Remembering War as Reconciliation

Gary Casteel’s latest creation was recently unveiled in the new extension of the Virginia Capitol.  The sculpture is titled, “Brothers”, and depicts a reunion of two brothers following the heat of battle.  My problem with this piece is not that it fails to capture documented meetings between brothers and family members on the battlefield, but that it plays on our need to see the war and all of its bloodshed and violence as somehow washed away through reconciliation and reunion.  Simply put, it doesn’t push me to reflect about our past and that is what an important piece of public art ought to do.

What do you think?

35 thoughts on “Remembering War as Reconciliation

  1. Rob

    I could not agree more. Pieces such as this seem to solidify some of David W. Blight’s arguments in “Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory.” (http://thehistoricstruggle.blogspot.com/2011/01/book-review-race-and-reunion-civil-war.html, http://www.amazon.com/Race-Reunion-Civil-American-Memory/dp/0674003322). Onlookers will have the emotional state of “all’s well that ends well,” without taking the time to realize what the war was and in some cases still is. I wonder what the reaction would be if the soldier as holding his dead brother from across the battlefield.

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  2. Marianne Davis

    This IS the way most Americans remember the war – terrible, but over. Indeed, it is the way we were trained to remember it. The nation was torn apart, the nation has knit itself back together. As Blight points out, this Reconciliationism was the way that white America, North and South, could so conveniently forget the plight of their African-American countrymen for the ensuing century. Social justice, never much of a driving force for the majority of the country, would have interfered with reconciliation (and with business), so it was ignored. Blight’s book, as Rob points out, posits there were four post-war schools of thought; The Lost Cause – see SCV et al, Emancipation – see NAACP, Unionism – which has all but disappeared, and Reconciliation – which won. South Africa had a Truth and Reconciliation program, we skipped right to the reconciliation. So much faster, no?

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    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Hi Marianne,

      I tend to agree with the thrust of your comment, but I also believe that Blight goes too far in stressing the extent to which social justice/race was ignored. My larger concern is the danger of downplaying or ignoring the depth of hatred for a nation that has been at war in recent years.

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      1. Marianne Davis

        I wonder that you, Kevin, reading the comments that come across your blog some days, can be concerned that anyone might ignore or downplay hatred. Hatred is alive and well and trading under a number of new names.

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      2. Mary Ellen

        I’ve always found Blight’s account an important and persuasive one. I don’t understand you to be saying you disagree with him, but that he might be discounting evidence of that social justice concerns persisted in the “reconcilation” period, at least in some quarters. Can you point me to sources you might have in mind on this point?

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  3. Margaret D. Blough

    It doesn’t do anything for me in that regard, and that’s painful to say. Gary’s a good friend of mine (although, artistically, it’s excellent). It’s also ironic because I got to know Gary during the campaign to raise money to put an equestrian statue of Longstreet at GNMP. Longstreet, who accepted Reconstruction and involvement of blacks as citizens (I’m not saying he believe in equality; he didn’t but he accepted what, if his view had prevailed, would have given Blacks entree into the political system that they would have built on), had his reputation destroyed for over a century by Lost Causers as a result.

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      1. Margaret D. Blough

        Another in your plus column with me! I really like it too. The whole Longstreet Memorial Fund experience was remarkable. It was a broad, very inclusive experience. A friend of mine and I used to joke with Robert Thomas, the man who got the whole thing started and the head of the Longstreet Memorial Fund (LMF), that we headed the Unionist Abolitionists for Longstreet section of the LMF. Robert loved it.. Some people don’t like the fact that the equestrian statue does not rest on a pedestal. Some of us joked that, if there HAD been a pedestal, Longstreet would have found some way of climbing down off it. The LMF didn’t shy away from the complexities of Longstreet’s life during and after the war. This isn’t remarkable since Robert got the inspiration for the project from reading William Garrett Piston’s “Lee’s Tarnished Lieutenant”. Bill gave a great speech at the statue’s dedication that included the line, “NOTHING could be more fitting then, that this statue of James Longstreet that we dedicate today rest not on a pedestal of myth and marble, but on the solid ground of reality.” While the LMF committee members all came out of the North Carolina SCV which supported the project, so far as I know, none now belong. The NC SCV resisted strenuously the takeover of the SCV by League of the South types. As a result, the LMF committee members that I knew either left an organization that they could no longer support or were kicked out by the new leadership

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        1. Andy Hall

          The NC SCV resisted strenuously the takeover of the SCV by League of the South types.

