Do Gettysburg’s Confederate Monuments Perpetuate the Lost Cause?

Tomorrow I head to Gettysburg to do a little research and on Saturday will give a talk at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg on the ongoing controversy surrounding Civil War monuments. Of course, I plan on spending some time on the battlefield.

Here are a couple of questions that I will likely be thinking about:

Any thoughts?

11 comments… add one
  • Kristoffer Apr 20, 2017 @ 7:36

    “Do Gettysburg’s Confederate Monuments Perpetuate the Lost Cause?”
    Gettysburg Military Park sure is perpetuating the Lost Cause:
    The photos speak for themselves.

  • Dudley Bokoski Apr 19, 2017 @ 17:32

    1. I’m not sure they do, but I may misunderstand your question. The Faulkner lines are an example of the literary tradition which would include the St. Crispin’s Day speech in Henry V, Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade”, or the works of unknown early Greeks. I don’t think they were directly intended to create a myth. My perception is the Confederate monuments are more about pride of place in battle in that they tend to be oriented towards individual states who often had rivalries with each other. Not until you get to Wilfred Sassoon in WW1 do you start to see a counterweight to that sort of literary tone regarding combat.

    2. Changes the tone. Had they been unit markers they would have been more informational and less heroic. And smaller, because the areas a regiment came from wouldn’t have had the financial resources to make markers on a grand scale.

    3. Given the controversies over positions I think locating markers at the units furthest point of advance would have been problematic. It is worth remembering the sentiment after the war was that monuments should visually orient visitors as to the general direction of the lines of advance across the three days along the path of the roads running through the battlefield. Precision in placing the monuments would have disrupted what planners were trying to accomplish.

    4. I don’t think so. The heroic nature of the defense was well known and the 72nd Pennsylvania monument conveys it well. And I’m forgetting the date the diorama was completed and toured the country, but those scenes really gave a sense of the severity of the third day’s fighting and were well known.

    5. The “Lost Cause mystique” is not an easy concept to quantify (maybe it’s one of those things people feel they know when they see it). Logically it would seem you would have to separate where monuments and commemorations, which were numerous after the war in the north and south, began to diverge regionally to create a narrative. Within a single battlefield you will often find monuments that are part of that equation and many more that are simply the sort of commemoration you would have expected to see at that point in history. And you’re left with the problem that often what is being commemorated is heroism and sacrifice within the context of a war that was a defining event for everyone who lived through the era. We should remember the fact the war was an event almost beyond comprehension that shook and shaped everyone north and south who lived through the era. In addition to myth making it is reasonable to think much of how the war was commemorated was an attempt to emotionally come to terms with almost unfathomable carnage.

    My question would be whether within a generation we’ll have people questioning the existence of Civil War monuments on Civil War battlefields, or even the parks themselves? I remember the remarks of an academic recently about battlefield preservation with regard to a Revolutionary War site which said such preservation “fetishized” war. The emphasis on STEM in schools is such that knowledge of history will continue to decline and with it understanding of why these commemorations exist in the first place. Who knows how these movements will evolve.

  • Bob Huddleston Apr 19, 2017 @ 5:44

    To have allowed monuments to be placed where the Confederates thought they reached rather than their jumping off point would have led to horrendous fight between the Yankee and Rebel veterans, with lots of hard feelings. A good discussion of this is Glenn W. LaFantasie, _Gettysburg Requiem: The Life and Lost Causes of Confederate Colonel William C. Oates_ (NY: 2006). Oates fought hard to have his advance marked within the lines of the 20th Maine and Chamberlain fought as hard to deny Oates.

    Let us not forget the two armies spent perhaps 3 or 4 days there in 1863, among the chaos and noise and confusion and smoke of a battle, then did not return for 20 or more years. After visiting the Visitor Center and driving the battle field using the NPS maps, the average non-Civil Warrior tourist knows more about the geography of Gettysburg than did the 1863 soldier.

    • Kevin Levin Apr 19, 2017 @ 5:47

      I agree that suggestions such as what I outlined did, in fact, lead to a great deal of ill will. The broader point of my question was simply to acknowledge the lay of the commemorative landscape as it is today and how it shapes how we think about the battle.

  • Bob Huddleston Apr 19, 2017 @ 5:27

    It has been a while since I drove/walked Confederate Avenue but my memory is the ones erected for the Centennial did perpetuate not only States Rights but the idea secession was caused by everything except slavery.

    • Kevin Levin Apr 19, 2017 @ 5:31

      You are correct.

  • Christopher Apr 19, 2017 @ 5:06

    Your second and third questions on twitter do have a NC answer (of course!). The 26th NCST has two monuments at Gettysburg. One of which is at the Angle and purports to mark the “fartherest to the front” claimed by NC – one plank of the NC version of the Lost Caused. These monuments were placed in 1985 (what one employee, who helped place the markers, describes as the final act of the 1913 Gettysburg monument commission).

    This monument is the literal written in stone (or brass) defense of NC’s Five Points in the War – against claims by Virginia of having been “fartherest at Gettysburg” (which was a big fight at the end of the 19th and into the early 20th Century). NC goes so far as point out that down the battle line to the left of the Angle the Union line actually runs slightly backward and the NC units on the far left, where many dead men lay outside the Union defense line, were actually closer (farther) than those at the Angle. Those men on the left get no love, evidently, in today’s discussions.

    There is some dispute over where the 26th was – at the marker or slightly left of that position across from a NJ unit. The description used to place the marker was, I believe, from a Union soldier. Suggesting that since it was a Union soldier it was unbiased as to what unit was destroyed by the cannon.

    The answer to four is yes. Catherine Bishir, in writing about monuments in public space, details how claiming that public space is powerful and the message it sends. We see how the people of Charlottesville are reclaiming that public space, taking that power back and changing the power of a Confederae legacy in public space.

    After reading Reardon and Gallagher and looking into the whole exchange between Christain (VA guy who made claims in favor of VA soldiers – maybe Judge Christain) and NC Five Points (rebuttal to Christain) I make the leap of connecting the monuments to this argument. The NC monument at Appomattox (the sarcophagus) is of this flavor as is the monument to Henry Lawson Wyatt (first to die in combat) at Bethel. The monuments at Chicamauga also fall into this same support of the written arguments made in Five Points. Although I should say the men who wrote the essays for Five Points would say they were merely documenting the actions of these brave men – after all Esse Quam Videri. No boasting, only stating facts.

  • Bob Beatty Apr 19, 2017 @ 2:50

    In Jill Titus’s piece in History News last fall she discusses some of these questions and a few others as well. You might want to revisit that.

    • Kevin Levin Apr 19, 2017 @ 2:51

      Yes. Thanks for the reminder. Excellent piece.

  • B Wetherington Apr 19, 2017 @ 2:28

    The Confederate monuments remind us of how many and how willing people are to suffer and/or die for a cause that is not in their best interests. Also how easily (just as now) people believe that aristocrats (slave owners in the antebellum South and billionaires in current America) will do things for the greater good and the plain people submit to their false reasoning and their lies.

    • Kevin Levin Apr 19, 2017 @ 2:34

      Thanks for the comment, but I think this too easily dismisses how people viewed the war and its cause. Are we going to conclude next that we are all pawns in a massive scheme perpetuated by the wealthy and powerful?

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