Category Archives: Civil War Memory Class

Please Accept Our Statue

0_61_statue_320The Sons of Confederate Veterans is still trying to find a home for their statue of Jefferson Davis and Jim Limber.  The statue, which cost $100,000, was originally planned for the grounds at Tredegar in Richmond next to the statue of Lincoln and his son Tad.  The American Civil War Museum accepted the statue, but made no promises as to whether it would be displayed and how.  Apparently, the SCV doesn’t know the first thing about how museums operate.  Now they are offering the statue to the state of Mississippi.  Good luck boys, but in this political climate my guess is that you don’t have a chance.  My offer still stands to use it in my classroom as an interpretive piece to help my students better understand the continued influence of the Lost Cause.  What do you say? We will take very good care of it.

Between the statue, their big ass Confederate flags flying over Southern highways, and their endorsement of a NASCAR driver, the SCV has demonstrated their commitment to wasting money and their inability to take Southern heritage seriously.

“Looking for Lincoln”

abraham-lincoln-statueI am pleased to see that the new PBS documentary, “Looking for Lincoln” is available for viewing on their website.  I’m not sure if this is the complete broadcast, but enough is included to give you a sense of the scope as well as content.  The program is divided into relatively small sections, which makes them ideal for classroom use.  My Civil War Memory class is getting ready to shift to Lincoln and memory so this video will be extremely helpful.  I was very impressed with the documentary.  Henry Louis Gates does a good job of sifting through Lincoln mythology in order to come to terms with a complex and sometimes contradictory man.  Gates utilizes Doris Kearns Goodwin, David Blight, Harold Holzer, Allen Guelzo, Drew Faust, and Louis Horton to sketch out salient themes in Lincoln’s life.  From there Gates explores the ways in which Lincoln continues to be remembered in our popular culture and political sphere.

A few moments stand out.  I was quite impressed with Gates’s interview with Lerone Bennett who is best known for his critical interpretatio of Lincoln on race and emancipation.  I’ve read some of Bennett’s writing and while I appreciate his much-needed corrective to understanding Lincoln’s racial outlook, he often picks and chooses evidence to help make his broader case surrounding his understanding of the Emancipation Proclamation.  As a way to challenge the mythology surrounding Lincoln and race, Bennett noted that for thirty years prior to the Civil War white Americans had defiantly spoken out against the institution of slavery.  His point was to question why they are not remembered as opposed to the excessive myth-making that has defined popular perception of Lincoln.  I think he makes an excellent point and it is one that I often wonder about.

Another moment that stands out is a short interview with a very wealthy Lincoln collector by the name of Louise Taper.  Viewers will see that her collection is quite impressive and includes a number of very personal items that Taper believes defines a loving relationship.  I only point this out because we are so often told by male historians that their marriage was an unhappy one or that Lincoln never truly got over his first love, Ann Rutledge.  Not too long ago I touched on this in a post about an article that I had my Lincoln class read by Jean H. Baker.

Finally, Gates visits with members of the North Carolina SCV duirng their annual convention.  At some point it gets tiring having to listen to the extreme vitriol that emanates from these people in reference to Lincoln.  They betray very little understanding of the past when they couch their analysis in terms of “tyrant” “dictator”, etc.  It’s all so boring and uninformative.  Interestingly enough, he is there during the ceremony to honor Weary Clyburn for his “service” to the Confederacy as a black Confederate – an event I covered in detail on this blog.  Gates doesn’t ask the obvious questions when confronted with the historical assumptions that are implied in the ceremony, which is unfortunate.  It’s not surprising given that his goal is not to be critical but to catalog the way various groups go about commemorating and remembering.  Gates simply admits that he never knew that blacks fought for the Confederacy.  My guess is that Gates must have had his suspicions given his professional training and understanding of the history of race and slavery.  After interviewing some members of the Clyburn family Gates concluded by saying: “They simply wanted to admire their ancestor’s courage.”  I couldn’t agree more.

All in all this is a first-rate documentary that should appeal to a wide general audience.  The website includes schedules for your local PBS affiliate so check it out.

Hooray for Hollywood

Today was the kind of day that I live for as a teacher.  My students and I had a wonderful time on our trip to Richmond. It was a bit cold, but we managed.  The highlight of the trip was the Lee statue along Monument Avenue.  We spent quite a bit of time looking at it from various angles and discussing both the pose of Lee as well as a Traveler.  It is indeed a beautiful monument.  I was also surprised by the interest expressed in the Jefferson Davis Monument.  It’s the perfect contrast with the reconciliationist message of the Lee statue.  There is nothing apologetic about the Davis statue and its assertion of states rights as well as other bits of Lost Cause symbolism.  From there we headed on over to the Arthur Ashe monument to discuss the fierce debate that ensued over its placement on the same avenue as Lee, Davis, Stuart, and Jackson.  As I was talking a passerby yelled from his car, “Tear it down.”  A few of the students were surprised and a bit disappointed, but it was the perfect reinforcement to my commentary, which emphasized the continued divisiveness over Civil War memory and who can claim rightful ownership of certain public spaces.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to hit the Lincoln-Tad statue at Tredegar, but we did take quite a hike through Hollywood Cemetery, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  All in all it was a great day and this particular group of students made it extra special.  Here are a few pictures from the trip followed by a poem that one of my students composed from each site.  All of the photographs can be found on my flickr page.


