History vs. Memory: Statues of Stonewall Offer a Lesson
Do we erase history when we take down a statue? That’s a question at the core of recent debate concerning Confederate monuments. Personally, I’m not convinced we do, but I do know we erase memory.
However, the distinction between “memory” and “history” is vital.
To illustrate the difference, I want to harken back to a series I did on the blog waaaaaay back in 2011, “Statues of Stonewall,” which I supplemented with a few more entries in 2017.
I choose this illustration for several reasons. First, anyone who knows me knows I’m a Stonewall Jackson fanboy, which (I hope) gives me a little credibility to talk about him. Second, many of these statues are well known by the Civil War community, so folks will know what I’m talking about. Third, there’s tremendous variety among the statues, which will help demonstrate my point.
Before we look at statues, let’s first remind ourselves of Jackson’s physical appearance. For this, we’ll defer to the “Jackson bible,” James Robertson’s definitive biography Stonewall Jackson: The Man, The Soldier, The Legend. On pg. 22, Robertson describes Jackson on Jackson’s eighteenth birthday:
Not yet at his final height of almost six feet (five inches above the average for males of that day), he had brown hair kept short because it tended to curl, a bronzed complexion from outdoor life, high forehead, curved Indian nose, and thin lips. Large blue-gray eyes dominated his facial features. His natural expression was a combination of thoughtfulness and fatigue. Jackson’s frame was solid and erect but marred by feet several sizes larger than normal. With that extreme reticence cultivated over a lifetime, Jackson could easily disappear in a crowd of three people.
Later, as Jackson matured, Robertson describes him as “an officer of fairly slender build with a shock of hair and well-kept mustache and beard” (78).
So, physique-wise, we have a “solid and erect” build that’s “fairly slender….” Does this match that description:
Located not far from the visitor center at Manassas National Battlefield, this is probably the best-known Jackson statue. It is, indeed, “solid and erect,” but we’d be hard-pressed to describe it as anything that resembles “slender.” In fact, it’s often referred to as Arnold Schwarzenegger on a Budweiser Clydesdale (so much for “Little” Sorrel!). This is Stonewall on steroids, not someone about to “disappear in a crowd of three people.”
Sculptor Joseph Pollia tried to capture the “Stonewall mystique” in his depiction of Jackson, using an Italian style of sculpture that intentionally exaggerated Jackson’s heroic aspects. It’s one of the main ways Jackson was—and still is—remembered by some people, but it does not represent actual history because it does not show us Jackson as he was in real life. (I’ll note that Robertson mentions Jackson’s “bronzed complexion,” which Pollia’s statue does capture quite literally because the statue is made of bronze.)
The placement of the statue, in the middle of the field, does not mark the actual spot Jackson appeared on the field. Had he been there, he’d have been caught in a nearly point-blank duel between his artillery and Federal artillery near the Henry House. Jackson positioned himself with his infantry in the woods dozens of yards behind the artillery.
So, the statue doesn’t really show us what Jackson looked like or where he was, but it does tell a story about a heroic figure standing firm on a battlefield, which is what people remember about Jackson. That’s a difference between history and memory.
In the summer of 2017, the Jackson monument in Charlottesville attracted a lot of attention. It’s a duplicate of a statue in Jackson’s birthplace, Clarksburg, West Virginia. For illustration purposes, I’ll use the Clarksburg statue because I like the angle better:
This is my favorite Jackson statue. It captures Jackson in motion, intense, fluid, and active. According to Bud Robertson, Jackson “rarely fell from a horse, despite his extremely awkward appearance in the saddle” (14), and despite extensive experience with horseback riding, “Jackson’s horesemanship would never reach the graceful level” (41). Sculptor Charles Keck’s statue argues otherwise.
Keck’s statue is Jackson remembered as “horseman,” particularly fitting in his hometown because the uncle who raised him, Cummins, owned a racetrack and Jackson had a lot of experience working there. But how else might Jackson have been remembered? As a Sunday school teacher? As a fervently religious man? As a father? A one-armed patient? We can find depictions of all of these things in paintings, in particular, but each only captures a specific facet of the whole Jackson. Similarly, each statue captures a specific facet while leaving out a whole lot. Jackson’s remembered in a particular way, not holistically.
