Gettysburg’s Confederate Monuments and a Taoist Ceremony

I planned to spend most of today writing, but the weather is so nice here in Gettysburg that I decided to spend a couple of hours on the battlefield. I spent most of my time along Confederate Avenue.

Our first stop is the North Carolina Monument:

Mandatory stop at the Virginia Monument:

The Florida Monuments gets so little attention:

The Louisiana Monument is impressive:

…That’s OK because African Americans largely stayed away from Gettysburg. They continue to do so today. Ever wonder why?

And then there is South Carolina. Too small…

That was to be the end of my little tour until I drove by the Pennsylvania monument, where I witnessed an incredibly moving ceremony. This group of Daoists came all the way from Taiwan to perform one of their most sacred ceremonies in commemoration of the dead. I struck up a conversation with a Chinese-American woman who just happened to be touring the battlefield for the first time with her family. She explained some of the details of the ceremony, though it was clear that she was both visibly surprised and moved by the ceremony.

Unfortunately, not all of the visitors were pleased to see this particular group. I overheard a number of people express shock and disappointment that the National Park Service would allow this sacred ground to be desecrated. One man in particular asked if they had a permit. They did not, but I shared what I learned that this particular ceremony was intended to honor the dead. He would have none of it. He responded “the law is the law” and proceeded to call the NPS headquarters.

Within about 15 minutes security arrived. A few of us were concerned that we were about to witness an unfortunate case of cultural misunderstanding, but the officer did a great job of handling the situation. He requested that the group cover the alcohol that was used for the ceremony and gave the group another 20 minutes to conclude their service. I applaud the NPS’s security team for the way this was handled.

I have to say that this was one of the most beautiful and moving ceremonies that I have ever witnessed on any Civil War battlefield. What a great day.

18 thoughts on “Gettysburg’s Confederate Monuments and a Taoist Ceremony

  1. Carl Sell

    You have fallen prey to the notion that Confederates mainly fought to preserve slavery. My great grandfather was wounded in Pickett’s Charge. He was an illiterate farmer from southern Virginia. He had no slaves (I looked it up), but I bet he was worried about an invader taking his land, such as it was! Don’t judge the past by today’s opinions.

    I already receive your comments.

    Carl Sell

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Every Confederate fought for a government that was committed to establishing a slaveholding republic. Yes, they all fought for slavery regardless of whether they owned slaves or not.

      Reply
    2. Msb

      I fell prey to that notion because the secession documents say just that, real clearly. I’ll take their word about their aims over anyone else’s.

      Reply
  2. Al Mackey

    I’m not surprised to hear about the sensitivity and understanding displayed by the LE ranger at Gettysburg NMP. I’m at the park a lot, and I have nothing but great things to say about the entire staff there. They are great folks who have been well trained.

    Reply
  3. Rob Wick

    Kevin,

    At the risk of putting words in this guy’s mouth, did you get the feeling that his real concern was the group’s ethnicity, and he was using the permit issue as a smokescreen? Were you able to see his reaction to the sensible reaction of the NPS?

    Best
    Rob

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Short answer: OH HELL YES. 🙂

      I immediately put some distance between us. He left before the NPS arrived.

      Reply
  4. Daniel Vermilya

    Wanted to share this recent post on the Gettysburg NMP blog on the Florida monument and its dedication in 1963. Provides more context on it, as well as the dedication remarks by Congressman Sam Gibbons. You mention the freedom riders above, and Gibbons’s speech discusses the Civil Rights movement as well. Thought it would be of interest.

    https://npsgnmp.wordpress.com/2017/09/19/the-florida-monument-at-gettysburg-the-complicated-legacies-of-the-civil-war/

    Reply
  5. Ryan A

    I have to ask, why would a mention of the experience of the Brian family be appropriate on the interpretive marker at the NC memorial? Is there not already an interpretive marker at the Brian farm that details how the family left Gettysburg prior to the Confederate advance on the town and their subsequent struggles? Other than mentioning that the farm buildings were a guide for the advancing rebel column, I’m not sure that a discussion of the Brian family’s race or the mother’s status as an ex-slave better explains the position of the North Carolinians, Mississippians, etc. who were stationed there on July 2nd and 3rd. I likewise wouldn’t expect a wayside marker near the VA memorial to expound on the Widow Liester’s family history since the house itself is nearly a mile to the east.

    Perhaps a more appropriate change to the marker would be to mention the black laborers and body servants attached to those NC regiments who no doubt were engaged in servile or support duties while the white soldiers were waiting to advance – since I’m not aware of any mention of these men on any battlefield.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Perhaps this post will help to clarify my thinking. I am looking for ways to deepen our understanding of how these monuments shape our understanding of the battle and the war.

      Reply
      1. fundrums

        I just thought that was funny as your post is on Gettysburg. On a more serious note, I would like to know what other foreign groups travel to Gettysburg in order to pay homage in their own unique way. I would think it would be extremely honorable and respectful of the ground as they selected it for their ceremonies.

        – Michael Aubrecht

        Reply
  6. Ron Walker

    Kevin:

    You are a freak. With that said, it’s least you have been consistent over time.

    Keep your freak on, Kevin.

    Best Regards,

    Ron Walker

    Reply

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