Civil War Monuments and Virginia Politics

confederate_monument_500pxThere is an interesting article in today’s Washington Post on the place of Civil War statues in a changing Virginia political landscape.  It’s a fairly balanced look at how these sites are interpreted by different constituencies and it directly addresses the connection between political power and how our public spaces are used to remember the past.  John Coski explains that connection in pointing out that, “A monument always testifies to power — to who was in power at the time.”  The Civil War statues that dominate Monument Avenue in Richmond and the soldier statues that populate local court houses serve as a reminder of white supremacy and a commitment to imparting to the general public a memory of the war that reinforced its preferred view of the past.  Such a view worked to reinforce political dominance through much of the twentieth century.  One wonders what the landscape of memory would look like if between 1880 and 1920 black Americans were able to take part in the decisions over who and what to remember.  How might Monument Avenue appear today under such changed circumstances?

I welcome the debate about how utilize our finite public space in commemorating and remembering the past; however, I worry about the tone that it has taken and will likely take as we approach the Civil War Sesquicentennial.  My biggest concern is the language of “tearing down” Civil War monuments that are deemed to be antiquated or even racist. Consider the recent controversy over a prominent Civil War statue in Raleigh, North Carolina involving a columnist who called for the newly-elected governor to tear it down. [Click here for the original column and here for a follow-up.]

I must remember that I approach these questions from the detached perspective of a historian interested in memory and public history and as a teacher who believes these sites need to be properly interpreted.  In other words, I understand that people are passionate about these issue.  The problem with the language of removal is that it fails to address some of the underlying issues that drive the discourse.  It’s ultimately a veiled attempt at covering up the problem rather than working to better understand it or, more importantly, working toward meaningful reconciliation over what the Civil War was about.  In the case of J. Peder Zane, however, it seems to me that all he managed to accomplish was to cause the various parties to dig in their heels even more firmly.  It leads to defensiveness and suspicion and renders it that much more difficult to engage in meaningful discourse.

3217946367_2796191d71I recently took 30 students to Richmond to explore its Civil War heritage through monuments.  This was a fairly diverse group of students who have very different opinions as to what the war was about and how it should be remembered.  As we walked around the Lee and Davis monuments in Richmond and walked through Hollywood Cemetery we discussed and analyzed the sites and tried to better understand both the time in which they were constructed and their continued place on the public landscape.  Even with a diversity of opinion not one of my students suggested that the solution was to remove them from public viewing; in fact, most of them acknowledged in one way or another that it is important for them to remain where they are.

Public spaces are not static.  To understand this point is to acknowledge that they reflect the changing dynamics of the people who must live within their midst and, in many cases, maintain their integrity through tax dollars.  If that is the starting point than it is incumbent on the community to discuss in as open and as honest a way how these sites should be maintained.  I’ve tended to support at least two approaches in those situations when a monument or other structure no longer reflects the values of a substantial portion of the local population.  The most common approach is to add to the landscape as in the case of the Arthur Ashe monument in Richmond, but the approach taken in Louisville, Kentucky is also instructive.  In 2002, the University of Louisville announced plans to add civil rights monuments around its Civil War statue as part of a new development to be called “Freedom Park”, which will include structures commemorating the Civil Rights Movement.  Another way of bridging the divide between the commemoration of a statue and the present is to place interpretive markers that educate the public about the origins of the structure.  These do not have to be overly intrusive and can go far in placing the site in its proper historical context.  What I like about this approach is that it does not prevent members of the public from attaching their own preferred interpretation or meaning to the structure.  Perhaps the best example of this approach is the placement of an interpretive marker at the Heyward Shepherd Marker at Harpers Ferry, which was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and Sons of Confederate Veterans in 1931.  [Click here for an excellent overview of the history of this monument and also see Caroline Janney’s recent essay in Civil War History (June 2006).]

I am not overly confident that rational discourse about how to remember and commemorate the Civil War in public spaces is possible.  Our culture is much too comfortable with a language of polarization that includes “Red States v. Blue States”,  “Capitalism v. Socialism”, etc.  Ultimately, we have to want to talk to one another or perhaps we must first learn how to do so.

