More Selective Outrage Over Confederate Heritage


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.

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32 comments… add one
  • Michael C. Lucas Aug 11, 2013 @ 7:02

    Why are you using an Image of the Appomattox Soldiers Cemetery, instead of the University of Virginia’s Confederate Cemetery?

    • Kevin Levin Aug 11, 2013 @ 11:51

      Does it really matter?

  • Chris Coleman Jul 28, 2013 @ 9:28

    I second many of the above comments about the fallacy that the Federal government spends more on Confederate dead than on Union graves. In this part of the country, at least, NONE of the Confederate graveyards are maintained by the Federal government. The Federal soldiers cemetery in Nashville, begun right after the war, reburied many of the Federals from the many battles in the area and is still open for burial of veterans–which includes my father-in-law. It is very well maintained.

    There are two Confederate cemeteries in Nashville, among the largest in the country, both are maintained by non-profits. If the non-profits receive any Federal funding it is indirect and not for maintenance of any graveyard: The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s home and Carnton Mansion, an ante-bellum mansion that served as a field hospital during the Battle of Franklin maintain the sites as part of their overall mission of historic preservation. Apparently the radical right are not the only ones guilty of “truthiness.”

    After the Battle of Nashville in December, 1864, the masses of Confederate dead were gathered up and dumped in a mass graves in what is now an upscale suburban neighborhood called Green Hills. They were never given a proper burial. I have heard from residents that several years ago a local developer’s bulldozer uncovered one such mass burial. As he was in a hurry to sell homes, he never reported the find to local authorities and had the mass grave hastily covered back over.

    The North has many historic sites related to the Civil War and many cemeteries where their war dead lie buried; if people in those states choose not to honor them, whose fault is that?

    Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I believe one can show respect for war dead without necessarily approving of the cause they fought for.

  • Boyd Harris Jul 22, 2013 @ 2:45

    I saw that article two days ago. My only thought was that I ought to send Mr. Weiss a copy of John Neff’s book. At least then he would have a bit of historical context and realize that his outrage is about a hundred years too late.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 22, 2013 @ 2:50

      Good point. Excellent book.

  • Ed Baptist Jul 21, 2013 @ 10:55

    I have a Charlottesville Confederate grave question for Kevin. I recently visited the cemetery at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Ivy to show family tombstones to my grandchildren who were visiting from Florida. We saw a large stone about two feet high with the names of eighteen fallen Confederate soldiers and a statement that others who were unknown were also buried there. Was this the result of any particular action?

    • Kevin Levin Jul 21, 2013 @ 12:50

      Thanks for the question, Ed, but unfortunately I can’t help you with that one. Perhaps someone else will chime in.

  • James Harrigan Jul 21, 2013 @ 9:03

    An important point: the Confederate cemetery in Charlottesville has no connection to the University of Virginia. It is incorrect to call it the “UVa Confederate Cemetery”. It is surrounded by the UVa campus, but not part of it.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 21, 2013 @ 9:18

      Of course. Many of us refer to it as such owing to the fact that next to it you will find buried some prominent UVA folks.

      • Richard G. Williams, Jr. Jul 21, 2013 @ 10:59

        Anyone visiting the university today will notice two large bronze plaques on the wall near the doors on the Rotunda porch. Inscribed on those tablets are the names of 503 men who died fighting for the Confederacy. By comparison, the much larger student body of Harvard would sacrifice 117 for the Union. Anecdotal, but interesting to ponder.

        • Kevin Levin Jul 21, 2013 @ 12:50

          A total of 938 students served in the Union army from Harvard.

          • Richard G. Williams, Jr. Jul 21, 2013 @ 15:19

            I don’t know about the total number served, the plaque refers specifically to those who died. (Same with the 117 from Harvard.) The wide variation could be from some factor other than total number served. I’m sure that info is out there somewhere though.

  • christinemsmith67 Jul 21, 2013 @ 8:37

    I have said this here before, but here it is again. When I was in high school (and we won’t say how long THAT has been) we discovered letters (in the attic of the old 1840’s Indiana home we were living in) which had been written to someone staying there in the early years of the Civil War. My mother and I did very early genealogical work on the person to whom the letters were written, and when she died, the letters came to me, and are still in my possession. About 2003 or so, I began to seriously look at them, transcribe them, and do genealogy on the letter writers themselves. Two of the letters were written by Jacob G. Shoup, of Rockingham County, Virginia. One was early in 1861, the other in the fall of 1862. By the latter time, Jacob (Jake) was a first lieutenant in Co. H., Seventh Regiment of Va. Cavalry, of which his brother Cal was the Captain. He was urging the addressee of the letter to come home to claim his share the inheritance of the man’s dead father before the Confederate government took it. (Transcriptions of the letters may be found at the Rockingham Co. VA USgenweb page under Letters from home.) My genealogical research, done both on line and in person, showed me that Jacob G. Shoup was killed in a cavalry charge at the Battle of Fairfield on the third day at Gettysburg. He was buried in Flohr’s Church cemetery nearby and in 1872, his body, along with many other battlefield Confederate graves from Virginia, were brought to Hollywood Cemetery to a final mass grave resting place. When I visited there in 2006 I found that a stone could be had for free from the government but that it had to be applied for by kin of the person. Through I had come into contact with Jake’s great great grandniece and she willingly did the paper work to obtain said stone. The cemetery told me that they would charge $100 to set the stone, and then would take a picture of it. We each paid half, and the stone is now set in a row with others over the mass graves. The real kicker to this is that after doing further research I found that I was related to both the person to whom the letter was written and to Jake as well, as these men were first cousins. I am also the person who goes to visit the Confederate plot here in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis a couple of times a year, leaving a small battle flag when I can. I urge my students to reflect on the cost of war continually, and try my utmost to get them to understand that every soldier killed in any war is someone’s son, father, brother, uncle, cousin, husband, (and in our modern age, the female counterparts of the above) and what the impact of those deaths are. The End.