          Those North Carolina folks always were suspicious of the fire-eaters.

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  4. Ken

    Though I am certainly no connoisseur of fine art, including sculpture, I think that this work conveys the tragedies experienced by families who fought alongside one another and against one another. Are the subjects of this work reconciling on the battlefield? Maybe. More than that, I think it conveys the impact of their decisions of having picked up their muskets in the first place.

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    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      I think that is the nature of art. Each of us are impacted differently and assess accordingly. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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      1. Ken

        Thank you for having the Civil War Memory website to host the dialogue. I check it about daily and have for a couple of years now. I am not as familiar with battlefield reconciliations. You had mentioned documented meetings on the battlefield. Which ones refute this statue’s suggestions? Do any lend it any credence?

        It looks like you are finding some leads in Boston! Enjoy!

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  5. Karl Gottschalk

    It was important to the nation to stress reconciliation after the Civil War. Remember the lines from Lincoln’s second inaugural: “With malice toward none, with charity for all…” Our country would not be what it is had the Union not won the Civil War, but reconciliation was also necessary. That being said, it is very unfortunate that true civil rights for all were delayed for a hundred years after the war ended — and some would say are still not available today. But I do not believe that reconciliation and equal rights for ex-slaves were mutually exclusive. We as a nation could have had both with the right leadership.

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    1. Will Stoutamire

      Karl, this is where I would recommend David Blight’s Race and Reunion, referenced above, if you have not read it. While certainly other historical examples show that reconciliation and equal rights do not have to be mutually exclusive, Blight does an excellent job, in my opinion, of showing how that was primarily the course taken after the Civil War. Part of the problem, if I may take from your comment, was the definition of “nation” after the war. Who made up the “nation”? – if the “nation” (read: whites, North and South) stressed reconciliation, it was unfortunately much to the detriment of what Blight calls the “emancipationist” narrative upheld by many black Americans.

      A different way to look at this question is to trace the history of black veterans in the Grand Army of the Republic, particularly in the South. Donald Shaffer has done a great deal of work in this area recently and I’ve done a little more specific research on the history of the GAR posts in Louisiana and Mississippi. As the war receded into the distance, it is interesting to read the encampment records and see black veterans voicing anger at their increasing disenfranchisement within the group – calls were even made by some white Union veterans in LA/MS to create a segregated all-black “Department of the South” specifically so that their ex-Confederate neighbors would be more welcoming of them. Over time, these black veterans were forced out of official memorial day ceremonies and replaced by ex-Confederates, almost one for one. It’s an area that needs more study, as it sheds a lot of light onto how, unfortunately, reconciliation and equal rights were made mutually exclusive, at least in much of the South, even if they didn’t necessarily have to be.

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        1. Will Stoutamire

          Peter, thanks, I’ll take a look at it. From what little I can glean from Amazon, Gannon seems to focus mainly on the integrated Northern posts – which would complicate Blight’s narrative a bit, for certain. I’ll be interested to see how she deals with the Southern posts, however, where the black experience was sometimes very, very different (and, perhaps, more reinforcing of Blight’s original argument).

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    2. Margaret D. Blough

      Karl, It is very important to read the Second Inaugural as a whole. The line you quote was preceded by a paragraph on slavery and the Civil War. That paragraph ended with these lines, which, to me, indicate that Lincoln did not mean for the language you quoted to include exclusion of blacks from its message of reconciiliation:

      >>Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said f[our] three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether”<<

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  6. Emmanuel Dabney

    My problem with this statue (beyond the lack of any connection to post-war equality struggles) is connected in larger part to what I think is Kevin’s point: Americans became bitter enemies in this period. Scores of Northern people literally hated Southerners and scores of Southerners literally hated Northerners. You can see some of this separatist feeling in the voices of youthful Virginians studied by Peter Carmichael in his work “The Last Generation” as early as the 1850s. Some people in both sections of this country never felt reconciled, never embraced the splintered party from the majority of the family who picked one side over the other. I just finished reading the diary of a North Carolina planter’s wife who had her struggles with emancipation but also boycotted a family member’s wedding because of his switch to the Republican party after the war. She continued to believe in the ability of the Confederacy, support Jefferson Davis, rail again Braxton Bragg’s military abilities, etc. even in 1866.