My final example comes from Monument Avenue in Richmond:
Here we have a depiction of Jackson that best gets at Robertson’s description of a “solid and erect” build that’s “fairly slender….” Sculpted by Richmonder F. William Sievers, this Defender of the South also reflects the same noble heroism Sievers captured in the Virginia monument at Gettysburg. In fact, it’s so noble that Sievers took a lot of ribbing from veterans who thought Little Sorrel looked too impressive!
Aging veterans were the driving force behind the statue, which was erected in 1919—delayed from its 1914 start by WWI. The statue very much reflects the Jackson those veterans wanted to honor, and aside from the impressive horse, it depicts Jackson as those veterans remembered him.
While veterans remembered Jackson one way, how did black Richmonders remember him, particularly in the wake of WWI, which laid bare America’s racial inequities? When they were recruited to fight in WWI, black men often wondered why they should fight for a country that had done so little for them since the Civil War; resentment was fresh. Add to that the daily toil of living under Jim Crow. Do you think black Richmonders would have supported a noble-looking Jackson, Defender of the South? Would they have even supported a Jackson statue at all? Did anyone ask them for input?
Or, considered another way, had they put up a Jackson statue of their own, what would it have looked like? And let’s take that one step further. Jackson owned slaves. Had they raised a statue to Jackson, what would it have looked like compared to a statue raised by former slaves who did not know Jackson at all? (See how this whole discussion might get pretty nuanced?) Of course, black Americans in the postwar south typically didn’t have the economic or political power to participate in these sorts of remembrances.
So, the Richmond statue portrays a particular Jackson remembered by particular constituencies, but it does not portray a Jackson as remembered by all constituencies. It doesn’t capture a full history, but rather a particular memory.
That’s true of all statues. We could do the same exercise with other figures who’ve had multiple statues cast of them. For instance, some people claim Lincoln was a tyrant and Grant was a drunk, but we don’t see any statues out there that reflect those negative opinions, do we? Or, considered another way, what if, say, Jubal Early and D. H. Hill had decided to raise a statue to Grant: what would that statue have looked like?
By their nature, statues honor (and sometimes sentimentalize) positives and overlook negatives.
No statue captures history; every statue captures a particular memory—and, more specifically, it captures the memory of those with the political and economic power to enshrine that memory (not to mention the particular artistic interpretation of each sculptor!). As my colleague Dan Welch says, “That makes the ‘memory’ even that much more complex and complicated, as all of history is and should be.”
Now that black Americans, in particular, have political and economic power of their own, we should not be surprised that they want a say in a discussion they’ve long been excluded from. That, in turn, raises several vital questions—and, in the context of the current discussion, I would argue “urgent,” too—that center on the nature of memory and its relationship to history:
- How accurate is our memory?
- How has memory changed over time?
- How many people have to believe a memory before it’s valid, and how many have to disbelieve before it’s not?
- How do we talk about competing memories?
- Whose “memory” matters more?
- How can these memories help us better understand our history?
To me, that’s the crux of the problem. We must remember our history, but we also can’t let our memories cloud our history. Those who forget are doomed to repeat. Those who misremember are doomed to, as well.
For historical background on each of these statues and a host of others, check out “Statues of Stonewall.” Jackson has also been memorialized in stained glass in two churches, which you can read about here and here.
43 Responses to History vs. Memory: Statues of Stonewall Offer a Lesson
Good questions, and the answers can be complicated. There is an adage that goes “Out of sight, out of mind”. While symbols from an often troubling past are fair game for discussion and possible action, are the perceptions of the times and eras represented in them going to be impacted? There’s another adage that resonates :”Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.” For myself, seeing a statue of a person has quite often spurred me to research that person, which often led me to research other factors associated with them, like that of a conflict if that is where they made their name. I think one distinction that should be made is that a statue does not necessarily represent ‘greatness’. However, they do usually represent ‘importance’ as far as how particular events might have unfolded. There were plenty of unsavory and even incompetent characters in the Civil War, yet some among them played important, even vital, roles in particular battles and campaigns. When I was a small kid I automatically assumed that if one rated a statue or monument or marker, then that individual MUST have been ‘great’ in some way. Age and experience, and research, dispelled much of that over time.
It seems to me that there is a solution. If statues are to be removed, why not construct an attraction featuring them based on what the ‘Lost Cause’ was and is all about? The statues stand NOW, so that Lost Cause thus resonates now. I think another distinction should be made as to identifying the statues and monuments that were funded by the ex-troops who wanted to honor their commanders, as opposed to those erected by, say, a local or state government’s edict.
Great article, and great questions Chris. Well done, as always..