  • Brad Jul 21, 2013 @ 7:39

    Thanks for mentioning the Sons of Union Veterans, which I had never heard of. By looking through their database I discovered that 42 Civil War Veterans are buried in the town I live in, Chester, NJ, which is not a big town. I don’t think all these men are from Chester but I do want to go over here, particularly to see what condition the headstones are in.

  • Richard G. Williams, Jr. Jul 21, 2013 @ 7:19

    “Taxpayers now pay more to maintain rebel graves and monuments than those honoring Union soldiers.” Why is that?”

    If that is true, I think the reason is multifaceted. First, there are over 30,000 SCV members giving more “juice” to these kinds of efforts. Secondly, I think part of it is cultural in that native Southerners with Confederate ancestors tend to put more emphasis on ancestry and heritage than do their Union counterparts. Some will, no doubt, disagree with that, but this is further reflected in the fact that SCV membership outnumbers the SUV membership by almost 5 to 1. I think that’s unfortunate, but its reality. This translates into many more individuals maintaining graves and monuments, contacting legislators, etc.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 21, 2013 @ 12:52

      Secondly, I think part of it is cultural in that native Southerners with Confederate ancestors tend to put more emphasis on ancestry and heritage than do their Union counterparts.

      It’s not that I disagree; rather, I have no idea how you would prove it to be true. It seems rather silly.

      • Richard Williams Jul 22, 2013 @ 5:53

        30,000 SCV members compared to 7000 SUV members indicates better marketing?

        • Kevin Levin Jul 22, 2013 @ 6:28

          I am sure it means whatever you want or need it to mean. Is this really suppose to be taken as evidence of something?

          • Richard Williams Jul 22, 2013 @ 7:01

            I don’t “want or need” it to be anything. But I do think it is related to studies which lend credibility to the Southern military tradition – there’s a whole host of reasons for that, but I think these numbers are part of that culture and tradition. You disagree?

            • Kevin Levin Jul 22, 2013 @ 7:04

              Like I said, it’s not that I agree or disagree. I find the claim to be vague at best. You seem to find some meaning to it and I think we should leave it at that.

  • Betty Giragosian Jul 21, 2013 @ 4:20

    Very nice paper, Kevin, Thank you. I am sure you know that the federal government no longer provides the headstones at no cost to Confederate Veterans or to Union veterans. Proof of next of kin is necessary. There are petitions going around and I have signed them for veterans, North and South. However, I do believe that we could furnish our own headstones. Have a national project in the heritage societies to raise the funds.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 21, 2013 @ 4:23

      One of the things that is often overlooked is that cemeteries are part of our communities. They represent important parts of our local pasts and ought to be maintained.

    • Robert Moore Jul 21, 2013 @ 4:38

      The restrictions on headstone ordering for Civil War vets has become very tight… whether that is for Confederate or Union. A fine example is that I cannot order replacement headstones for my kin at Andersonville, who currently have headstones with the wrong names. This as opposed to my effort in the latter 1990s when I was able to order a corrected stone for a relative at Andersonville.

    • Andy Hall Jul 21, 2013 @ 5:50

      The VA announced several months ago that its policy was too restrictive, and that changes are coming.

  • Robert Moore Jul 21, 2013 @ 4:10

    Actually, there are small, dedicated groups dedicated to remembering Union men. With somewhere around 7,000 plus members, the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War is, by numbers, at the top of that list.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 21, 2013 @ 4:13

      You are absolutely right and I should have mentioned this. It would be interesting to know how much federal money has gone to this group for Union headstones. The article’s tagline suggests that it is less than that of Confederate heritage organizations, which is probably true, but by how much I can’t say.

      • Robert Moore Jul 21, 2013 @ 4:21

        To be honest, the mere suggestion that more money has gone to Confederate graves, vice Union, is absurd. In situations for Confederares, it begins and ends with the order for stones. For Union, there are the stones AND maintenance. Apparently, some folks don’t bother to pay respects to the men who they claim should be honored more… at National Cemeteries, all around. A quick trip to Andersonville would apparently enlighten those who don’t otherwise have a clue.

        • Kevin Levin Jul 21, 2013 @ 4:25

          Another excellent point given the amount of federal money spent to maintain cemeteries at places like Fredericksburg, Petersburg, Arlington, etc. I’ve visited numerous cemeteries containing Union dead in the Boston area and I am happy to report that these places are maintained.

          • Robert Moore Jul 21, 2013 @ 4:29

            I’ll add, In the last three years, both Winchester and Staunton National cemeteries, here in the Shenandoah Valley were totally stripped and re-sodded. Can we even begin ti imagine what the final tally was on such a bill (especially for Winchester, which is larger). Both are “closed” cemeteries, meaning no more interments. While both also hold US veterans from later wars, the number from the Civil War at both outnumber those from all that followed. About 1/6th of Winchester National is nothing but unidentified limbs of amputees and Union unknowns.

            • Keith Muchowski Jul 21, 2013 @ 12:18

              They re-sodded parts of Cypress Hills National Cemetery in Brooklyn, apparently a few years ago by the looks of things when my wife, a friend, and I visited last year. We were dismayed that significant portions of the cemetery, including some of the re-sodded parts, had been allowed to fall into disrepair.

          • Michael C. Lucas Jul 21, 2013 @ 6:50

            Apparently Weiss overlooked exactly how well our American soldiers memory is being taken care of period!

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