A Monumental Discussion: Matthew Christopher Hulbert


Matthew Christopher Hulbert, PhD, a colleague of Emerging Civil War’s through our “Engaging the Civil War” series, teaches history at Texas A&M-Kingsville. He has produced two books on guerrilla warfare in the Civil War, and his essays have appeared in the New York Times, Civil War History, Journal of the Civil War Era, Journal of the West, and elsewhere. He appears here as a guest author by invitation.

More than 150 years after Lee and Grant effectively ended the Civil War and bestowed upon Wilmer McLean the most referenced front parlor in American history, Confederate soldiers are again being surrendered throughout the South and the Border West. At Gainesville, New Orleans, Baltimore, Annapolis, and Lexington, communities have removed or are in the process of removing Rebels made of bronze and marble from town squares, civic halls, libraries, parks, and courthouse lawns. With a few exceptions, these monuments—most of which came into being decades after the final shots of the war sounded—were erected in public space to show systemic support for Jim Crow politics in the 1910s, 20s, and 30s. Later additions were commissioned as explicit gestures of resistance to the Civil Rights Movement and racial integration in the 1950s. [1]

The contemporary commemorative situation in Missouri would appear, at first gander, to conform with these national trends. Confederate monuments in St. Louis (which was a Unionist stronghold during the war, it’s worth recalling) have already been taken down and more in Kansas City and Springfield are, in all probability, soon to follow. [2] But the wartime experience in much of Missouri, particularly in the western portion of the state, differed greatly from what might be considered “standard” in the Eastern Theater. Guerrillas in the form of bushwhackers, Red Legs, jayhawkers, home guards, and raiders dominated this region. They eschewed the large, set-piece battles and sieges that defined the conflict in the East at places like Manassas, Shiloh, Chickamauga, Gettysburg, and Petersburg. Nor did they abide Lieber’s Code, Napoleonic strategies, or Jominian precepts. 

Guerrillas fought along backroads, in barns, fields, and even churches. They often worked at night and thought nothing of showing their backs if the odds seemed unfavorable. In their conflict—waged from, on, and upon the household—practically anything went: ambush, disguise, assassination, backshooting, torture, rape, arson, and even massacre. Households functioned as fortresses and supply centers. Women and children worked as spies, quartermasters, and frequently as combatants. For countless residents of Missouri’s guerrilla theater, this mode of hyper-personal, hyper-local irregular warfare was the regular wartime experience; these domestic environs were their fields of battle. As a result, they remembered the war in a unique way—and one very much at odds with the movers and shakers of early, mainstream Civil War memory. [3]

Because the status quo of the guerrilla theater appeared so savage and ugly to commemorators of the (supposedly civilized) regular war in the East, it was largely written out of collective narratives of the war. In old age, even some of the most notorious pro-Confederate bushwhackers recast their wartime reputations so as to conform with the ideology and symbolism of the burgeoning Lost Cause Movement. After decades of being shunned by easterners and remolded by ex-guerrillas and their kin to fit broader patterns of Confederate commemoration, very little exists to help establish a public history of the guerrilla war—even as the state harbors dozens of monuments dedicated to Confederate leaders like Robert E. Lee and the Confederate cause itself. (Which necessitates another friendly reminder: Missouri never actually seceded from the Union.) [4]

One monument in Cass County takes the form of a “Lone Chimney.” Erected in 2009, it memorializes the families affected by General Thomas Ewing’s General Order #11, which evicted southern sympathizers from Cass, Bates, Jackson, and Vernon counties. Another, built on private property in Ray County, marks the spot where William “Bloody Bill” Anderson died after riding headlong and alone into a line of entrenched Union troopers. It dates to the 1980s. The best-known guerrilla-related monument sits in the middle of a rural field in Centralia, Missouri. Dedicated in 1994, it commemorates the 120 or so Union soldiers of the 39th Missouri Mounted Infantry who were massacred there in 1864 by bushwhackers under Anderson, Dave Poole, and George Todd. This is more or less it. A handful of relatively young monuments to serve as teaching tools for the countless domestic locales that hosted irregular action in the guerrilla theater. These circumstances are less than ideal for educators, to say the least.

From Missouri’s “irregular” commemorative circumstances, however, an important lesson is derived that ought to be considered by proponents of Confederate monument removal. Very recently, the issue of whether or not Confederate statues and monuments residing on Civil War battlefields should be removed from public view has been raised. [5] As a professional scholar of memory and the Civil War, it’s difficult for me to abide anything being removed from the historical landscape. Memory historians are, in many ways, the artifact hoarders of the history world. Thus, my pre-Charlottesville inclination was to re-contextualize extant monuments and to encourage scholars to push for new additions to the commemorative landscape. Through this combination, I hoped we might be able to bring the cause of the conflict (slavery) to the forefront and remind Americans who actually won the war.