Thanks for the kind words. You add some good insights to the discussion, Doug. Like you, I tend to want to know more about person when I see a statue of them, and that always lead to some good stories (good AND bad!). Thanks for pitching in to the conversation!
Great article Chris, my brain hurts after reading it though, ha, ha. Very thought provoking. Your questions are ones that can’t be answered immediately or with one word or phrase but need to be pondered on over time.
Great thoughts, especially on how important it is to separate memory from history. I hope folks will listen.
While I agree with your premise in some respects, i think nuance is a convenient way to hide simple truths that must be in the front of minds when asking all of these questions.
these are men who fought a war to keep Black people enslaved.
the fact that so many of these were placed during the Lost Cause only heightens the symbolism, no? memorials are not history. honorifics are not education.
the place for any southern markings are on a battlefield or a graveyard.
understanding that most Black people had no say in these monuments being placed and/or why, the questions could follow:
why did they have no say?
why was this statue where it is?
what did people say at the time? (context matters)
and importantly, does this person, in fact, warrant this space? do they deserve to be memorialized by this community? does the community still want this tribute?
All these attacks on monuments cannot erase history, nor can they erase memory. But what they can do is heighten our awareness that there is a movement abreast that wants to change the narrative of American history along a Marxist style analysis of history. It seeks to redefine American history as one of oppression and victimization, while ignoring the vast good that has derived from America and her founding values. If anything, the attacks on the monuments of the Confederacy should heighten our awareness that America itself is under attack by those wearing the new skin the old Marxism now inhabits. They control our universities by an 11:1 ratio. In the History discipline that balloons to a 33:1 ratio. It all spells trouble if we do not ensure ideological balance in our universities.
the narrative has been a construct created by one race and mostly one gender of one race.
the movement we are witnessing is to actually adjust the narrative in a more factual and representative way.
Rod, this insidious, bankrupt interpretation of history had brought nothing but pain, suffering and death to all who have either embraced it, been murdered by it or sent to die in the Gulag by it. This philosophy and its twisted adherents butchered millions of Kulaks in 1930’s Ukraine and butchered the Czar and his family in the cellar at Yakatrielbeg. No nation anywhere in history has been bettered following this twisted dogma.
I don’t think any version of history should be all or nothing, one way or the other. The truth of history rests in between. American history IS full of oppression and victimization, but it is ALSO full of vast good. The Left calls attention to the former so we can be better about living up to our own values; the Right celebrates those values and tries not to look too closely at our own failures. For that “ideological balance” you speak of, we need both approaches.
Rather than accusing the Left of not supporting “American” ideals, perhaps the Right should listen to why the Left thinks America has not lived up to those ideals, and then see if there’s anything we can all do together to make sure we do live up them so there’s reason for everyone to celebrate.
I would love to see a citation for your course of the 11:1 ratio and 33:1 ration. I work at a university and don’t know a single Marxist.
Than you aren’t looking very hard
Great article Chris! As someone who worked in the preservation field, I find the artistry of these statues amazing. The detail using bronze or stone is incredible.
One of the many problems with Confederate statues in public places is that they feed into the Lost Cause’s skewered historical narrative, i.e. slavery wasn’t the main cause the South seceded. These generals were noble men, fighting for a noble cause, the narrative goes.
Rebel generals might have been very accomplished military commanders. They may have been deeply religious men, devoted to their wives and families. But there is no question their cause was wrong, dead wrong. It called for the destruction of the United States of America and the expansion of slavery.
Some opponents of such statues might not be as adamant about removing them from public spaces, if southerners would only admit that the Confederacy was a terrible, evil idea. I have traveled extensively throughout the South and can attest that the average person there still believes the Confederacy’s cause was a noble one. Hogwash!
Tear down the statues in public places and move them to museums, cemeteries and battlefields.They are an insult to our blessed nation, an insult to African Americans and an insult to us all..
And the average northerner still thinks the north fought to end slavery ,that didn’t happen either (see core in amendment, see Sherman’s views on slavery, see Lincoln several times,see several union officers who owned slaves. The average soldier on either side fought neither for nor against slavery. Four state’s seceded after Lincoln ‘s call for troops to force the first seven back to the union, not four slavery but for the right to leave the union if they chose to do so.
