Understanding Civil War Statuary

This week my Civil War Memory students will be analyzing early commemorations and memory of the soldiers. We will read an article on the subject by David Blight and analyze early monuments along with their inscriptions and accompanying dedication speeches. I want my students to understand the role that statues played in shaping the memory of the war. Students should understand that the significance and message of the monument depended, in part, on the identity of the sponsor. The power to install and dedicate implied the authority to shape public spaces and define the conduct that deserved to be commemorated. Along with this is the ability to shape and reinforce the meaning and legacy of the war, which worked to reinforce the preferred interpretation of those who organized and dedicated the monument. I put together a slide show presentation for tomorrow and thought you might be interested in two statues in particular.

Some of you may be familiar with the first monument, known affectionately as “Dutchy”, which was unveiled in Elberton County, Georgia on July 15, 1898. There were hundreds of Confederate veterans still living and they declared that the Confederate army never had anything that looked like him or the uniform he wore. It is 22 feet high and the statue is seven feet tall and made of Elbert County granite. The distaste for “Dutchy” grew and on August 14,1900 the people awoke to find that the granite soldier had taken a tumble and was lying on the ground in broken pieces. It is not known to this day who pulled the figure down.

The belief that the statue was “too German” and its eventual destruction suggest that sculptors were expected to portray Civil War soldiers along accepted ethnic lines.

The second monument pictured below, according to Thomas Brown, was the only one constructed in the South by 1920. It is located in West Point Cemetery in Norfolk, Virginia.

This statue points to the gradual disappearance of the “emancipationist legacy” of the war and the service of black soldiers in saving the Union. The difficulty in placing a monument to black Union soldiers in the South had as much to do with limited financial means as it did with the reemergence of white supremacy through Jim Crow legislation.

In terms of my own reading on the subject I’ve relied heavily on Kirk Savage’s Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves (Princeton University Press, 1999).

15 responses... add one

Kevin,

You’ve just made me think of another set of Confederate monuments and the controversy behind them; specifically, one monument that Confederate veterans did not like, and the other one that they raised money for, perhaps to overshadow the first. Not only was it controversial back then, but it became controversial in recent years (mid-90s) as well, but for a different reason. I need to write a post about it.

Hey Kevin I came across a dissertation by Michael Wilson Panhorst called “Lest We Forget: Monuments and Memorial Sculpture in National Military Parks on Civil War battlefirlds, 1861 – 1917″ , 1988, University of Delaware. It provides a very good overview of how many of the early memorials came about on the orginal 5 National Battlefield parks. He reviews the actual process of designing and contracting for specfic monuments and the mounument production industry that grew during this period. You might be able to get a copy through ILL or order a photocopy from UMI.

Nice to hear from you Andy and thanks for the reference. When are you going to start blogging again? Resistance is futile.

The “too German” comment is interesting. I’ve been reading “Confederate Veteran” for a conference paper and I was struck by the number of comments about the “barbaric” German Union troops. The North had a large German immigrant population and many German immigrants and first generation German-Americans enlisted in the Union Army. Part of CV’s version of the “Lost Cause” mythology was that the North imported foreign mercenaries and CV’s writers would deliberately compare them to Revolutionary War Hessians. (This seems to have been even more pronounced after World War I began).

Just an interesting sidenote on the “too German” complaint.

Woodrow, – Thanks for the comment. If you haven’t already, you should check out Christian Keller’s _Chancellorsville and the Germans: Nativism, Ethinicity, and Civil War Memory_ (Fordham University Press, 2007).

Mr. Levin,
I was wondering if there are any civil war statues being built now? If so where? In class we discussed how monuments today–made for memory of any war–are more visually dramatic and action-posed. Before that we discussed how civil war statues and monuments were somewhat plainly posed. The question I am trying to get to here is if a cival war statue/monument was to be made in todays time and , would it display action or intense drama like those from Vietnam?

One recent example is the equestrian statue of General James Longstreet in Pitzer’s Wood at Gettysburg. It was dedicated in 1998, and definitely has more of an action pose than the typical equestrian statue of a Civil War general. It’s also placed directly on the ground instead of on a pedestal, which might make it seem more lifelike were it not for the unfortunate proportions of the horse. Here’s a link to some pictures (scroll down a bit on the page): http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=11970

Logan,

Actually, there are projects in the making right now. I do know of one project being developed for the creation of statuary for the Union POWs held at Lynchburg, Va.

I grew up and have always lived west of the Mississippi so have had limited exposure to Civil War monuments. I do remember seeing a stuffed horse when I was a small child in Topeka, Kansas, a horse named Commanche that was supposed to have belonged to George Custer, but I don’t remember ever seeing any Civil War monuments until I visited Stone Mountain about a month after 9-11. That visit triggered something. I began tracing my family history online and a little less than two years later I started a blog, much of it focused on the Civil War’s impact on my German-immigrant ancestors in Wisconsin.