    While I think most Americans in 2011 have “gotten over” the war, I think this statue and other reconcilationist measures fail to explore how the Civil War generation may or may not have come to this moment. These statues and oft-told stories in many ways ignore the bitterness people felt which created battlefield casualties, split families apart, and generated decades of post-war hatred.

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    1. Richard

      Certainly many people from both sides hated each other and perhaps never forgave the other side, but that was not the only feeling or emotion that existed. There were those who did “get over it” perhaps even during the war and especially after it.

      In terms of what the statues or pieces of art explore, maybe they’re not meant to explore feelings of hatred or bitterness. Is it wrong to have a work that does not address those issues? I guess if the artist’s purpose was to provide a perspective of the Civil War overall, then perhaps so, but if the artist wanted to focus on his view of a reconciliation theme, is it fair to criticize the piece for failing to explore avenues it was not intended to explore?

      Perhaps the issue is the lack of art that tries to explore that side of the war. Are there many (any) such works? I imagine that would be tough for an artist to create, but maybe that’s an area open for interpretation through works like this one.

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  7. Tim

    The statue looks like something you might see in California or Massachusetts promoting a same sex marriage law.

    What would really be moving is a depiction of one brother realizing he just shot the heart out of the back of the other with a half inch ounce of lead at a hundred yard velocity the same as a 357 magnum pistol bullet. Now that would make an impression. All you would have to do is drill a hole in one and make sure the viewer could easily see light through it. Now that would be a real piece of artwork worthy of display next to the Mona Lisa.

    Too bad the french could not care less. They would love the same sex marriage idea though.

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  8. Dudley Bokoski

    A better subject for the statue would have been a brother finding his brother on the other side dead on the field of battle, an experience much closer to the reality of the war. On the other hand I believe soldiers, more than the general population, were in favor of reconciliation. At the least, they made a distinction between governments and causes and individuals, having been united in some sense by the experience of war.

    Perhaps the better way to describe the statue is overly sentimental. But we do romanticize and seek higher emotions. The Lincoln of the Lincoln memorial is not the Lincoln who suspended the writ of habeas corpus, nor should it be. And you couldn’t very well find support for a statue where one brother is clubbing the other to death with his musket. Reality is a good thing, taken in moderation.

    As for Longstreet, his post war associations may have soured some Southerners, but I believe his character is the reason many southerners did not, and do not, have a fondness for him. A Longstreet statue is a difficult thing, as capturing sulking in bronze is such a difficult thing to accomplish.

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    1. Margaret D. Blough

      Dudley-The sulking thing is Lost Cause mythology. Lee was very good at quietly getting rid of commanders who did not meet his standards. He didn’t arrange to have Longstreet sent west. That had been in the cards for sometime. He wanted Longstreet back & welcomed him back. Even though McLaws friends in Richmond absolved him of Longstreet’s charges, it was McLaws that Lee had sent elsewhere. When Longstreet was wounded at the Wilderness, he gave Lee the opening of Longstreet not returning if Lee didn’t think him fit. Lee again welcomed Longstreet back and had even sent him a horse that was easier for Longstreet to ride with his paralyzed arm.. Even by Pendleton’s own account, at the end, when the senior officers felt the time had come to consider surrender, he asked Longstreet to be the one to approach Lee. I’ve heard it said that Longstreet hated & resented Lee. Are you aware that James & Louise Longstreet named the first child that they had after losing the 3 in the scarlet fever epidemic Robert Lee Longstreet, who the family called Lee.

      The attacks on Longstreet started while he was being called a race traitor. The initial salvo from Pendleton & Early, the dawn attack order canard was so bogus that even Lee’s adoring aides rebutted it as did Lafayette McLaws who, at that pont, was still not on speaking terms with Longstreet.

      The post-war attacks on Longstreet’s associations WERE attacks on his character and focused as much or more on misrepresenting his war record as discussing his post-war record. They could not afford to have a senior Confederate general supporting Reconstruction and political rights for blacks. They had to discredit him. His aides and his corps never turned their backs on him, though.

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  9. Tim

    Pete was the general who went all the way through the whole thing completely. He only missed Spotsylvania Court House and Cold Harbor which is excusable due to his service prior to that. He even took a hit in the neck probably by New Yorkers. Only a few corp commanders on both sides had that honor.

    He completely out performed Stonewall in the first great battle for Lee and received his reward for doing so. Old Blue Light left Richmond with far fewer brigades under his authority than Pete and took Little Powell with him. Hill was fortunate Lee did not sack his favorite patrician. Longstreet would have been justified in landing five between the eyes of AP. If Hill had not done so well under the command of Longstreet during the Seven Days his rise to corps command the following year, after working for Jackson, would not have happened. Jackson even had to shame him more than once to avoid having to give him five across his lips.