Like many of my colleagues, however, the events at Charlottesville (combined with the contentiousness of a public forum recently held in Richmond and outbreaks of monument vandalism) indicate to me that striking a historically-harmonious middle ground will be a Herculean task at best. At worst, as the national political issues associated with the monuments become increasingly acerbic, it might simply be an impossibility. As such, my professional stance on public monuments has evolved out of pragmatic necessity. Personally, I don’t think monuments to the Confederacy—a rogue state formed for the protection of slavery and then defeated by the United States at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives—belong in everyday space within the nation it rebelled against. That said, I also think local communities should be able to exercise sovereignty when imbuing their spaces with commemorative power and meaning. So, if a city or town decides to remove a Confederate monument, it should come down. If a locale decides not to remove a monument, that cultural statement and its political/economic ramifications are theirs’ to own and mine to analyze as a historian. [6]

Battlefields overseen by the National Park Service are another story entirely. Granted, even federally-managed battlefields often house monuments added decades after the war—statues that the Civil War generation never came close to laying their eyes upon. And many of those same statues do revere Confederate leaders and the Confederacy itself in the same way that monuments to Lee, Jackson, Davis, Forrest, and others do in town squares and city parks. But unlike those local/residential settings, battlefields are, by design, part museum and part classroom; these facilities are managed, curated, and interpreted by trained public historians, often with cooperation and input from academic experts.

This distinction of space and how it’s used is quite important. Whereas avoiding monuments near courthouses or libraries or in public parks or along major roadways places the burden squarely on citizens to rearrange their lives (for the sake of preserving an object they find deeply objectionable), battlefields are generally not lived-in spaces. Battlefield grounds and their monuments are generally not integral to the daily routines of American citizens; they can almost always be avoided with minimal effort; their commemorative powers are based on voluntary contact and voluntary interaction. Visitors who do choose to attend can measure the terrain of the Sunken Road, the Slaughter Pen, or Lookout Mountain with their own legs; they can feel the heat of a July afternoon in Pennsylvania for themselves; they can see where troops lined up and where men fell and why decisions were made in the heat of battle—and they can grasp all of these elements with rapidly improving literature, visitor centers, and most of all, with park interpreters, to remind them why the Confederacy and its armies existed in the first place. In sum, battlefields provide unparalleled opportunities for the American people to learn about and understand the Civil War as both a social and a military conflict.

At the same time, on the cultural history front, these battlefields are living timelines of Civil War memory and the reconciliation process. At historic sites like Chickamauga and Gettysburg, Confederate veterans played a role in establishing the original markers placed in the late nineteenth century. This first phase of monument and placard placing helped blueprint the military logistics of battle, but also revealed how Confederate veterans wanted their versions of battle, even losses, to be remembered. Over the course of half a century (and sometimes much closer to the present day), more markers have been added that simultaneously reflect the evolving state of race relations in the United States and the ways in which the Civil War has been used to further political agendas.

In Missouri’s guerrilla theater, the irregular was regular. The sites of battle were domestic. This did not fit with collective memories of the war that rose to prominence right around the time many of the first major battlefields were being preserved. The result is that nothing akin to Gettysburg National Military Park or Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park or Antietam National Battlefield or Shiloh National Military Park or Manassas National Battlefield Park or even Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield in Missouri exists to aid academic and public historians in relating the day-to-day experience of the guerrilla war to the general public. Put more simply, we need look no further than the bleak commemorative landscape of Missouri’s guerrilla theater to observe the potential educational hazards of excising too much. At this historical moment—when neo-Nazis and white supremacist organizations wait at the gates, ready to appropriate and misrepresent the war’s history—the ability to fully and interactively teach about the conflict and its commemorative aftermath is absolutely crucial. With this in mind, to avoid creating similar lacunae of public history and memory in other states, my stance is that these battlefields should be assessed independently of other public spaces, viewed as museum-classrooms, and exempted from Confederate monument removal. [7]

Matthew Christopher Hulbert (Ph.D., Georgia, 2015) teaches American history at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. He is the author of The Ghosts of Guerrilla Memory: How Civil War Bushwhackers Became Gunslingers in the American West (Georgia, 2016), which recently won the 2017 Wiley-Silver Prize from the Center for Civil War Research. Hulbert is also the co-editor of The Civil War Guerrilla: Unfolding the Black Flag in History, Memory, and Myth (Kentucky, 2015) and Writing History with Lightning: Representations of Nineteenth Century America on Film (under contract with LSU).

