The Work that Confederate Monuments Continue To Do

One of the most common questions that I received from reporters this past two weeks was why so many Confederate monuments were dedicated within such a short period of time (1890-1930). It’s a complex question and there is no simple answer when you dive into the history of these monuments, but at some point you will come across the issue of race and white supremacy.

Eric Etheridge just published a post in which he discusses the dedication of Lexington, Mississippi’s monument in 1908. Wiley N. Nash, a Confederate veteran and lawyer, who served in the state legislature and as the state’s attorney general.

Confederate Monument, Lexington, Mississippi

What purpose did the monument serve? What work was it erected to perform? Nash explains:

It may be asked, “What good purpose is subserved, promoted and supported by the erection of these Confederate memorials all over the South?” I answer:

(1) Besides honoring the South, the Southern cause, its supporters and brave defenders, the living and the dead, it will keep in heart and spirit the South, and her people for all time to come.

(2) It will keep honored and honorable, as the years roll on, the name and fame of the fathers and forefathers of our present and future dominant and ruling Southern Anglo-Saxon element, those who, “come weal, come woe,” are to mould, shape, fix, dictate, and control the destiny of the South and her people.

(3) It will educate each rising generation, each influx of immigration in our customs, traditions, thought and feeling, as well as in the esteem, love and admiration of the Southern people.

(4) It will help all others to form a correct idea of, a respect for our civil, religious, social and educational institutions.

(5) It will help to a true understanding of home rule and local self-government, contending for which the South lost so many of her best and bravest.

(6) It will serve to keep the white people of the South united — a thing so necessary — to keep, protect, preserve and transmit, our true Southern social system, our cherished Southern civilization, —

“And Dixie’s sons shall stand together,
Mid sunshine and in stormy weather,
Through lightning flashes and mountains sever,
Count on the ‘Solid South’ forever.”

(7) Like the watch fires kindled along the coast of Greece that leaped in ruddy joy to tell that Troy had fallen, so these Confederate monuments, these sacred memorials, tell in silent but potent language, that the white people of the South shall rule and govern the Southern states forever.

(8) They will tell to Sovereign States from the Atlantic, where raged the fight that made us free, to the calm and placid waters of the Pacific, to States, if made from the isles of the sea, how sacred and how dear are the reserved rights of the States, reserved in the language of the Constitution to the States, or to the people.

(9) They will teach the South through all the ages to love the Southern Cause, her Southern soldier boys.

There is nothing surprising in what Nash said that day for those of us who have taken the time to read dedication addresses and other primary sources. Sometimes it’s best to let historical figures like Nash speak to us directly as they did in 1861 when explaining why secession was justified.

Even within a Lost Cause framework, white southerners never tried to hide sentiments like those expressed above. We would do well to listen as this national discussion continues.

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21 comments… add one
  • FocusPulling (.com) Jun 28, 2019 @ 13:33

    I commend to you this new film that I created last month:

  • Betsy Thorpe Aug 13, 2018 @ 17:30

    Thanks for the info on where to find the 1908 speech by former Mississippi Attorney General Wiley N Nash.

  • Mitch Kachun Aug 28, 2017 @ 12:33

    I don’t see a source for the Wiley Nash materials here or in the original post. Makes me suspicious. Can you indicate the source? Thanks.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 28, 2017 @ 12:37

      Good point. Will ask the author.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 28, 2017 @ 12:49

      The author located it in the booklet that accompanied the dedication ceremony. It was located at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

      • Mitch Kachun Aug 28, 2017 @ 13:04

        Thanks. I am thinking of quoting from it for an interview I am scheduled to do tomorrow. Want to make sure I am not spreading “fake news.”

        • Kevin Levin Aug 28, 2017 @ 13:06

          I absolutely understand.

  • Msb Aug 28, 2017 @ 4:37

    Good suggestion (lifted from elsewhere) for all those empty plinths: how about some statues of Harvey first responders rescuing people?

  • Woodrowfan Aug 28, 2017 @ 2:54

    I haven’t gone more than a day or so in the past few weeks without someone asking me about renaming schools, taking down monuments, etc. One acquaintance posed an interesting question I’d like to share here. It seems dubious to me but here goes… I was asked if northern monuments to Union causalities the war were more likely to list the names of the dead than those in southern towns. I have absolutely no data ion which to make a judgement. Seems dubious to me, but that’s based on nothing more than seeing a small handful of monuments. But the person asking the question claimed that this was true of the monument he’d seen…..