    However he would have been better served in his autobiography to admit the logistical timing at Gettysburg was in his favor initially.

    He could have railed about Picketts (and Pettigrews)Charge all he pleased and made his point justly.

    He might even have been well served for posterity to clarify the dangers of moving the army in the face of a large hostile force defending his home ground. Lee was fully aware of what a bone headed stunt that would have been. Lee also knew McLaws was not in position to make a dawn attack. Hood was already there but had not been there long enough to rest enough to amount to anything.

    Sykes was out of position and VI Corps was hiking through the country side. Old Pete had access to most of the necessary information while writing that bio even though it was not in a final form.

    Gettysburg was inevitable after Longstreet crossed the Potomac. It made no difference when Stuart crossed or where he crossed it.

    The only mistake Ewell made was riding his horse from town to the tent of Lee and begging to have Johnson back under his command.

    That was where Lee began to error in his plan of attack. He also lost initiative after daybreak when things should have been further along. Johnson was strung out of pocket at Culps Hill to be used as a diversion by Ewell. Ding dong. Wrong answer.

    Mclaws should have been in line of battle before noon. Longstreet would have been much better served in history if he had written that in his autobiography. All the post war stuff is foolishness. Early had an amazing record as a division commander similar to the long record of battle stars Pete had, but he definitely should have kept his mouth shut since Lee needed no defense from Longstreet from that foul mouthed “bad old man”. Another mistake Lee made was not sending Pendleton to an old folks home or Texas although a minor mistake at that since his lieutenants just needed to ignore him.

    Longstreet did very well at Gettysburg under the circumstances. He covered for the mistakes of Lee. It was not the corp commanders fault. Old Pete also knew it was a mistake for Hood to move too far right. He may not have known why but he knew it was not good. It was not wrong at the time but it was definitely not good.

    The plan of attack had gone sour, obviously, at that point. Sykes was not supposed to be there. That is what Hood found out too late. Late is the operative word here.

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    1. Dudley Bokoski

      Lee did hold Longstreet in esteem personally and professionally and the historical record is quite clear on that point, both during and after the war. And therein lies a telling commentary on Longstreet, the man. In his postwar writings he returned Lee’s kindness by accusing him of giving A.P. Hill the Third Corp over McLaws only because Hill was a Virginian, attempting to picture himself (Longstreet) as having received negotiated promises about what sort of battle would be undertaken at Gettysburg, and accusing Lee of breaking his word, saying his own plans “would and could have saved every man lost at Gettysburg. All this only after Lee had died. It is well to note how shallow the waters of Longstreet’s affections ran during the war, a time when Longstreet desired most of all to be reunited with Joseph Johnston.

      Would Lee have defended Longstreet with regard to his politics? Longstreet came under criticism for advising acceptance of harsher terms of reconstruction in 1867 while Lee was alive and Lee did not defend Longstreet, likely because any controversy over Longstreet’s politics had not risen to the point of requiring any statement by Lee in either direction.

      After that, it becomes a chicken and egg question. I would agree Longstreet’s politics was a part of the equation, even a significant part, but I wonder how much of the attention called to them grew out of resentments engendered during the debate with Early and from Longstreet’s postwar writings.

      As to the question of sulking (and scheming), look to any contemporary account of day two and day three at Gettysburg. On the second day he pointlessly delayed his march, forbade McLaws from going forward to reconnoiter a position with one of Lee’s engineer staff, and failed to take the initiative by permitting a wider movement around the Union left (an adjustment which Jackson would surely have made). A reading of Porter Alexander’s account of Longstreet’s attempts to have Alexander order Pickett’s move forward is instructive, as are contemporary accounts from Lafayette McLaws and Cadmus Wilcox.

      Longstreet was man of great bravery on a battlefield and dark schemings away from it. Give him credit for his achievements, but give due consideration to his many self-inflicted wounds to his reputation, many of which were struck (and noticed) long before he became a Republican.

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      1. Margaret D. Blough

        Dudley-I’d love to debate this with you, but I think we’ve gone well beyond the topic of Kevin’s post. I would recomend to you William Garrett Piston’s “Lee’s Tarnished Lieutenant” on the post-war vendetta against Longstreet.