That isn’tcore in. Darn spell check
Chris, this might be one of my favorite articles you’ve written. Memory goes a long way. When I was a boy, my parents took me on vacation to various places. If there was a statue with a man in military attire I took the time to look at it. I was always mesmerized by it. Unfortunately, it took a while for me to understand that sometimes those people are not who we should admire. However, Jackson is an interesting an complicated personality of the Civil War. Jackson’s valley campaign is maybe the only other military operation that is highly studied at military academies (next to the Vicksburg Campaign). His views on slavery is again complex, and I describe him as the Puritan Confederate. His intellectual and religious doctrine coincided with that of the Puritan. I will need to look up the church name, but there is one historic African American Church that put a stain glass window up dedicating it to Jackson because the minister was a slave of Jackson and became a minister later in life. These are contextual issues that need to be addressed among the whole of society.
Monuments to traitors who fought to preserve their right to enslave other humans do not belong in a public venue.
My ancestors were not traitors. If you were from Virginia you would have fought for Virginia. Its that simple and that complicated.
But it’s not that simple. George Thomas was from Virginia but he stayed faithful to his oath and fought for the Union. David Farragut was from Tennessee but fought for the Union. The old trope that everyone saw their state as their “country” is not true. Some did. Some did not.
There is a saying, he that forgets the lessons of history is doomed to repeat it’s mistakes. To me the statues are a reminder of a time when Americans stopped talking to each other and started shouting at each other. In 1861 the result was four years of death, destruction, and pain
for our country. It appears that we are again at a similar point. I can only hope that we
do not repeat the mistake that our forefathers made. Keep the statues visible, lest we
forget the events that brought them into being.
Throwing down statues reminds me of those forsaken cerimonies where books were thrown to the fire in old nazi Germany. But, history lessons must be learned, so that mistakes are not repeated. The US of America was built upon 750 thousand american lives lost during the civil war. Wether they were right or wrong. Wether they had won or lost. And, more than 150 years later, slavery has been abolished and black lives definitely matter. The message of Martin Luther King was one of peace, tolerance and humanity. But American history is also made of nobility, justice, freedom, compassion and courage. Martin Luther King was a great american and his light will always shine brightly for the nation. But so was Thomas Jefferson. A slave-owner. With a memorial in Washington, just like that of Old honest Abe. Would it make sense to tear down a founding father’s memorial, just because he had been a slave-owner? Stonewall Jackson was no traitor, but a patriot. That fought for a wrong cause, on the wrong side of history. But as a military, he was one of USA greatest. Like Ulysses Grant and Sherman. America is the world’s oldest democracy on Earth, with a Constitution that assures freedom and the individual right to the pursuit of happiness to all americans. And was built by all those great men. With the American civil war, modern USA was born. With the courage and wisdom of men like Abraham Lincoln, slavery was gone forever. And with the military lessons from Grant and Lee, the USA prepared itself to fight for a better world during the years to come. Against Kaiser and Nazi Germany, against the Japanese Empire, and against Stalin, fighting cruel dictatorships all over the world. None of this would have been possible, without the effort and commitment of those brave American men that fought and died during the civil war. With lessons learned in blood. In present times, we should all unite, with a profound debt of gratitude to those americans, black or white, that fought and died for their causes during the civil war, were they right or wrong. United, they are now. Let their statues cross the river, and finally lie down by the shade of the trees, for eternity
I think you will find that Great Britain is an older democracy.
TJJackson is my cousin, from the Bearden/Winn tree.
You ask the question “Or, considered another way, had they (blacks) put up a Jackson statue of their own, what would it have looked like? ”
The blacks that knew him best did put up a Jackson “statue” of sorts – the stained glass window in the black Church in Roanoke.
And wasn’t it Booker T Washington who said Lee and Jackson were the first whites who cared enough to bring Jesus to the black man?
My intent with asking the question was not to suggest a nefarious outcome but to illustrate the different constituencies that might have different interpretations of Jackson, because even just saying “black people” or “enslaved people” is an overgeneralization.
I included a link to the stained glass window in Roanoke at the bottom of the post for folks who want to see it.
As somebody from Hungary, I am surprised that in the USA people are destroying statues. In Hungary no statues of Communism and the Soviets (except that of Stalin in 23 October 1956 during the anti-Sovietic Hungarian Revolution) were destroyed. They were transported in a Statue Park where people can visit them (the Memento Park and the Terror House), although the Communists caused the deaths of thousands of people, and fear, terror, sent hundreds of thousands of people to Siberia, Kazakhstan, from where they never returned, being worked to death. The Soviets invaded Hungary twice (1944, 1956), killing, raping, executing and destroying all their way.