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48 comments… add one
  • Stephen Flynn Aug 18, 2015 @ 8:14

    Mr Levin, I appreciate your efforts in this article. Maybe I am simply old and set in my ways or maybe as an American who has fought to maintain our nation as it is, free, I am inclined to believe our monuments to history, and the men who made that history, should remain in tact. It turns my stomach to think that sometime in the future the brothers in arms I have lost could be marginalized because of someone’s political sympathies.
    Government bodies across this nation collect monies from individuals, some of which is earmarked for the purpose of maintain these monuments. The fact that money is often squandered is another issue altogether. that said, those governments responsible for the raising of monuments should also be responsible for the maintenance of the same.
    Not for one minute do I advocate removal of a monument or statue or any historic marker simply because someone is offended by their interpretation of it’s meaning. If we look at history it is filled with examples of behaviors or examples people today may find offensive. George Washington, first President of the United States was a slave owner. Should we, therefore, eliminate any semblance of him from the public square?
    No Sir, I think not. I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment. We should ensure there is a clear understanding or explanation of the history behind a monument, an interpretation of why they marker is historical relevant.

  • Walter Ring Feb 4, 2012 @ 11:19

    Comrades-we must remove all things Confederate and pro-White so that we can say “It never happened.” Down the memory hole with anything deemed enemies of the state!!! Hail Big Brother!!!

    • Kevin Levin Feb 4, 2012 @ 12:15

      How silly.

    • Michael Feb 4, 2012 @ 23:49

      So are you saying that “Confederate and pro-White” [sic] are synonymous? What about all those black Confederates and happy slaves that the apologists love to crow about? I love it when y’all slip and inadvertently admit that it really was about maintaining white supremacy.

  • Carlton King Sep 1, 2011 @ 18:00

    Sadly there wont be any monuments after Americas next War of Independence.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 2, 2011 @ 1:34

      What are you talking about?

  • Bobby Edwards Apr 4, 2009 @ 16:23

    Your research on the origin of the Raleigh CSA Monument, and especially the involvement of the Ladies offers a different flavor as to “Why Monuments” are Ordered and Constructed after a war. I am a Vietnam Veteran, and I have been to the Vietnam Memorial many times, having organized two 6924th Security Squadron meetings of other brothers in attending. On the Vietnam Wall there are 58,000 Names, and at the Raleigh Memorial the Honor and Recognition to the Sacrifice of more than 40,000 of North Carolina’s finest Citizens. For the Men Who Honor their War Brothers with Monuments, they are the Ones Who Fully Understand the Reason and Purpose of the Dedication of the Monument. For the Men I have held while they cried over their Lost Brothers, For the Emotion that Often is Beyond Control, and For the Dignity they Gain through the Honoring their Brothers – All of These Will Soon be Lost in Time as New Generations Come Along, and All they Can See is the Soldier with a Gun In Front of the Court House.

    Kevin, Your Trip to Monument Avenue with Your Students is Commendable, and I hope that you were able to take them to Virginia War Memorial, dedicated to Virginia Veterans from WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. It’s so Important to Interpert the Sacrifice of Americans, When their State and Country Calls Them to Duty, Whether the State of North Carolina or the State of Virginia Called their Citizens in Different Time Periods, The Citizens Answered not for Political Purposes, but to Serve their State.

    Jim, As you are very familiar with the Monument Project in Raleigh, you may be able to answer a questions as to where the funding came from, through Government Funding or through Private Contributions. The Real Financier of the Raleigh News and Observer, while Josephus Daniels was the Editor was Julian Shakespere Carr, a Pvt. from the 3rd North Carolina Cavalry, Co K. Those familiar with Julian Carr knew him as a primary Industrialist of the South, with Investments in Durham Bull Tobacco, Textiles, Banking, and about 40 Businesses. Carr traveled North to participate in the dedication of Northern Union Monuments, and I would hazard a guess contributed greatly to the Raleigh Monument. Carr was one of the featured speakers of a Monument dedicated to General Grant.