[1] For a short history of NPS battlefield preservation, see https://www.nps.gov/cwindepth/battlefieldprot.htm. For the statutes that govern how NPS currently protects battlefield sites, see https://www.nps.gov/abpp/statutes/statutes.htm.

[2] http://www.kansascity.com/news/nation-world/article167239462.html; http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/confederate-monument-will-be-gone-from-forest-park-by-friday/article_f5ffd027-64fe-5483-8f71-871c517b4f9f.html; http://www.kspr.com/content/news/Petition–440955043.html.

[3] On the fundamentals of guerrilla violence in Missouri see Joseph M. Beilein, Household War (Kent State, 2016) and Michael Fellman, Inside War (Oxford, 1989). borderlands, see Hulbert, The Ghosts of Guerrilla Memory: How Bushwhackers Became Gunslingers in the American West (UGA, 2016); for a list of Confederate monuments in Missouri, see this one compiled by the UDC: http://www.missouridivision-scv.org/monument%20list.htm.

[5] On whether the removal movement should extend to battlefields, see http://cwmemory.com/2017/08/14/the-federal-governments-monuments-to-white-supremacy/.

[6] This position is more or less aligned with that of the NTHP. The organization’s position is outlined at https://savingplaces.org/press-center/media-resources/national-trust-statement-on-confederate-memorials#.WZgwSlG1vIV.

[7] According to NPS officials at Gettysburg, Antietam, and other parks, Confederate monuments will be preserved and protected “in perpetuity.” It seems likely that as more non-park monuments are removed, increased pressure will be put on NPS to reconsider their position. For statements from various parks, see https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/08/15/gettysburg-park-officials-confederate-monuments-here-stay/570779001/; http://www.heraldmailmedia.com/news/local/antietam-s-confederate-monuments-to-remain/article_196d6588-56e9-5134-bd6f-232521e2523f.html; http://www.news-leader.com/story/news/politics/2017/08/17/no-apparent-plans-yet-remove-confederate-monuments-springfield-and-missouri/572212001/.


15 Responses to A Monumental Discussion: Matthew Christopher Hulbert

  1. It seems more emphasis is placed on the southern guerrillas atrocities then those committed in the name of the union. If you cannot defend the historical monuments that are part of American history then be prepared to defend those in the national parks because they will be next. And will you write off the Founding Fathers as well when they come after them?

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Robert. The few monuments that exist in Western Missouri’s guerrilla theater are actually somewhat balanced when it comes to political inflection. The Centralia monument is meant as a memorial to the Union dead but the Lone Chimney that commemorates the “the Burnt District” in Cass County is meant as a memorial for the southern sympathizers evicted by General Order #11.

      I understand that people are worried this could be the beginning of a slippery slope that leads to the erasure of the Founders, but I don’t know a single historian who thinks the removal of those monuments is a good idea. Washington and Jefferson were slave owners, yes, but they were also architects of the American Union. No historical figure is perfect; all have blemishes and ugly segments on their resumes. The Confederates we’re discussing weren’t just slave owners, though — they literally shattered the Union to preserve the institution of slavery. I.e., they committed treason. I think this latter point is the key difference.

    2. Some Civil War bloggers are already calling for the removal of Confederate monuments from battlefield parks.

  2. The author states that Confederate monuments were erected in support of Jim Crow politics, yet he offers on evidence to support this conclusion other than the coincidence of timing. What evidence can be adduced to prove that the motive behind the erection of the monuments was support of Jim Crow? Are there other factors, such as economics, which might be the reason why the monuments were put up when they were? Similar comments are quite common just now in news outlets, but no proof such as quotes or statements from fundraising materials has been offered. In order to make the case that there is a relationship between these monuments and Jim Crow let us do what we require of our students in their research papers—-document the fact.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Michael. As I think you know, there is a fairly extensive literature on postwar memory in the South and resultant Confederate monuments (see Foster, Cox, Janney, Brundage, Blight, etc.). I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the timing of booms in monument construction; spikes occured with regularity following threats to the southern racial/social order and create a pretty clear pattern of motive. (That pattern is illustrated here: http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/16/us/confederate-monuments-backlash-chart-trnd/index.html).