I mentioned that the Hungarians did not destroyed the statues of the Soviets and the Communists. They did this although the Soviets and Communists came to power, they tear down, crushed and destroyed hundreds of Hungarian statues representing Hungarian national heroes, politicians (naming them racists, capitalists, anti-Soviets or anti-Communists, etc.), also churches, cathedrals and other buildings of great artistic values, which because of this, were lost forever. And still the Hungarians after 1989 did not destroyed the Communist monuments…
Still nobody wants to crush, or destroy them. These are objects of the past, and this is how they have to remain. I cannot understand this savagery in the West. But still, if the Americans want to destroy their civil war statues, or the statue of Lincoln, Columbus, Washington, etc., please instead of destroying them, send them in Hungary. We will put them in a statue park, and we will protect them. Every statue is a piece of art, which reflects the artistic style and period in which it was made, and also the individual style, world view, etc., of the creator. These things should not be destroyed!
In 1945 the 1000 years old Holy Hungarian Crown (the Crown of Saint Stephen) was taken from Hungary (being the only initiatory holy royal crown in Europe, and the second oldest crown which survived) to save it from the Soviets, and given to the Americans who kept it safe until the end of 1970’s when they returned it to Hungary. If that crown wouldn’t had been taken and given to the Americans, and they wouldn’t had kept it, the Soviets definitely would had it destroyed, or took it to Soviet Union, and lost its trace forever. So we thank to the Americans for saving the most precious Hungarian object from destruction. We never forget this. This is why we say: if you want to destroy your statues, give them to us, and we will keep them until it is safe to be put back in their place. So, if you want, we can keep your statues. Do not destroy them!
But youe fellow men in Hungary were perfect henchmen. Even when Hitler was not in your country your people killef/murdered 10s of thousends of Hungarian Jews. When the nazi’s came there was this Hungarian traitor priest who incited even more hatred and killings among Jews.
You know you show that how can people write things, without knowing the facts, but writing your pre-learned biases. You are a champion in this. Did you know, that after Poland’s occupation by the German and Soviet troops in 1939, alongside with thousands of Polish refugees, also thousands of Polish Jews took refuge in Hungary, then many of them migrated in the USA, England, etc. While those who remained in Poland, were subjected, from that moment on, to the Nazi Camps?
Did you know that the deportation of the Jews in Hungary started only after the German occupation of that country in 19 March 1944. That until that, except some isolated attacks (and yes, the labor service to which many Jews were forced, which indeed is a thing to be condemned), the large majority of the Jews were safe, while in other countries (Romania, Slovakia, Croatia, Italy, Germany, etc.), their organized extermination was in full mode? Of course it was not a paradise for them in Hungary, nobody say this, but they were not subjected to organized, systematic extermination like in other countries. After the German occupation of Hungary, the Germans put the Hungarian Fascist Arrows Party to the power (whose many leaders, until that, were in prison for their racist activity and propaganda before, which shows that the Hungarian regime before the German occupation, was not like Hitler’s or Mussolini’s), and, with a consistent German military help, they immediately started to found the ghettos and organize the deportations. But keep in mind: the Arrow party did not reach the power by the votes of the people, but by a foreign military intervention! So the Hungarians cannot be named en gros murderers of the Jews, as you like to show. In the matter of fact, more Hungarians saved Jews, putting in danger their own lives than the members of the Arrows party.
Your statement is nothing else than a biased, nationalist, racist type of attack!
In the matter of fact nobody have the right to attack Hungary, who lives in a country which exterminated almost all the Natives, and put Blacks to Slavery. And those people who did these were not put in the lead by a foreign power, like in the case of Hungary, but their own people voted them… So look in the mirror, maa’m!
PS. PLEASE EXPLAIN ME WHAT YOUR OUTBURST AGAINST ME HAS TO DO WITH THE ARTICLE, OR WHAT I WROTE IN MY COMMENT? YOUR ATTACK HERE HAS NOTHING TO DO EITHER WITH THE ARTICLE NOR WITH WHAT I WROTE, BUT SHOWS ONE THING: XENOPHOBIC HATRED AGAINST HUNGARY AND THE HUNGARIANS.
“In the matter of fact, more Hungarians saved Jews, putting in danger their own lives than the members of the Arrows party.”
I wanted to say:”than the number of the members of the Arrows party.”