    Recently a CSA Monument in Portsmouth, VA was Vandalized, and one of my Vietnam friends in Pennsylvania raised some funds for the Restoration and Refurbishing. As a Veteran his Feeling about the Confederate Monument, although from Pennsylvania was through the eyes of a Veteran. I feel the attack of Southern Heritage Monuments and Locations are from Politically Motivated Individuals, and the Real Reason for the Erection of the Monuments are Often “Reframed to Voice Political Opinions”. As a Vietnam Veteran, and knowing that our War was also Unpopular, with some Politicians accusing Viet Vets of Acting Like the Army of Ghengis Khan, Cutting off Ears, etc… – I Fear that one Day, all of those trips to the Wall to Honor those Lost Brothers will all be in Vain, as Politically Correct Do Gooders Assume the Right to Remove the Polished Marble Walls, Because They Don’t Like the Attention that a Monument to War Attracts.

    At the End of the Day, those like Zane give us all of the reasons to Continue to Protect, Defend, and Love the Monuments Dedicated to the Sacrifice of Ordinary Soldiers.

  • Jim Mar 31, 2009 @ 7:50

    I guess I’m surprised you guys are arguing that we shouldn’t be concerned that these calls will have any impact.

    First, NC provided more soldiers to the Confederacy than any other state. If the News & Observer editorial argues for removal in an area with the highest concentration of sacrifice, then how should that be taken? I often wonder if it is addressed for the sole purpose of controversy, or to test the waters of perception to determine if policy changes should be advocated.

    I’ve also read here that many opponents of Confederate monuments represent a diverse socio-economic background. My quick Internet research is coming to a different conclusion in that most opposition is coming from black activist groups such as the NAACP. That’s more than a smattering of loose canons. The Nathan Bedford Forrest School in LA had 5-member board comprised of 3 whites and 2 blacks. The decision to keep the name ran exactly along these racial lines.

    Meaning of monuments change over time. Some argue that a monument placed during a particular period and under specific conditions determines how appropriate the monument is. First, even the N&O editorial admits that the monument is in part a memorial to Confederate dead rather than a racial statement. At this point, the monument becomes sacred to many. I would also argue that if perceptions about the monuments change over time, then they can change from political to commemoration just as easily as the converse.

    Lincoln monuments added recently. If monuments can be “time-appropriate”, then we need to review the recent addition of monuments such as Lincoln in Richmond. I personally found who funded, sculpted, and decided on the placement of Lincoln at Tredegar potentially controversial.

    Protection from statutes and state historical site designation. I’m reading that other states have protected Confederate monuments on public grounds by designating them as State Archeological Landmarks and government buildings. If the VA statute was loosely interpreted then it is only in light of an increasingly over-lawyered society. I believe the monuments should never be an issue, period; however, if some threaten valuable cultural icons, then it would be wise to defend them with whatever opportunities and interpretations are available.

    I wasn’t really able to put the American CW into context until I read the history of Alexander the Great. Alexander initially conquered neighboring city-states as sources for expanding his armies and increasing tribute. These neighboring city-states often rebelled against his rule, and Alexander responded by severely destroying their land and the rebels repeatedly. CW monuments provide rich evidence to me that America and modern history is no different than ancient conflicts and civilization. That was a very enlightening and valuable lesson for me.

  • Robert Moore Mar 29, 2009 @ 10:36

    I agree, Greg,

    Also, what I find interesting is when you hear all of the outpouring anger when the mere mention of removing a Confederate monument comes up (and the matter goes pretty much no further than that), and yet you don’t see an equal outpouring of support for the cleaning and preservation of the same monument by the people who want to cry “heritage violation!” Clearly the importance is placed on identifying heritage violations and not preserving the heritage that is in the monuments. Granted, it’s not always the case, but I’ve seen my fair share of this.

  • Robert Moore Mar 29, 2009 @ 10:28

    Kevin, I think it was the mention of the statute that got me spun up. I personally encountered a situation in which it was, with loose interpretation, applied by some to a monument situation in Luray, Va. Annoyed me to no end. The flap was over a flagpole bearing the US flag that stands about 30-40 feet from the Barbee (Southern Heroes) Monument on the east side of town (placed there by the town and local garden club, if memory serves me). Some wanted to use the statute, claiming that the “ground” within so many feet of the monument, was actually part of the monument, and that the modern US flag was a symbol of the “Union.” Despite all the fuss, nothing came of it. In fact, our local SCV camp in Luray, of which I was commander at the time, called the effort to remove the flagpole and flag a non-issue.

