One of my favorite places to take students in Charlottesville was the University of Virginia’s Confederate Cemetery. It was a short walk and it allowed me to talk about wartime hospitals as well as postwar mourning and the evolution of the Lost Cause. I encouraged my students to look at and think about the headstones and to pick up trash. The men were buried in long trenches and when the cemetery was dedicated there were no individual headstones. That gradually changed and in recent years the local SCV has organized to order new markers from the federal government. The project continues, in part, with the financial support of the federal government. It’s a program that I contributed to on more than once occasion while in Charlottesville.
This program was the subject of a recent editorial in the Atlantic by Steven Weiss. It smacks of the same selective outrage that colored another recent editorial by Jamie Malanowski, who called for the re-naming of federal forts named after Confederate generals.
While I have some of the same worries expressed by Andy Hall as well as the concern that this program is providing headstones for black Confederate (slaves), overall, I am not troubled one bit. I certainly don’t harbor the level of paranoia expressed by Edward Sebesta, who is quoted extensively in the piece. Sebesta once again offers little more than the same tired and baseless generalizations about Southerners, who wish to remember and commemorate those who fought for the Confederacy.
What is left completely un-analyzed is the story’s tagline: “Taxpayers now pay more to maintain rebel graves and monuments than those honoring Union soldiers.” Why is that? It seems to me that the more interesting story is why we don’t have the equivalent in the North of a small, but devoted group that is committed to remembering the men who paid with their lives so that the Union would survive.
Update: Robert Moore reminds me of the small, but active Sons of Union Veterans as well as the obvious point that the federal government maintains a number of cemeteries devoted to Union dead in places like Fredericksburg, Petersburg, Andersonville, etc. It suggests that the claim that more federal money is spent on Confederate grave markers rests on slim evidence indeed.