Sylvain, Thank you for this historic comment and information. It has become so very evident in so many of these comments, HISTORY MATTERS!! If you give permission [email email@example.com] I will send this to my local paper and any other I can think of. This should be published in letters to the editor in every paper in the country. Confederate monuments are no more racist that Union monuments. As per your description of the Soviets, we have an element in the present that has raised its ugly head and has been allowed its way by politicians who seek to benefit by it. They are likely to regret their efforts as they forget that for millions of Americans and voters these attacks on against their heritage, their ancestors; as the Confederate States of America was an attempt by Americans to do what the Declaration of Independence stated they could in the face of a Federal government passing legislation and creating tariffs harmful to their economy — separate from an unjust government and form their own nation. The war that followed was an invasion of the South by the military might of the North to force the South to follow the will of the North. For the South, it was a war of defense against this invasion and nothing to do with slavery, a Second War of Independence. Case in point, General Lee was offered and would have accepted a Federal command had it not meant that he would have to take up arms against his home state of Virginia. But Virginia seceded in the second wave of secession and his place was in defense of his home state. The current rabble must NOT be permitted to use their moment in power to destroy that which belongs to the people as a whole.
Thank you. Of course you can use my comment (maybe also correct it if it has grammatical, lexical issues). I agree totally. You know, people who lived in the past, should not be judged by the standards of today, or of some political parties.
If we start to do this, all history should be erased, all writers, philosophers (starting with Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, etc.),, should be banned, their monuments destroyed, wiped out from history (but if so, why only the whites and Europeans, why not also the Chinese, Japanese, Arab, Hindu, African, etc., because slavery existed by them too? Or they can remain because they are not whites? so in the matter of fact is all this what is happening today an anti-White racism?), etc., and maybe humanity should start again, by inventing the wheel? Who cares that if they wouldn’t had existed, our world would be maybe like in the medieval times, slavery and serfhood would be the main way of production? Because although some of them had slaves, or they did not protested against slavery, they put down the foundations of the slave-free modern world in which we are living.
Yes, all this what is happening today is made by groups linked with the Communists. This is shown very well by the fact that nowadays in Germany, which is the leader of the EU, which likes so much to “fight against racism”, statues of Marx and Lenin are raised one after another, on which the leaders of the EU and Germany participate and make speaches. This shows very well whom they consider their spiritual leaders.
You should expect idealized representations of historical figures as that has been the collective mantra of sculptors for thousands of years. Only the Romans included non idealized facets in their artistic renditions adding beards and other natural features to their versions of the idolized Greek art work they particularly emulated. Jackson was a enigmatic but larger than life influence on the battlefield and stands as a premiere example of not perhaps egalitarian management of subordinates but certainly inspiration, determination and that most elusive of battlefield necessities…,the uncompromising will to win which can be applied to any endeavor. It is sad this outstanding of all characteristics will lie hidden under covers for only the dilligent
Civil war statues and the confederate flg had nothing to do with what what happen to floyd and others so if the states are removing all the civil war statues and the confederate flag then the states need to remove all the black statues and black flags like mlk and others I’ll still fly my confederate flag or my tattoos just get over it people nothing gonna change
As I learn more about the Civil War, the angrier I grow about the “deconstruction” period we are currently living through. When the Civil War was over the Union made a few attempts to ameliorate and reconcile with the Southern States. Soon after Appomattox, President Johnson pardoned all the Confederate Soldiers, the Government allowed former Confederate Soldiers to be buried in U.S. Pmilitary cemeteries, and they named a number of new military bases after Confederate Generals. I guess this was appreciated at the time, even though I’m sure it never alleviated the remaining sting of defeat, nor the memories of the issues that lead to the war in the first place.
Just before the turn of the 20th century, when the former Rebels were between 50 -70 years old, the Daughters and Sons of Confederate Soldiers, local governments, colleges, universities, and community organizations, in a wave of nostalgia only old men and the children of old men would understand, erected statues to thank the old men and honor the dead that had given their last full measure of life and limb for the land they loved. When you lose a war, all you have to maintain your pride is the memory of the way you were and the cause you fought for. The defense of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, as originally written, and the right of States to maintain their individual sovernty, exclusive of a dictatorial Federal government, seems worthy enough causes. However an ignominious defeat was their only reward.