    Aside from the senseless issue over the flag near the monument, it was interesting to see all of the angry new era Confederate “drum beaters” over the issue who got in such a tizzy over the matter and knew nothing about the history of the monument or even the site. Some cried out about how it was awful that the flag should be flying over the Confederate dead there… when in fact there weren’t any dead, whatsoever buried there. On top of that, there is even evidence that local Confederates may have snubbed the Barbee monument for various reasons. Pure silliness.

  • Greg Rowe Mar 29, 2009 @ 10:27


    Your comment about the tax dollars being needed for repair and maintenance is a good one. In light of that consideration, who is going to pay for the removal of a statue, monument, marker or memorial simply because someone has become offended by what it represented at the time it was placed there? Yes, the state and local taxpayer will be responsible. Zane’s knife cuts both ways: while what we spend tax dollars maintaining might need to be questioned, to advocate for outright removal also calls for us to spend tax dollars in a manner a totally different group will find equally offensive.

    Leave these things alone and they become a reference point from which those of us who are interested can discuss the relevent issues. Leave these things alone and they can represent the memorial those who wish to focus on memorializing events and people can use for that purpose. If we move them, we lose both the educational value and the memorial value of any marker or memorial. Not to mention it’s a waste of time, effort and dollars, all of which could be better utilized to benefit the public.

    History is ugly. We have to face that fact. We don’t have to like it, we can even protest it, but to totally ignore it, and that is what the removal of monuments would, in my opinion equate, is neither possible nor excusable.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 29, 2009 @ 10:38


      I couldn’t have said it any better.

  • Kevin Levin Mar 29, 2009 @ 9:25

    Thanks for chiming in on this one, Robert. I certainly have not heard of a concerted movement to move any statues and I would not support such a move for the reasons stated above and in other posts. Most of the time the controversies come up when tax dollars are needed to repair damage or some type of maintenance.

  • Robert Moore Mar 29, 2009 @ 8:50

    … and that statute, by the way, has been conveniently invoked in at least one situation in which it was not intended, but that’s another story.

    The point, however, is that you state that the statute forbids “Union markings.” What does it say about moving or removing? If the statute focuses on the prevention of “Union markings” and you are suggesting that the same statute might be used to “protect the Confederate monuments from current intervention” (“intervention,” I suppose, being the physical removal of the monument in your suggestion) then is this not also interpreting the statue rather loosely?

    Nonetheless, isn’t the point moot? Can anybody cite an example of someone who wishes to move (or remove) a monument in Virginia and (and this is the important part) if anyone who can “make it happen” is taking this person (or persons) seriously? I can’t think of any here in Virginia.

  • Jim Mar 29, 2009 @ 8:27

    I just read that at least VA has a statute that “forbids Union markings from being added to Confederate memorials”. This statute might be used to protect the Confederate monuments from current intervention. I would think that if you can’t alter a monument, then you couldn’t remove one as well.

  • Kevin Levin Mar 23, 2009 @ 13:32


    Interesting observations. Thanks.

  • John Buchanan Mar 23, 2009 @ 11:39

    PS: I wish this thing had spellcheck!!!

  • John Buchanan Mar 23, 2009 @ 11:39

    One point about the monuments in New England and Upstate New York towns and cities.

    As you can imagine, large cities have a large number of heroic statues (Albany, Syracuse, Buffalo, Springfield, Hartford, etc)

    But what struck me for some of the towns was the comingling of the Rev War monuments in some areas (heck, I’ve even seen Prince Phillip’s War monumnets in some Mass towns) with Civil War monuments.

    And while they may be an obelisk with a soldier or sailor on top I have often seen intricately carved corps badges on a lot of the monuments. This normally reflected the geographic nature of unit recruitment.

    Additionally, remember how the populations of New England were, and still are to this day, in towns and villages. Each of those towns and villages has their own monument. In one 12 mile stretch in central Mass from Webster to Milfor, along Route 16, you will find 6 different monuments from the Civil War. This is not an anomoly but the norm throughout the region….I have seen the same in Ohio and Pennsylvannia.

    Here in the south the populaiton was organized using the counties. So the monuments tended to be in the county courthouse since the population was more dispersed.