      If you haven’t already, I would also encourage you to take a look at recent pieces by Fitz Brundage and Karen Cox. Both underscore the overlap between the people who lobbied for, paid for, and dedicated Jim Crow era monuments and the people who advocated white supremacy in the period (i.e., segregation, utilizing rape-politics to justify lynching as a means for suppressing black rights through violence, limiting the mobility of black southerners to preserve an exploitable labor force, etc.). One of the key, but often overlooked connections pointed out by Cox that ties the two together is elite white women. They were instrumental in the monument movement by way of the UDC. They were also instrumental in rape-politics as some of the most outspoken critics of men who failed to “protect southern womanhood” — which we know was a veiled way of saying they were soft on race. The violence instigated by those charges enforced Jim Crow. (Rosen, Feimster, Gilmore, and Hall are all excellent sources on women as proponents and victim of Jim Crow racism and violence.)

      Finally, if we look closely at what the monuments commemorate and where they’ve generally been placed, their use as symbols (or better still, as warnings) is hard to overstate. The cause of the Confederacy was slavery. Even when dealing with a monument that allegedly sought to honor rank and file soldiers rather than leaders, we can’t sever those soldiers from the cause for which they knowingly fought. It would be akin to putting up statues of rank and file Nazi soldiers 20-30 years after WW2 and then saying they could be held distinct from the cause of their army and their “service and sacrifice” commemorated. It just doesn’t work that way — and the generation that put up the monuments in the Jim Crow South didn’t intend it to. The UDC helped author and enforce an overhaul of Confederate history that justified everything the South had done before and during the war, which cleared a path for what it *was* doing in the Jim Crow period. So at a time when southern society was ordered to return black men and women to the closest thing possible to slavery, what else could a monument to the Confederacy on the steps of a courthouse — the place where legal justice was supposed to be dispensed to *citizens* — have meant?

      An economic argument would be difficult to make in which southern elites (who we know spearheaded the monuments) rallied lower-class southerners to support monument construction but then didn’t circle back to manipulation of those lower-class southerners on racial issues and/or scapegoating northerners (which would eventually come back to race, too).

      That’s my 2 cents, anyway. Thanks again for your comment. I’ll give you the last word.

  3. Irregular, thanks for your prompt and helpful reply. I have read “Where These Memories Grow” and “Jumpin’ Jim Crow” as well as “Dixie’s Daughters.” I still have two questions for which I have not arrived at answers.
    Could these monuments have been paid for at an earlier time, or were they erected when they were because that is when money became available? Several of these monuments had been proposed many years before they were built and fundraising took a very long time. Could that be an economic factor which determined when they were erected?
    Second, the belief in “white supremacy”, or “Anglo-Saxon superiority to use a 19th Century term, was nation-wide, indeed prevalent throughout the western world. Did a belief in white supremacy influence the erection of Union monuments since they omit slavery as the issue for which U.S. forces fought and assert the North fought to preserve the Union? This question arises from re-reading “The Strange Career of Jim Crow.”

    1. Michael – As you note, some of the monuments required longer-term fundraising. But my hunch here is that even if it took the UDC a few years to scrape together the money, the fact that the monuments were still planned, paid for, and dedicated by them and their allies is proof of motive. Additionally, a monument first planned or even paid for during Jim Crow, but somehow erected much, much later, wouldn’t necessarily lose its affiliation with that era or its racism, it just wouldn’t fit as neatly in the timeline graphic.

      Your second question is very interesting. The answer will come down to which branch of the historiography you like most. Blight essentially argues that Unionists and White Supremacists allied for sake of a quicker reunion process and, in doing so, wrote African Americans and Emancipation out of mainstream memory narratives of the war. Janney (as does Keith Harris) argues that the line between reunion and reconciliation is worth exploring; ultimately because many Union men didn’t lay down their own versions of the war for sake of reunion/white supremacy as easily as Blight suggests. The answer is probably somewhere in the middle, though I tend to agree with a comment Blight made at a conference to the effect that because men in the 1870s/1880s/1890s didn’t really distinguish meaning between the terms reunion and reconciliation (as we do today), it’s a historical distinction without a difference.

      As for intentionally leaving African Americans out of monument to downplay their role in Emancipation and to broadcast signals of white supremacy… that’s a much tougher call and probably requires a case by case analysis of monuments. You might look at Barbara Gannon’s The Won Cause and Brian Jordan’s Marching Home, though, to get a sense of how Union vets made sense of a war fought simultaneously for Union and Emancipation.

  4. Thanks again for a very helpful reply. I have read Blight and was wondering what other views have been offered.

    1. Michael – Definitely take a look at Janney and Harris. You might also want to look at John Neff’s book as a different take on how veterans made sense of their wartime experiences and memories. Matt Stanley also has a new book out, mentioned above, that deals specifically with western identity. Much of the new work being done is at the regional level, filling in the cracks in the big, meta accounts.

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