No matter how loudly it is shouted, how many times it is written, how many books it appears in, the lie that the Civil War was a battle to end slavery will never be true. It is a fiction created to cover up the most egregious political crime ever perpetrated. The fact slavery was a peripheral issue to the war is ridiculously obvious. One need only read Lincoln’s first inaugural address. Nearly two thirds of Lincoln’s speech is a rejection of the notion that slavery was sufficient cause for war. Lincoln had stated this in numerous campaign speeches and debates. It’s also obvious because slavery remained legal in some states that remained in the Union, Delaware, New Jersey, Kentucky, Missouri, to name a few. No, ending slavery was not the cause of the war. No two countries would meet in battle, kill 750,000 men cripple many more, leave untold numbers of women without husbands, and children without fathers, burn, pillage, and destroy whole cities and villages because of an economic practice both agreed was legal, both practiced, and enriched them both immeasurably. No, power is always the cause of war, whether it be land, riches, or influence, power is the only reason for war. What ever the reason for the Civil War was, it had to be more important than slavery, But what power?
The Bill of Rights limited the power of the Federal Government to only those rights enumerated in the Constitution. If the Federal government attempted to exceed its enumerated powers each state had the right to leave the Union. It was a restrictive power the States had over the Federal Government that limited it’s ability to encroach on the rights and power of the States. The Federal forces defeat of the Confederacy eliminated that power. After the War the Federal Government became preiminate over the States. One wonders, if the Union States had realized the power they were surrendering to the Federal Government, who’s side they would have been on?
Getting back to the statues; their installation, at the time they were erected, reflects a period when the south genuinely began to rebuild its self-esteem. It had been defeated, it’s economy crushed, it’s land invaded, it’s cities burned to the ground, and after 50 years of “reconstruction” it’s population decided to stand up, brush itself off and stop feeling regret for the past. If this isn’t a reflection of an important moment in U.S. history, what is? Sure, some southerners began working toward this rebuilding sooner than others. Like all rebuilding it starts slowly and increases over time. By the turn of the century it had accelerated and the true growth of the South began.
The sunbelt, the place where everyone wants to move to, the place everyone wants to live, or loves to live. The fastest growing part of the country. As Southerners gained confidence, and a new self image they rejected the guilt they had been saddled with for so long. They built shining new cities to replace what the Yankees had burnt down or destroyed. They also rebuilt their own image. An image of confidence, progressive ideas but conservative values, and good’ol boy attitudes. Yes they looked to the future but they also embraced their past. Blacks and Whites alike profited and their lives were improved. After, the strangle hold of the Southern, Blue Dog Democrats was broken and o’l Jim Crow was eliminated by the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and Voting Rights Act in 1965.
An insidious movement is afoot in this country today! A clearly anti-southern movement. It seeks to label all southerners traitors! To spit on the men who fought for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, for the Government as originally envisioned by the Founding Fathers, and for their own beloved sovern States. To blame the South for an institution as old as mankind itself and at the time of the Civil War legal In both the North as well as the South! It’s purpose is to denigrate the time when the South decided to stand up and reclaim its self-respect, labeling it, “Lost Cause Movement!” Why? So it can weave its own set of lies and corrupt any positive memory of the Antebellum South and the brave men who fought for it. For what purpose? To eliminate those concessions made to reconcile with Southerner’s after the war, by stripping the designations of military bases named for Southern Generals. By ignoring the complete and unrestricted pardons given to all the Confederate Soldiers, publically condemning them and labeling them traitors, who have no right to be remembered. By tearing down monuments and statues erected to honor Southerners by Southerners.
This movement is lead by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the NAACP. Working with their members they have begun a systematic campaign to remove or destroy every vestige, every positive memory, every remaining scrap of evidence of the South so that their version of a dispicable Southern history remains. It is however nothing more than spiteful retribution for a perceived wrong, fabricated to delude the French and English, to keep them from entering the war on the side of the Confederacy, as well as the Union population, and for posterity to claim the war was fought for a noble cause, rather than it being to deny the Confederacy their right to succeed.
An editorial in the Chicago Daily Times warned that if the South left the Union ‘in one single blow, our foreign commerce must be reduced to less than one half of what it is now. Our coastwise trade would pass into other hands. One half of our shipping would lie idle at our wharves. We should lose our trade with the South, with all of its immense profits’. War was the only alternative to financial ruin.