  • Craig the Marker Hunter Mar 23, 2009 @ 5:41

    I think Robert says it well. Moving a monument is like moving a historical building. I would (and have) gone one step further by saying removing one of these is like disturbing an archaeological dig. Recall the Redeemer era monument I wrote of in January as a guest writer on Robert’s Blog – the Meriwether Monument in North Augusta, SC. Were that “thing” removed, we’d have very little physical reminders of the incident in question. Nor would we have much need of historical analysis to explain why it was there in the first place!

  • Matt McKeon Mar 22, 2009 @ 5:25

    The idea of scrubbing public spaces of the evidence of wrongthink is generally a bad thing. What’s the point? It’s an attractive idea, like censorship is an attractive idea. Educated people who know better make the decisions about what is correct and what isn’t. Maybe, like censorship, you can make a reasonable case in certain circumstances.

    The monuments celebrate a myth, and that myth has a huge streak of ugly racism and oppression. But I wouldn’t move any of them an inch.

  • Kevin Levin Mar 22, 2009 @ 5:16


    If I am not mistaken one of the Texas colleges removed one of their Civil War related statues and placed it in its museum after students complained. It’s a huge mistake to move the statues since part of what needs to be interpreted is its location and why it was placed there to begin with.

  • Matt McKeon Mar 22, 2009 @ 5:11

    Moving all these monuments to a central location…

    I’m getting an awesome visual of a football stadium with rows and rows of marble horsemen, regiments of granite riflemen, squadrons of angels, a forest of pedestals, hundreds of cannon, thousands of cannon ball pyramids, a library of carved names.

    I’m pretty sure there is a specific word for ideas that so absurd that only a college professor would entertain them.

  • chris meekins Mar 22, 2009 @ 3:09


    Yes it would be nice if he decided to do more than just rant. When it was pointed out that by following his logic for removing the monument it would lead to removing almost every monument on Union Square he stated something to the effect that he was unconcerned with the other monuments but single the CSA monument out as one he disliked the most. This occurred when he was on NPR’s State of Things with Frank Statio (local program I believe).

    • Kevin Levin Mar 22, 2009 @ 3:16


      I remember listening to a segment of that program. He came off like a real nutcase. It’s a shame that this little rant actually landed him on NPR. And this is what counts as newsworthy?

  • chris meekins Mar 21, 2009 @ 17:02

    I knew it was a matter of when rather than if this Zane article might find its way to Civil War Memory.
    A dangerous aspect of Zane’s line of thinking is to connect 1898 white supremacy to the 1893-95 monument project without exploring any other outcomes or possibilities for the time line. With the clarity of 20-20 hindsight, Zane would have an arc is connected from the monument commission to white supremacists, period. I have been discussing this with friends and colleagues (many of them, thankfully, well read and smarter than myself!). The monument act was passed in 1893, corner stone laid in 1894, monument dedicated in 1895, the Populist fusion moment is 1896 and the backlash is the campaign of 1898 (all in NC, sorry so state specific). I fail to see how the outcome of the 1893 action can be only the 1898 reaction (specifically when this was not a forgone conclusion). I have been studying the 1893 legislature and their party affiliation and the voting of yes or no on the bill to create the monument. Democrats, Republicans, People party members, Alliance men, Caucasian and African Americans are voting yes to the monument – but the larger connection seems to be that a good number of these men were veterans or sons of veterans (and a few brothers of veterans). It is hard to argue that the only line of power is the white supremacist in this voting action.
    The day before the vote came up in the House the Ladies Alliance placed a card in the local paper (the News and Observer – which at that time was not edited by Jocephus Daniels who helped organize the white supremacist movement with racial cartoons and slanted news but rather Samuel A’Court Ashe who was an ex-Confederate himself and untrained historian and likely a racist but old school, that is to say a Gentleman) and called out the House members to honor the Confederate dead and the state’s role in the Civil War. The next day the Ladies filled the galleries at the House chamber and overran the entire building including most of the Union Square where the Capital building is located. In other words the public eye was cast upon these men by the women – certainly a power play of theirs. [they repeated these steps when the measure came before the Senate – I am still working on the yeas and neas from the Senate]
    In the same session (earlier than the Confederate monument vote) the Assemble created the Guilford Court House Rev war memorial site (and monument, I think). When speakers rose in favor of the Confederate monument they referenced the honor to the Revolutionary War soldiers and state record. When the house members were expressing motions in favor of the Confederate monument they were saying it was just and fitting to commemorate both groups of men.
    While it may be true that some of these men were prominent in the backlash against the 1896 Populist moment, it is also true that the majority of the men approving the legislation did so to honor the state and the men who died [and its their version of events they wish to sustain – but they build an approval that crosses party lines and racial lines]. The monument itself has several elements that support this – the soldier modeled on Henry Lawson Wyatt tops the monument and two legs of the Rebel Boast (First at Bethel, Last at Appomattox) that lays claim to NC’s version of the Lost Cause.
    I understand power of position and placement of monuments but I think, in part, Zane overlooks the words and actions of the members who vote for the monument in 1893 rather than their actions in 1898. Certainly a symbol can gain meanings overtime and historians can and rightly do draw connections – but we should not ignore the other facets. And that is what makes me the maddest about Zane – he has one facet of history and it is the sole lens with which he wishes to exploit and from which he condemns. I do not believe that this monument can be tied to a single interpretation. In fact, the complexity of the monument cries out as the loudest reason to keep it standing and in its current location.
    Chris M.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 22, 2009 @ 1:18


