Confederate memorials have received plenty of attention in the past few years. Critics say they represent a Jim Crow era and were intended to impose a white supremacy ideology. One blog post addresses an interesting question, why do most Union Civil War memorials not address slavery as a cause of the war? See that blog post here.
I think the answer is that most Union soldiers did not see their service as particularly entwined with the cause of ending slavery. But, the blog author makes a valid point, few Union memorials mention emancipation as a cause of the war and the soldiers’ service.
Memorials erected between 1870 and 1940 were not monolithic. They were not generally produced by some national organization with a national agenda. They were produced at the local level. Individual communities planned, fund-raised and erected these memorials to a war that affected more Americans than any war.
The blog author, Darren Barry, makes a remarkable statement:
In their physical manifestations and their inscriptions, Confederate and Union memorials generally paid nondescript homage to the soldiers who had periled or lost their lives in the war. While many Northern monuments touted guardianship of the Union as the main impetus for war, and Southern monuments conversely pointed to states’ rights, the question of whether or not this was a war to abolish slavery remained unclear.
The author is saying all Confederate memorials espouse states rights. He points to pages 35 to 39 of “Public Art of Civil War Commemoration” by Dr. Thomas Brown, professor of history at the University of South Carolina.
But, those pages do not say what Mr. Barry says they say. What Dr. Brown does say in those pages is that dozens of monuments mention states’ rights or local self-government. Others mention “constitutional government” or “constitutional liberty” as a motivation for the soldiers who were lost. Dr. Brown mentions that “simple obedience to duty” motivated their sons to serve. A “few” monuments borrowed or paralleled a poem by Harrison McKim, engraved on the tomb at Arlington:
Not for pause or reward
Not for place or rank
Not lured by ambition
Or goaded by necessity
But in simple
Obedience to duty
As they understood it
These men suffered all
Dared all and died
Yet, Mr. Barry concludes from this passage that Southern monuments – apparently meaning all such monuments – pointed to states rights. I tried to point out the error to the author, Mr. Barry. But, he insisted “few” means only a few monuments mentioned “obedience to duty.” Even so, his post does not say “some” or a “few” mentioned something other than states rights. His post indicates all Southern monuments mention states rights. Having viewed some dozen or more Southern memorials, I know that is not accurate. And, more importantly, for purposes of Mr. Barry’s otherwise fine post, his piece does not accurately reflect Dr. Brown’s writing. Mr. Barry, or someone at the JCWE blog, would not accept my comment to his blog. That is their right. Mr. Barry did reply to my second comment via email. But, his email simply insisted he had cited to Dr. Brown’s pages accurately.
And, thus, perceptions become reality.