It is good to read a reply from a knowledge of history. What is happening today is a personal attack on the heritage of millions of Americans whose ancestors fought to defend their sovereign states against a brutal military invasion bent on maintaining the will of the North over that of the South for power to continue to control economic laws for their financial benefit. This, too, is a war over power. It has nothing to do with “black lives matter” and issues over police brutality. That issue is being used to bring about violence and mayhem with the destruction of monuments and businesses and the looting of stores. Follow the money. Many who have been arrested for instigating trouble are not local and are being released on bail as quickly as they are arrested so they can move on to another protest and repeat their violence. HISTORY MATTERS!! and an end must be put to this travesty.
To all our Lost Cause friends who posted comments earlier. Any knowledgeable fan of the Civil War realizes slavery was not the main reason most Northerners opposed the South’s attempt to destroy our blessed United States of America. Most Northerners opposed secession because the South attempted TO DESTROY OUR BLESSED UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
However, slavery was the main reason the South seceded. Just read the secession ordinances of South Carolina and other Confederate states. There it is, in black and white. Most of the ordinances list slavery as the main reason for secession.
While you’re at it, Lost Causers, read the Confederacy’s Constitution. The sections devoted to slavery make human bondage legal in all Confederate states. Also, no Confederate state can ever ban slavery in the future. In addition, any new state created in the Confederacy will automatically become a slave state. Again, folks, read the actual documents – not some historically skewed Lost Cause interpretation of them..
Wonderful article as always Chris. I wanted to say that although black Americans never erected a statue of Jackson they did in one instance create a stained glass window honoring his memory. It’s in the Fifth Presbyterian church in Roanoke Va. You can google it if youre curious about it.
Thomas Johnson Jackson and his first wife taught black people to read, read, when it was against the law.
Chris, thank you for your thought provoking and well written article. As one can see from the above, it has led to a vast array of responses. Nicely done.
I apologise for entering into this ACW conversation so late, but it has taken some time for me to form an input into a subject I feel strongly about.
I also apologise, as a Brit, for poking my nose into this debate. My excuse is ‘what the US does today, Britain does tomorrow’ and a result we are experiencing our own statue problems in the name of the BLM agitation.
There are many statues both here, and in the US that seem to give offense to quite a few people. My belief is that many of these folks need something to take offense at. They need a ‘lightning rod’ to focus their thoughts. It allows them a strong visible expression of their anger. However, in the long run it adds nothing, in real terms, to the arguments currently taking place.
I know little of the rights and wrongs of ‘The Lost Cause’ as I know little of the pre-ACW movement of the ‘Know Nothings’, what I do believe is that by destroying these statues we are taking away a chance to use them to be ‘lightning rods’ for learning. It stops people, when pondering these magnificent expressions of the affected people and families who had them erected, about what was happening at the time & under what circumstances. After all, did not Lee & Jackson delay their commitment to the Confederacy until after Virginia seceded, does this say something about what their feelings were? They, seemingly, were being true to their consciences ‘My country right or wrong’ I do not know how it would apply to others, such as A P Hill who resigned his commission a good 3 weeks before the Virginia secession, but how do we provoke the thoughts publicly if there is nothing in the eye of the public to catch their attention. Perhaps a nonpartisan plaque at each statue giving facts not myths about the persons may help.
I cannot condone, knowing what I do now in this day & age, the abhorrent practice of slavery, nor the long term impact in both our countries. Slavery has been with man since recorded time in most, if not all, civilisations. What Briton and the US must be accountable for is the Industrialisation of slavery in the 18th & 19th centuries.
Having said all this, will the destruction of these statues further the social changes that must, & will, come. In my opinion, an emphatic no. I firmly believe we are removing from our collective consciousness a public opportunity for educating people who would never pick up a book, or read a website, that does not correspond to their existing beliefs.
The best plan, idea I heard was to take all of the statues put up during Jim Crow in a museum dedicated to the Jim Crow era. This could be part of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in DC or elsewhere there. This way at least some people will learn about why the statues were put up. I like contextualizing in place, but this seems a lost cause, pardon the pun.
To all that are offended by history. To the overeducated about civil war america. Get over yourself. Monuments serve as a reminder of loss. Take down the heroes of the confederate states. The confederate flag from the pole. People who want to be reminded of the war can look into the grave yard. There were last educated guess one million Dead. Real loss of twenty years from fort sumter to the return to state rights. One hundred fifty years after appomattox still want something else. Fifty five years ago civil rights movement. God help this country heal. america the country needs a wake up call. Russian federation still have statue of stalin. Please remove all confederate state statue. Put into private grave yard. Don’t blurry history with the eyes of romantic dreams. Don’t be installing New statues of civil rights movement, largest size ears and biggest liars in government.