      Thanks for taking the time to fill in much of the detail behind this particular moment. The sad part is that Zane is in a position where he could fill in the detail if he was genuinely interested in understanding the context of the monument rather than simply ranting about it.

  • Jim Mar 21, 2009 @ 16:43

    “I would also hate to see multiple monuments moved to various central housing points for interpretation.” – Robert

    It would be a social engineering travesty IMO. I can only give my opinion as a descendant, and I know that I’m not alone. Differing viewpoints within an army is a given and should not be used as a tool to detract from valid perceptions that may differ from your own. Example, I had family enter America through both Jamestown and Massachusettes Bay colonies. After the Revolutionary War, the MA Bay family was awarded land grants in VA and married into the Jamestown descendants resulting in my Confederate ancestors. Thus, I can appreciate complexity.

    Also, note that northern men and it appears that some blacks (yes I know the controversy so please refrain) fought for the South as well. Saying the war was complex is to simply admit that life is complex, but I still haven’t seen evidence sufficiently given to alter Civil War monuments.

  • Richard Phillips Mar 21, 2009 @ 12:57

    The moving of these monuments to one central location where they could be maintained and explained would be the best option. I have seen several examples in NC and SC where monuments have been moved from downtown areas. I feel that politicians use these monuments/flag as a method to manipulate use. Does not matter if we support there display or not. Where are the rational people.
    I understand your comments about “simplistic” but I am skeptical of human nature and the intentions of those who cry for the removal of monuments.
    If I had the power and resources there would be a big ass monument to the 10,000 white men and 5,000 black men from NC who fought in the Union Army but this would contradict my previous statement about no monuments on the capital grounds.

    • Robert Moore Mar 21, 2009 @ 13:02

      Richard… Where do I send my donation to a monument for Southern men in the Union army? 🙂

    • Robert Moore Mar 21, 2009 @ 13:16

      I forgot to add that the moving of monuments, to me, is like moving historical buildings; it kills a lot of the story behind the monument. It’s just about as bad as seeing state highway historical markers several miles away from where what is mentioned on the signs actually happened. I would also hate to see multiple monuments moved to various central housing points for interpretation. I see no value in it. It not only diminshes the history of the monument, but would result in something that would remind me of a rather gawdy cemetery.

      • Richard Phillips Mar 21, 2009 @ 14:34

        You make some good points about the movement of monuments. Considering the loss of life that NC experienced in the Civil War this monument has great relevance.

        • Kevin Levin Mar 21, 2009 @ 14:38

          I think it’s important to keep in mind that many of these monuments are incredibly beautiful. I keep coming back to the Lee monument in Richmond, but it does help to make the point since I can’t imagine that specific location without it.

