How Is Civil War "Put Into Context" ?
June 21, 2017 - Yesterday, by order of the Orlando City Council, the United Daughters of The Confederacy monument at Lake Eola Park was taken down. According to press reports, it will be reassembled at a later date in a local cemetery and a marker will be placed beside the monument to put it all in context.
This monument was erected in 1911 by the Annie Coleman Chapter #225, United Daughters of The Confederacy. The majority of the monuments dedicated to the Confederate Soldier were erected between 1880 and 1920. The south was still struggling from the economic disaster that was the Civil War. But there was burgeoning hope and optimism that individual states of the South were regaining their prosperity.
The surrendered forces of the CSA had pledged not to re-arm, or to take part in any subversive activity to undermine the authority of the Union government. That pledge included the promise not to erect monuments that would enshrine the ideals of the failed effort to create the Confederate States of America. That meant the Army and Navy veterans of the CSA could not even erect any sort of monument to honor those comrades that fell in battle.
The prohibitions against mild forms of sedition were not binding upon those that did not serve. That provided a perfect loophole for Ladies Memorial Associations, UDC Chapters, and like minded groups of women to design, fund, and erect markers, statues, and monuments wherever they could find an appropriate spot. Only a small percentage of the southern memorials were completed with the assistance or funding of local governments. The bulk of them were subscription projects promoted by the ladies. They were certain their husbands, fathers, sons and brothers, would never be prosecuted for donating money to a memorial fund.
So the monuments started to rise as the south rebuilt. The first subscription effort was begun at Bolivar, Tennessee in 1866. The editor of Bolivar's newspaper made impassioned appeals for a form of unity that would honor those that fought and still respect the Union. Bolivar was an occupied town for much of the war, and anti-Yankee sentiment was normal.
Surprisingly, creating CSA monuments became a niche industry in the South. A handful of companies turned out granite and metal statues and pedastals as quickly as the ladies could raise the money. One metal fabricator in Virginia created a monument template in which the sponsoring organization could pick from several different sets of inscriptions and bas relief depictions. The economy of scale enabled dozens of small southern towns to honor "their boys" in the town square, or in front of the county courthouse.
Although defeated, the citizens of the southern states were still proud of their sons, and grieved for the 300,000 that did not return from the battlefield. The men marched off to protect the rights for which their grandfathers had fought. Many volunteered, but a large number were conscripted or forced to enlist when their families and farms were placed in jeopardy by rebellious factions of the new Confederate States.
From the perspective of the ladies there is nothing that will ever diminish the pride of seeing a son or husband stand to serve his government. They all felt it was lawful to rebel, that was even stated in the Declaration of Independence. If you gave a loved one to the fight, you had the responsibility to honor the courage it took to walk straight into an enemy line where canon shot, Minie balls, and cavalry charges preceeded up close and personal infantry combat.
The dedication of this particular UDC monument is not much different from any of the others found in the South. It offers "our loving tribute to the Confederate Soldier and as a memorial of his heroic courage, his unparalleled devotion and his unselfish patriotism." Taken in toto this is a wholly appropriate sentiment offered by the still grieving survivors of a great conflict. There is no hint of bigotry found in this dedication. No racist devotion can be ascribed to an effort that just wishes to remember the last embrace of a young man who marched to war.
Yes, some of the monuments DO HAVE a strident tone of lingering discontent and rebellion. I know of at least one monument in North Carolina in which the slaves of the county are thanked "for their years of loyal service." But that perverse logic isn't the standard, it is the exception.
One must look not only at the inscribed words, but to the symbolism of the bas relief images. A furled flag, or flag on a broken standard, acknowledges the war is over and will not continue. Stacked rifles, empty caissons without horses, and broken sabres all accept defeat. Infantry rifles held at the ready, loading canon, and cavalry forces preparing to charge ARE defiant, but not racist.
The overriding emotion felt upon visiting these monuments is a sense of mourning and loss. What else can be expected of a mother, wife, or sister?
The United States fought a three year conflict in Korea, but did not win the war. It ended with a truce that is still in place and tenuous at best. But does that stop us from erecting monuments by the hundreds that name and honor those that fell? NO!
The same thing applies to our adventure in VietNam. We certainly didn't win in the traditional sense, but we gave over 58,000 American lives to the effort. That doesn't stop us from recognizing the agony and sacrifice of those that stood to answer the call of their country. We collectively stand and weep in front of walls, bronze sculptures, and brass plaques all over the nation.
The arguments for and against the removal of UDC monuments are one sided and have left little room for compromise. It was the lack of compromise that led to the Civil War in 1861. Fear and ignorance took South Carolina out of the Union and canon fired upon Fort Sumter before Lincoln even took his oath.
If moving this monument, and any others where community standards are offended, will protect the presentation from vandalism then move it to safety. But we all know that moving it to a cemetery will NOT protect it. It becomes more of a target for those that will use the cover of night to deface and destroy at will. I have seen it happen in many circumstances. What gives anyone the right to diminish, negate, or deny the acknowledgement of grief and mourning for any soldiers and sailors?
The underlying arguments and divisive politics of the Civil War still exist today. A century and a half has passed and most of us would be appalled at the attitudes and actions of our ancestors who supported a brutal economic system which employed human slavery. But that doesn't stop us from remembering courage, faithfulness, and loyalty. Because an opponent in debate has a flawed premise does not mean the skills used to proffer those ideas should not be recognized.
For those offspring of the slaves in bondage that look at these monuments as symbols of racism I ask that they reorient themselves. If the monument is a symbol of the movement and not of those that fought, then use that symbol as a teaching tool. Teach your children about the the Emancipation Proclimation and "June Teenth." Explain that even Lincoln had to compromise on the issue of slavery. As abhorrent as it was to him, he delayed the issuance of the proclamation for political reasons. Compromise is finding a way for everyone to tolerate what we see as the flaws of everyone else.
My Ride Around America is a personal quest to find and relate the history of the United States as represented by the monuments. They honor the men and women of the events that have shaped our Republic. Every day I research and write. Every day I uncover new examples of Americans standing when their government asks. Sometimes the government position is wrong, but Patriots still put on the uniform and follow the Constitution, taking an oath "to protect against all enemies, foreign and domestic."
To remember and honor courage isn't racism.