains William Clarke Quantrill and “Bloody Bill” Anderson, notorious outlaws Frank and Jesse James, Confederate general Joseph Orville Shelby, and even Emperor Maximilian I and Empress Charlotte of Mexico. It is the story of a man who experienced Confederate defeat not once but twice, and how he sought to shape and weaponize the memory of those grievous losses. Historian Matthew Christopher Hulbert ultimately reveals how the Civil War determined not only the future of the vast West but also the extent to which the conflict was part of a broader, international sequence of sociopolitical uprisings.

Author Bio

Matthew Christopher Hulbert is an Elliott Associate Professor of History at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia. He is the author of The Ghosts of Guerrilla Memory: How Civil War Bushwhackers became Gunslingers in the American West, winner of the 2017 Wiley-Silver Book Prize, and coeditor of Writing History with Lightning: Cinematic Representations of Nineteenth-Century America.


"The author has researched his story deeply, and he tells it well."—Gerard Helferich, Wall Street Journal

"Hulbert uncovers distinctive details and lesser-known perspectives on the Civil War. Midwestern history buffs, take note."—Publishers Weekly

"A worthy addition to the shelves of readers of Civil War history and the post-Civil War Western frontier."—Johnny D. Boggs, Roundup Magazine

"Oracle of Lost Causes is an entertaining and informative read that is pushing the field of Civil War history in new and exciting directions—both in its style and content."—Summer Perritt, Civil War Monitor

"Hulbert provides a fine example to scholars of how to produce entertaining and productive scholarship."—Emerging Civil War

"Hulbert's book is a vital contribution to our current efforts to confront the enduring legacies of the Civil War and Reconstruction eras."—Christopher Grasso, Missouri Historical Review

“The life of John Newman Edwards defies belief. Florid, romantic, and intoxicated by barbarity, he championed the Old South in the quintessential border state, helping former Confederates gain power before he drank himself to death. In Matthew Hulbert’s capable hands, Edwards’s extraordinary story brings into focus the conflicts that made modern America, in a region that defies definition.”—T. J. Stiles, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Custer’s Trials and The First Tycoon

“In John Newman Edwards, Missouri’s notorious Civil War guerrillas found their Boswell. The former cavalryman, romantic reactionary, and wire-pulling editor Confederatized them, most notably the outlaws Jesse James and William Quantrill, into ironic avatars for the Southern Lost Cause in the postwar West. In this sparkling and overdue biography, Matthew Hulbert has at last offered the Bushwhackers’ Boswell, and for us, his own.”—Christopher Phillips, author of The Rivers Ran Backward: The Civil War and the Remaking of the American Middle Border

Oracle of Lost Causes is a gripping, fast-paced story of John Newman Edwards’s journey from a childhood filled with books in Virginia to an adulthood that veered from Missouri to Mexico and positioned him as an architect of the Lost Cause in the West. But it is much more than a biography. In Matthew Hulbert’s skilled hands, readers go deep into the mind of a hardened believer in the supremacy of white people and witness the birth of some of the nation’s most stubborn and distorted narratives of its past. By showing us what Edwards saw in the Civil War era and how he wrote about it, Hulbert offers a fascinating and powerful account of how mythmaking has been woven into the writing of history—and, therefore, how it can be unwoven. Oracle of Lost Causes is essential reading for our times.”—Amy Murrell Taylor, author of Embattled Freedom: Journeys through the Civil War’s Slave Refugee Camps, winner of the Frederick Douglass Book Prize

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Preface: Coming of Age in an Age of Crisis

Introduction: A Man at War with the World

1: Into the Forge

2: A Brigade of Iron

3: The Costs of Valor

4: In Quest of Camelot

5: War by Other Means

6: Architect

7: The Ghost and the Monster

Epilogue: Fallen Prince



Works Cited



2024 Spur Award Finalist

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