  • Richard Phillips Mar 21, 2009 @ 11:32

    I actually started my documentation of southern monuments several years ago when I started hearing these calls about removing them. Its all about power, plain and simple. Its not about understanding or learning, its about hatred of the civil war South. Some people must think by hiding the past it will make it all go away or we will feel better. In my humble opinion public spaces should be devoid of all monuments regardless of who they are about.
    You had a vast monument building movement in the early 1900s as the veterans of the war started dying off. This included both Union and Confederates but you never here anyone crying for the removal of Union monuments. Why is that. I see no difference. I visited both Andersonville and Chickamauga this week. Both places have millions of dollars invested in Union monuments. Why are those crying for removal of Confederate memorials not raising money to tell their version of history? And finally, who is going to pay to remove or destroy these monuments. The taxpayer. We are talking about laying off teachers right now in NC.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 21, 2009 @ 12:27


      You said, “it’s about hatred of the Civil War South.” I think couching this in terms of ‘hatred’ is much too simplistic. The way individuals and groups identify with the past is often a very complex act and probably should be approached from a more sophisticated set of assumptions. Such language works to stymie discussion rather than to to encourage it. It also seems to me to be unrealistic to suggest that public spaces ought to be devoid of all monuments. If we as individuals are hard-wired and/or have a need to remember the past than it seems obvious that as communities we would be pushed in the same direction. It seems to me that the interesting question is how best to go about that given the politics involved and the divisiveness of the enterprise.

  • Jim Mar 21, 2009 @ 11:31

    Guys, I’m not saying every white living in the South revelled in their experience, but we could say the exact same about Union monuments and their local populations. We could even say that about Vietnam or other American experiences.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the majority of native-born white southern population would be opposed to any alteration of existing Confederate monuments in their community, particularly those who are descendants of soldiers in that war. Furthermore, in the second paragraph of my last comment, I suggest that even if a particular historical monument represents a minority view or memory, that it be allowed to stand unless it is, God forbid, publicly agreed to disregard both history and commemoration of sacrifice.

    Given the way the war ended with all southern soldiers allowed to go home and become citizens again, does any discussion of altering monuments erected by those who returned home have merit? I’m simply arguing that it doesn’t.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 21, 2009 @ 12:34


      You said: “I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the majority of native-born white southern population would be opposed to any alteration of existing Confederate monuments in their community, particularly those who are descendants of soldiers in that war.” This still doesn’t help me. Once again you assume a consensus view of what the Civil War meant to those who fought it and for their descendants. The evidence suggests that the war meant different things to different people.

      I do agree that our tendency to imagine white Northerners as unified during the war years is a gross distortion and one that is probably easily reinforced given United States victory. Still, there is nothing equivalent to Confederate monument building after the war in the North. However, the commemoration of Lincoln through monuments does provide some comparison. While Lincoln statues that emphasize the theme of the “great emancipator” have not been challenged, there has been a sustained attack or corrective to this overly-simplistic image. In my mind this is a good thing since it has led to a much more sophisticated understanding of Lincoln’s role in emancipation, which has been encouraged primarily by professional historians.

      • Robert Moore Mar 21, 2009 @ 13:00

        “Once again you assume a consensus view of what the Civil War meant to those who fought it and for their descendants.”

        Yes, and it gets even more complicated when people today get their wires crossed in remembering one way while the facts say something entirely different. The most extreme situations I have seen are where modern folks recall their ancestors as being hard-fighting Confederates when, in fact, they were Union soldiers. I didn’t go looking for it, but encountered it on more than one occasionduring my “dedicated to little else but Confederate remembrance years.” It only served to help alter my views on the war and the people in it. Likewise, there is a great deal of misunderstanding about the service of some men in the Confederate army, especially when it comes to militia, reserves, and the situation with conscription… far too much to write about in a comment.

        As for the Union monuments, I’m not so sure Kevin. I was stunned (emphasis on “stunned”) by the number of monuments I came across this summer in New England and New York. It amazed me and I wish I had taken more photos. Some truly wonderful artwork. Nonetheless, I’m not so sure remembrance in the North can be put on the level as the South; more importantly, I can’t see that remembrance of a unified Union eclipsed all else as the mythological “memory” of a unified Confederacy did in the South.

        • Kevin Levin Mar 21, 2009 @ 13:14

          I was much too quick with that one. Thanks for calling me on it. Most of what I’ve seen in the North has been the standard soldier monuments, though there are no doubt some more elaborate sites. Of course, I wholeheartedly agree with your final point, which is what I meant to say. Thanks.

          • Robert Moore Mar 21, 2009 @ 13:40

            Not a problem. I think until I made the trip, I would have never realized there were so many. It also seems somewhat strange and sad considering the way that the memory of the war has been so sidelined in the North.