The war turned their lives upside down and set in motion chains of circumstance that glow with a radiant heat, emanating even now from the campfire of that distant point in time. I don’t think my great great grandfather would have joined up in October, 1864, if his wife’s younger brother hadn’t volunteered in February that year. The kid was eighteen years younger than my great great grandfather, a nineteen year old who enlisted on George Washington’s birthday in a unit that was being ‘veteranized’. Five months later he was shot in the upper left arm at Leggett’s Hill in the Battle of Atlanta. He was still in a hospital in Madison when my great great grandfather signed up in October, but I think by then it was clear to him that the battle that ruined his brother-in-law’s arm meant the boy would be set for life with a substantial pension, one that he and his bride-to-be collected for the next sixty years. You could buy a new Model-T in 1926 for $30/month and pay it off in a year or two at most.

My great great grandfather and his other brother-in-law, five years older than he, boarded the train to report for boot camp in Milwaukee on Christmas Day. They arrived in Arkansas at the end of February, just in time to join up with the regiment a few days before it was sent by boat to New Orleans for a week or so and then on to Mobile Point for the Battle of Mobile. The older brother-in-law didn’t make it to Mobile. He got sick with dysentery, an ailment that sent him home to a small pension, kidney stones and bloody stools for the last twenty years of his life. His wife continued collecting that pension until 1916, though her husband had spent less than three months in uniform.

My great great grandfather wasn’t so lucky. He made it to Mobile, survived the battle in April and came down with yellow fever in June on a ship called the Clinton, bound for Brazos Santiago on the Rio Grande. He was sent to New Orleans and upriver to St. Louis and the hospital at Jefferson Barracks where he died of pneumonia a month later, leaving behind a wife and three young children.

Nearly all of this information came to me through the internet, much of it during the past five years as the direct result of my blog. I’d had vague inklings growing up that the Civil War was in some strange way a significant factor in my life, but I had nothing solid on which to base those feelings. I think recollection of the war was deliberately suppressed in the German-American community, from the entrance into WWI in 1917 until the end of the Cold War when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.

Military service for young men in Prussia was apparently universal and compulsory in the first half of the 19th century. It was one of the reasons Prussians were inclined to emigrate. German immigrants in the American north already knew the drills when they arrived at boot camp during the Civil War. Few of them had actual combat experience, but I suspect that in general they were far more disciplined soldiers than ordinary Union recruits.

There is one monument, a statue of a German-American soldier on horseback, that I’d like to see some day. I understand that the statue is in Vicksburg and the figure depicted is identified as Colonel Konrad Krez, the soldier-lawyer-poet, born and raised in Rheinland Pfalz, who commanded my great great grandfather’s regiment. The statue is specifically mentioned in the foreword to a book of his poems published in Germany in 1937 on the 40th anniversary of his death. The fact that the event was a Nazi propaganda photo-op didn’t keep the publication of those poems from becoming front page news in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

Craig, — Thanks so much for sharing that story and for the reference to the Krez monument. I may do a bit more research on this as it sounds quite interesting.

Craig,

Your post made me curious about monuments to the two most prominent German-Americans of the Civil War era, both involved in events Missouri. A quick Google search revealed monuments to Franz Sigel in St. Louis erected in 1906, and Carl Schurz in New York erected in 1913. I will have to go over to Forest Park to see the Sigel monument. If you have been studying German-American involvement in the war, you probably already know they were strongly pro-Union. In Missouri the Germans of St. Louis were virtually the only ones who voted for Lincoln in 1860, and the St. Louis German Home Guards were instrumental in keeping Missouri under Union control.
On a side note, the movie Ride With the Devil, was on TV last night. I had not seen it before, but I found it quite interesting. I think the guerilla war in Missouri was portrayed well. Although it is questionable whether an African-American or a German-American would have been fighting against the Union, the story line helps convey the moral and ideological confusion of the time.

Bob,

I haven’t seen Ride With The Devil, but I am a Jewel fan and do look forward to seeing it at some point. The confused and conflicting loyalties you describe and the stretching of historical credulity bear comparison with another movie about Kansas and the border ruffians called Dark Command. Made in 1940, it starred John Wayne and another up and coming cowpoke named Roy Rogers. They knew he could sing, but could he act?

German-Americans have long held a prominent place in the history of New York and St. Louis, so it’s not surprising to find statues of prominent German-American statesmen like Schurz and Sigel there. Vicksburg, Mississippi, on the other hand, is not usually considered a German enclave. It would be interesting to see who funded the Krez statue, whose idea it was and when it was erected. I assume it’s still there and hasn’t been toppled.

Craig

I did find an online photo of the Krez monument in Vicksburg. It’s a rectangular white stone with a pyramid on top, so there is no statue of a horse and rider. Looks like each side of the stone may commemorate a different unit that took part in the siege with the name of the unit at the base of the stone and the name of the unit’s commander engraved on the pyramid. Apparently all of the units that took part in the siege have a share in one such marker.

My earlier comment indicated that my great great grandfather and his fellow replacement troops joined their unit in Arkansas at the end of February when in fact it was the end of January. That means their boot camp lasted less than a month.

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