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  10. Tim

    Dudley,

    Very interesting contribution to the discussion. Well thought out with conviction. Good research too.

    Old Pete was definitely a man on an island. He lived to be just a few years short of 90. Jim Crow laws had already been passed and his post war. reputation including the fight in New Orleans with Confederate veterans while working for his old friend Sam Grant must have kept him in his Gainesville hotel more than might be considered normal. Lee had been dead for decades and it was imperative Longstreet do memoirs for posterity. If he really believed in crashing around Big Round Top blind with Hood to tangle with a fresh VI Corps in reserve it must have been because he was old and had too much of the squirrel gravy his young wife fixed him for supper. He stated it gave him indigestion.

    Birney and DeTrobriand would have given Kershaw and McLaws plenty of heartburn if that had been attempted. Maybe we are talking about earlier but Hood was in no position to have Law, Robertson, Benning and Anderson bypass Houks Ridge try something like that at 5:00 in the afternoon.

    Lee was tasked with putting enough pressure on Meade, Philadelphia, Lincoln, the northern governors and the powerful industrialists to force a settlement without losing the war in the attempt.

    The third day should have been spent traveling away from the AOP. Lee had no honest choice but to attack but if he had it to do over again he would have probably left a day early.

    Longstreet was spot on with that last day of fighting. It was a mistake to say the least. He also had the luxury of not having responsibility for the whole shooting match.

    Lee stayed with Old Pete for a reason. He was not suited for army command the way Jackson was. Hill certainly was not. I believe Hood would have made a much better corps commander under Lee than McLaws would have.

    I am also convinced there was in fact a lot of political consideration involved when it came to appointment of lieutenant generals in Richmond. Longstreet was the deep south appointment. Jackson had just died. Ewell did not have to be appointed but he was the logical choice for Second Corps over Early. Lee was definitely a Virginia patrician. Hill even more so. That carries weight in those situations. Little Powell only had competition as a division commander from Hood, McLaws, Harvey Hill, who had been moved west by Davis, and maybe Anderson prior to Gettysburg. A. P. Hill had everything going for him at the time except good physical health. He had a urinary tract condition dating back to a visit to New York City without adult supervision that if the rifle bullet had not taken his heart out, that would have stopped it soon enough.

    Lee had two choices at Gettysburg. Attack or maneuver and retreat. I am an idiot compared to Lee, but he should have done something different on July 2 and avoided what happened on the 3rd. He had no intention of moving back toward his supply lines on the 2nd but that would have been better than using an insufficient force then be faced with a last shot gamble on the 3rd. It all worked out for the best since that is what they came for. It just would have been better to have left a day or two early and hoped for another opportunity closer to Maryland and Virginia.

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    1. Dudley Bokoski

      I apologize for taking the discussion far afield far where it started, but I really have enjoyed reading the comments about Longstreet. The Civil War abounds with such interesting characters and Old Pete was surely one of them. Several years ago I visited his grave site in Gainesville and talked to some people in the area about his post war life. One story they told was of his last wife, Helen Dortch Longstreet, working at the age of 80 as a riveter at a plant in Marietta which made bombers in World War II.

      Tim-If McLaws had a chance at corp command he likely lost it at Salem Church. Lee was, according to McLaws, in ill humor on the 2nd and 3rd. Lee believed McLaws had been slow to arranging his troops and became irritated with him. Lee tended to have a preference for aggressive generals. McLaws, I believe, was at least as good a division commander as Hill because he was careful in his arrangements and took good care of his troops. Hill, though, was more aggressive and had the laurels of Antietam on his ledger. I think that is why Hill was chosen. (Squirrel gravy? Yikes!)

      Margaret-We may disagree about the sulking, but I agree with you Lee never wanted Longstreet out of the army and, in fact, was very emotional on greeting Longstreet’s return from Tennessee, evidencing great personal feeling for him. And, if you read Longstreet and Lee’s limited post war correspondence Lee is very solicitous of Longstreet’s health and personal circumstances. As for Appomattox, one of my favorite “what if’s” is what if Longstreet had shot Custer, which Longstreet threatened when Custer showed up in his camp during a flag of truce demanding Longstreet surrender to him. If he had shot him he could have saved Custer’s men at Little Big Horn.

      To return to the original topic, it is a fine statue and reminiscent of the Kirkland statue at Fredericksburg. But, I agree with Kevin, it is too romanticized and implies a sectional reunion much easier in bronze than in reality.