  • Robert Moore Mar 21, 2009 @ 11:06

    “My guess is that these monuments do not reflect the viewpoint of all whites given the pervasiveness of Unionism in certain parts of the South during the war.”

    Kevin, This is better than a guess and in adition to Southern Unionists, there were other whites (indifferent civilians, disaffected Confederates, disillusioned Confederates, and etc. ) who I am sure did not feel that these monuments reflected their experience in the history of the Civil War. The obliteration/eclipsing of their history by one version of Southern history alone, in my opinion, was a part of the first real “political correctness” to touch the history of the South in the war.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 21, 2009 @ 11:08

      Absolutely Robert. I was trying to be tactful with Jim. His comment reflects a tendency among many in assuming a monolithic or consensus view among white Southerners regardless of whether we are talking about the past or present.

  • Jim Mar 21, 2009 @ 10:38

    “Love the pride of the conquered nations, and leave them to honour their father and their mother.” – Isak Dinesen

    It’s saddening to even consider removing the history of a state owing to non-native and minority opinions for progressive political purposes. I’m trying to discover similar efforts to dislodge other “controversial” monuments such as those memorializing the destruction of Native Americans and I can’t find serious public controversy there. Perhaps it is because there are so few Natives left. Regardless, it is a shame and an eyesore to try and overwhelm limited public spaces with competing monuments.

    Even if changing demographics impact opinions regarding cultural and historical monuments and symbols, those enlightening objects should be protected as say one would want to protect the Christian minority in a Muslim region. And discourse about them should include educating the public about America’s slavery within a global context including the period-specific Constitutionality of slavery and the economic purposes responsible for their demand. In addition, objective instruction on the natural reasons for soldiers resisting invasion as well as the right to remember ancestors.

    If we look at the response to the election of the recent administration which is necessarily hostile to the Second Amendment, the reaction was to purchase firearms in record numbers. Similarly, trying to erase historical commemoration is akin to denying the local populations, or at least the founding citizen’s, their cultural identification and memory and will be met further entrenchment.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 21, 2009 @ 10:58


      1. It is an assumption on your part to assume that those individuals who wish certain monuments to be removed are “non-native” or from a “minority.” You have demonstrated no proof of this.
      2. It’s important to keep in mind that few people seem to go as far as to call for the erasing of certain historical sites. Finally, it is a mistake to assume that the “local population” is on of one opinion on these issues. Most Civil War monuments were erected at a time when whites controlled local government, which reflected their preferred interpretation. My guess is that these monuments do not reflect the viewpoint of all whites given the pervasiveness of Unionism in certain parts of the South during the war.

  • Robert Moore Mar 21, 2009 @ 5:37

    “Ultimately, we have to want to talk to one another or perhaps we must first learn how to do so.”

    In that one sentence, I think you make an incredible point. In the end, however, I think that public discourse on a grand scale will continue to be stymied because of the various beliefs held by so many… and that is by no means limited to the new era Confederate remembrance people. More importantly, I think that the tenacity with which people hold “ground” because of these beliefs is actually the greater challenge to overcome. If we are to succeed to some degree in this pursuit of grand public discourse, much in the way that we pursue objectivity (which is not attainable in some pure state, but is good as a “pursuit” in our conveyance of history because it is a reminder of our bias), we must also pursue history (and convince others to do the same) on the grounds that people of the era must be understood in terms of multiple possibilities. They are far fewer absolutes than many want to believe. Despite our hopes for such things, I have to wonder sometimes if this is a Quixotic quest.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 21, 2009 @ 5:42


      I think we are pretty much in agreement.

    • Greg Rowe Mar 21, 2009 @ 8:17

      I think it is encouraging the way students in the classroom, both Kevin’s and mine, are, at least at this point in their lives, not coming to the study of history with preconceived ideas about what specific issues might mean. If we can continue to reach future leaders, historians and teachers, not to mention that our students are average citizens who discuss these issues, the open discourse may get better. I can only hope, like you and Kevin, but I see the current crop of students as a place to begin.

      • Kevin Levin Mar 21, 2009 @ 8:25


        And that’s what makes the teaching of history so rewarding. We don’t have to resign ourselves to sitting on the sidelines and whining about society. We can use our classrooms to help shape the kind of public discourse that a democracy permits.

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