When you walk or drive around a battlefield what do you see? Usually fields, trees, fences. Peaceful landscapes sometimes dotted with historic (or modern) structures. And monuments. Monuments are a defining feature of battlefields today. Whether big or small, simple or elaborate, monuments engage modern visitors in their stories. The monuments at Gettysburg are part of the reason I fell in love with the Civil War and I have always wanted to share that love with others.
Monuments can be tricky, however. A battlefield can be littered with monuments of all shapes and sizes (take Gettysburg for example), but what do visitors truly get out of their presence? True they are often interesting to look at, and they can denote where a regiment fought during battle, but does their meaning come across to people decades or centuries later. Monuments tell us stories, the stories that veterans wanted remembered enough to carve them into stone and metal. There lies the true power of monuments. They connect us, the living, to those who have died through the common stories we can share and pass down. Monuments stand as silent sentinels, as cold and lifeless as those whose memory they honor, but if you just dig a bit you can find a soul in that stone, the soul of stories.
Over the next months, I want to share some of these stories with you. Each post will highlight a different monument and the message or meaning the veterans wanted to capture. In the beginning many will be from Gettysburg (because that is what I know most) but I hope to expand to other battlefields and sites over time. Perhaps it will inspire you to take a closer look at the next monuments you see. Even better, perhaps it will inspire you to share these stories with others and ensure that the memories continue to live.