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A General today still a symbol to many, ever proud and tall, he instills pride in any.  The cause disputed, different to all, and perhaps there’s still shock at the Confederacy’s “fall”.

An elaborate wall built to vindicate, the man in front, leader of states.  Praise to his army and written law of the land his hand opened up, he asks for respect yet remorse or apologies one should never expect.

Controversy caused by a monument to one, he fought his disease, a battle not conquered.  Yet instead of looking back at segregation, he fought to show his path towards a new kind of nation.

A river to one side with roads to the next, nestled between thousands laid to their rest.  Winding roads, past blocks of stone, bodies of many who fought for their homes.  Some fought in the East, and some in the West now all are together here laid to their rest.  Dates rubbed away and names never known, sacrifice, though, still not forgotten.

Reconciliation at Hollywood Cemetery

Confederate Soldier Monument at TredegarI’ve been browsing Hollywood Cemetery’s website in preparation for tomorrow’s class trip and I am struck by the reconciliationist tone used to describe the various sites.  Consider the following brief description of the Confederate pyramid memorial, which was designed by Charles Dimmock and dedicated in 1869:

“Hollywood’s ninety foot granite pyramid, completed in 1869, is a monument to 18,000 Confederate enlisted men buried nearby.  They went into battle for what then seemed a noble cause of protecting their homes from northern aggression.  When the pryramid was erected, Southerns still called the war “The Lost Cause.”  Now we know that the cause was not a lost one.  These men’s lives, together with those of their norther counterparts, were given to forge a single and better nation. Their blood, shed in battle, gave birth to a new America, one that in another century would restore and protect freedom around the world.  Because so many whose sacrifice refined America lie here in Hollywood Cemetery’s sacred ground.”

I am going to quote the above passage tomorrow as part of my interpretation of this site to get at the continued influence of the Lost Cause and the overall theme of reconciliation in our collective memory of the war.

Richmond’s Civil War Memory

Tomorrow I am taking 32 students and three colleagues to Richmond to tour Civil War related sites.  Since the courses that I am teaching this trimester are focused on memory we are going to spend time exploring various statues that offer case studies on how different groups, and at different times, chose to remember the war.  It will also offer a unique opportunity to analyze and discuss the contested nature of memory and public spaces.  We’ve spent quite a bit of time in class discussing how to interpret monuments and public spaces, including the way in which they reflect the values of the individuals and organizations responsible for their placement as well as the profile of local government.  It’s another thing entirely to see these sites in their actual settings.

We will begin with Monument Avenue.  Since we spent 10 days discussing the evolution and ascendancy of Lee in memory we will start with the Lee statue.  From there we will stop at both the Stonewall Jackson and Arthur Ashe statues.  I want to use the Ashe statue to discuss the bitter public debate that took place in Richmond over its placement on Monument Avenue as well as its dedication in 1996.  Some of you may remember that both Arthur Ashe as well as his wife wanted the statue placed in front of the African American Sports Hall of Fame, located in a black neighborhood, rather than the “Avenue of Confederate Heroes”.  The city council, including Viola Baskerville, overruled the Ashe family insisting that the monument be placed in a more visible location where it could be seen by all Richmonders and visitors alike.

From there we head on over to the Tredegar Iron Works to view the Lincoln-Tad statue, which is another monument that caused a bit of an uproar when it was unveiled in 2003.  Both the Lincoln and Ashe statues reflect not only changes in the make-up of local city government in the post-civil rights South, buta broader understanding of who and what is deemed worthy of remembrance.   Anyone following the recent story of the SCV’s offer of a statue to the American Civil War Museum at Tredegar of Jefferson Davis holding hands with his biological son and a black boy who briefly stayed with the family in 1864-65 knows all too well that this is also contested ground.  I plan to discuss these recent developments in some detail.

Our final stop will be Hollywood Cemetery.  Our focus will be the way Hollywood was used by white Richmonders to commemorate their Civil War dead and give meaning to their Lost Cause.  Stops will include the section devoted to the Gettysburg dead as well as the Confederate memorial (pyramid structure) designed by Charles Dimmock and dedicated in 1869.  We will stop briefly by the Pickett gravesite where I will talk a bit about LaSalle Pickett and her postwar writings as well as the controversy surrounding the placement of her remains next to her husband not too long ago.  I also want to head over to President’s and Davis circle, which will give me plenty of time to talk about the beginnings of the cemetery in 1849, its early struggles, and how it functioned as the city of Richmond continued to expand in the years leading up to the war.  Along the way I will amaze my students with all of the dead people that I can point out and discuss intelligently.

It’s supposed to be sunny with a high of 48 degress.  We couldn’t ask for a better day.  Of course, I will post all of the pictures for your enjoyment.