  • Brad Aug 27, 2017 @ 17:47

    More plain could never be spoken, as much as it may trouble later apologists.

    As far as getting to the bottom of the Civil War, that has been done and we have our answer.

  • carroll aldridge Aug 27, 2017 @ 11:00

    Yes Mr. Levin your response is noted and sincerely appreciated. Maybe one day we ‘ll all get to the bottom of this thing, they call, “the War between the States”.

    • Msb Aug 27, 2017 @ 21:41

      That would be called the American Civil War.

      • Woodrowfan Aug 28, 2017 @ 2:48

        “the late unpleasantness”

        • Bob Beatty Dec 5, 2017 @ 7:03

          Or as the official records of the US state, “The War of the Rebellion.”

  • Msb Aug 27, 2017 @ 9:45

    Well, nobody can say that he didn’t make the purpose clear. Just as secession documents and the Cornerstone speech. I see no reason to disbelieve any of these people. In teresting how Nash’s South consists only of white people.

  • carroll aldridge Aug 27, 2017 @ 8:43

    Obviously the late Mr. Wiley Nash did not mince words. However he would not be the first nor last politician to pontificate. His flowery language perhaps reminiscent of it’s day. Does his verbiage represent all such moments in time? For that matter what does any generation say upon such an event? Perhaps they might wish for some remembrance in the future, for some reflection on what had transpired in our forefathers day? How was Mr. Nash viewed by his peers? Was he respected? Was he a competent spokesman for our past? As you know from your work on the Battle of the Crater, the wise and successful alone do not make history. For having troops commanded by Edward Ferrero was an “accident waiting to happen.” A former ballroom dance instructor, being led by Gen. James Ledlie,..a division leader whose problem with alcohol was well known, ignorant of army movements whose unit was regarded the weakest. The decisions from above being dictated by the luck of the draw. To be led by Burnside & Meade….. the confusion that followed, the mismanagement, (the actual lack of management), the blame game, the aftermath & careers that were loss….. Why if one could forget about the absolute horrific loss of life, (Negroes killed horribly), it might be a precursor to the recent events in C-Ville & the subsequent city council meetings, investigations, etc. the big cover-up. A Monty Python skit?

    Recently I was viewing the Stuart statue on Monument Ave. Upon one side is inscribed something to the effect, ” he gave his life defending this city.” Most people probably understand what that means. I worked with a man for twenty years who was a descendent of Stuart. Obviously there are many things one can read into a statue. Night before last someone threw pine-tar over the monument.. Who knows maybe someone feels proud of his or her actions. An act justified?

    It’s not how I was taught to behave. I attended the U of R just like you. One of my last courses under the late Dr. Daniel, (their resident CW prof. at the time). He was a good man who loved his work. Probably as much as your advisor there enjoyed/enjoys his work. The Civil War was a brutal thing. Aren’t all wars that way?

    • Kevin Levin Aug 27, 2017 @ 8:50

      How was Mr. Nash viewed by his peers? Was he respected? Was he a competent spokesman for our past?

      The fact that he was asked to give an address should begin to answer your question? I don’t know of any backlash leveled at Nash because of his choice of words.

      • carroll aldridge Aug 27, 2017 @ 9:05

        No sir I do not know of any backlash either but merely being asked to speak is not indicative of qualification either. I suspect most monuments and their inscriptions from the past are a bit overblown… however not all. I see your point…I just don’t see it as all encompassing. Why just last fall the people spoke and we have President Trump as a result.

        • Kevin Levin Aug 27, 2017 @ 9:15

          No sir I do not know of any backlash either but merely being asked to speak is not indicative of qualification either.

          Being asked to speak in front of what was likely the entire community is not evidence of qualification or that what he stated represented the town? That seems like a stretch to me.

          • carroll aldridge Aug 27, 2017 @ 9:54

            Possibly so & maybe a stretch indeed, (if I may use your words) however there are hundreds of monuments throughout our country. Unless there is evidence otherwise, one monument & one orator’s exaltation seems somewhat slight in providing an answer to as you state…”a complex question.”

            ..but perhaps I digress — there are many worthy subjects to explore. The areas of race, slavery & the war are deeply intertwined & it is the niche you have set out to explore. My thoughts, ideas are of a layman who has straggled across your web-site. You do seek feedback don’t you…or what’s a blog for?

            • Kevin Levin Aug 27, 2017 @ 10:52

              Yes, I seek feedback and I do my best to respond.

              No one would have been surprised or shocked by Nash’s words and they were certainly repeated in other monument dedications.

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