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  11. Tim

    Dudley,

    Hill P had Cedar Mountain a month before Antietam. He did the exact same thing there.

    If you have not already, read about the controversy between Pete and Powell in the Richmond newspapers after the Seven Days battles.

    If it were not true it would have to be made up. It was just too good. Also, too terribly interesting how Lee handled it.

    Also, I forgot to say previously what I thought about the promise Lee supposedly made about the static defensive similar to Fredricksburg. Meade had better sense in the first place, but to suggest Lee as commander in chief would submit to a subordinate corps commander when it came time to “make the call” in the heat of battle is something I find too preposterous to lose any sleep over.

    Regards

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  12. Vicki Betts

    I’ve recently come across “Address of W. S. Herndon to the Confederate Veterans, at Their Reunion in Tyler, Texas, Aug. 27, 1886,” which is my home town. Herndon served in the 13th Texas Infantry, mostly at Velasco on the coast. His wife owned five slaves and his father-in-law around 40. He was the first Democratic Congressman elected from our district at the close of Reconstruction, in a hotly contested race. This reunion evidently included some Union veterans, and was very much in a reconciliation tone. But there’s a part that I found very interesting: “But, after the lapse of years, and due consideration, I possess the most deliberate convictions concerning the Confederate government and its fundamental law. I believe that fundamental law was wrong. The very corner stone was laid upon a false, unnatural and treacherous foundation. That corner stone was _that absolute liberty and absolute slavery ought to exist, and should exist, by virtue of law and right in the Confederacy!_ Here, in my judgment, was a fundamental error so grave and fatal, that if we could have succeeded in establishing this government, we could not have maintained it without the force of arms. In a government of ten millions of people we proposed that six millions, and their descendents, should be perpetually free, and that four millions, and their children, should be slaves forever. And in the face of this illogical declaration two millions of men were called upon to defend and maintain that government. At this distance, and in the present advancement of civilization, it seems impossible that such a position was for a moment tenable. That good, conservative, stable government could be hoped for was a _non sequitur_. That ten millions of freemen and slaves could go on hand in hand in the race of life, and work out our true destiny in such a government seems preposterous. Liberty and slaves cannot exist long in the same government, in this age of learning and reason; they are antagonistic forces; one must of necessity yield to the other, sooner or later.”
    Lots more, including praise for Grant. Not what I was expecting in a speech before a Confederate reunion here in East Texas.

    Vicki Betts

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    1. Andy Hall

      That’s really interesting, although I gather that speech was well after his time in the House of Representatives. Here’s a picture. I think that seat’s now held by the one and only Louie Gohmert. Who says we Texans don’t have a sense of humor? [Bangs head on desk]

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      1. Vicki Betts

        Definitely after his term as Congressman ended in 1875. By then he was a railroad attorney, a temperance advocate, and quite wealthy. I think as much as anything his work with the railroads gave him a more national perspective. Three of his sons settled in Los Angeles, Kansas City, and New York City, respectively, and later the family would often vacation at Chautauqua, NY. His wife, Mary Louise McKellar Herndon, was a leading Texas suffragette by 1893, and two daughters and a niece after that. A rather interesting family.

        And yes, Louie Gohmert is our current Congressman.

        Vicki Betts

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  13. EarthTone

    I guess the mega-questions are, is failure to tell the whole truth equal to a lie; and is it ‘OK’ for an artist to focus on a partial truth?

    There was an aspect of reconciliation in the aftermath of the war. But we also understand that there was conflict as well. Anyone who knows history is aware that the Reconstruction era was one of the most divisive ‘peacetime’ periods in US history. The image of two men hugging, while it certainly occurred, took place in an atmosphere of extreme bitterness by ex-Confederates. This bitterness was directed at ‘carpetbaggers,’ ‘scalawags,’ and freemen/freedmen. Nobody was hugging them…

    Does the statue fail because it lacks a representation of the post-war acrimony we know existed? The answer is yes, IF images which portray that acrimony are not given equal space or notice in the public space. The omission of other, differing images creates an unbalanced and one-sided view of things that does injustice to the history. Note that, to the extent there is an omission, this is not the artist’s fault, but rather, the fault of those who control the public space where the work is displayed.

    I think the statue is OK as far as it goes (and the artist has the right to determine how far he or she wants to go in making a particular statement). But from a big-picture historical perspective, it doesn’t go far enough. Perhaps there are other artworks which provide additional context and depth about the history?

    - Alan

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