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Memorialization, Memory, and the Civil War

By Joseph Lyons, IV Form

Memorialization, Memory, and the Civil War:

The Evolution of Civil War Memory through the Monuments of North Carolina and Maine

Introduction:

IMG_3172Driving up the hill from downtown Bridgton, Maine, one sees a towering Civil War monument looming on the horizon. The monument itself is unremarkable, as there are at least 144 other Civil War memorials in the state. Given the imprint that this conflict left on America’s collective memory, the prolific memorial-building efforts in Maine are no surprise. However, the way Maine memorials portray the conflict is rather puzzling. Despite the fact that the Union fought the war, at least in part, for emancipation and racial equality, Mainers constructed monuments, like the one in Bridgton, that largely disregarded the significance of slavery to the conflict. The inscription on the Bridgton monument reads:

To Bridgtons Sons/Who Defended The Union/1861-1865/Presented By Nathan And Henry B. Cleaves/In Honor/Of The Living/In/Grateful Memory/Of The Dead/One Country/One Destiny/One Flag/They Strove That The Nation/Might Live, That Government Of The People/By The People/For The People, should Not Perish.

The Bridgton monuments message is typical of most in the state in that it does not mention slavery, equality, or emancipation. Instead, like many others, it praises soldiers for preserving the Union and romanticizes the reunion of a divided nation behind “One Destiny” and “One Flag.” If 650,000 Union soldiers fought and died to end slavery and promote racial equality, then why do the majority of memorials in Maine and, more generally, in the North neglect these pivotal issues?

While opposition to slavery partly inspired the North’s involvement in the Civil War, as the fighting progressed, northerners increasingly became committed not only to abolition, but also to racial equality. The North’s victory and Reconstruction seemed to promise that African Americans would be included in America’s democracy. However, the Redeemers, those who sought to reestablish white rule in the South, crushed the possibility that racial equality would be an outcome of the conflict. After the war, the Redeemers, put forth the “Lost Cause” ideology, which portrayed the Confederate cause as a battle over states’ rights, not slavery. One way that the Redeemers promoted this new narrative of the conflict was through the construction of Civil War monuments.

The Civil War is the most memorialized conflict in American history, with at least 13,000 public markers and monuments scattered across the country. As a result, Civil War memorialization has had a tremendous impact on the way Americans have interpreted the war’s meaning. Using the visual and written components of their monuments, the Redeemers falsified and distorted history in order to change America’s perception of the war. Their monuments minimize the importance of slavery as a cause of the Civil War and, instead, depict the conflict as one between the North’s and South’s irreconcilable views on federalism. The Redeemers succeeded in this rewriting of history, for their vision of the war’s causes won not only in the South, but also in the North. After Reconstruction, most northerners believed they fought the war to maintain national unity, while most southerners viewed their involvement in the war as a defense of states’ rights.

Ultimately, the demand for sectional reconciliation and social healing in post-war America eclipsed racial equality as the ideological outcome of the Civil War. Both the North and the South reflected on the conflict romantically, and, thus, sentimental remembrance trumped the reality of American racial injustice. In the end, white supremacy and sectional forgiveness outlasted the North’s aggressive, albeit temporary, attempts to extend certain rights to African Americans. The memorials built to honor the sacrifices of both Union and Confederate soldiers best illustrate the prevalence of these new understandings of the war.  Rarely, in either region, do the monuments mention emancipation or race relations because both northerners and southerners were complicit in removing slavery as an issue of the war. This removal allowed northerners to justify their waning commitment to the protection of African Americans in the South, which, in turn, allowed southern Redeemers to reestablish white hierarchy without the threat of northern intervention. The elimination of racial equality as a cause of the war allowed for the disenfranchisement of African Americans and triggered a nadir in American race relations: the Jim Crow Era.

The first section of this paper will discuss the causes of the Civil War and will illustrate why slavery was a critical issue of the conflict. The second and third sections will show how Civil War monuments in Maine and North Carolina, which will represent memorialization in the broader territories of the North and the South, reflect the prevalence of the Lost Cause in collective, American memory. The paper will focus on the Civil War memorialization in Maine and North Carolina because both of these states have created databases containing pictures of and the inscriptions on their monuments. Additionally, the second and third sections will identify who built each state’s’ Civil War monuments, will examine the reasons they had for engaging in memorial-building activity, and will analyze the ways that these monuments distort Civil War history. The final section of the paper will discuss the ongoing conflicts over the memory of the Civil War.

Section One: What really caused the Civil War?

The caning of Charles Sumner on the Senate floor, one of the most violent events in congressional history, embodied the North-South cultural divide of the mid-nineteenth century and demonstrated how slavery made the coming war so difficult to avoid. On May 20, 1856, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts delivered his “Crime Against Kansas” speech, in which he denounced the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 granted the territories of Kansas and Nebraska statehood, allowing the populations of each new state to vote on the legality of slavery. Throughout western expansion, northerners and southerners had engaged in fierce debate over whether, when incorporated into the Union as states, new territories should allow or outlaw slavery. In passing the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Congress desperately sought to avoid the sectional tensions that the slave issue often provoked. However, the “Bleeding Kansas” affair shattered the the possibility of compromise. When Kansas voted on its status as a free or slave state, pro-slavery “Border-Ruffians” from Missouri traveled to Kansas, swayed the election, and made Kansas a slave state. However, “free-soilers” refused to accept the results of the vote and violence ensued. Reacting to these events on the Senate floor, Sumner, a staunch abolitionist, argued for the immediate admission of Kansas as a free state and condemned the political influence of slave owners, which he referred to as the “Slave Power”.

Not in any common lust for power did this uncommon tragedy have its origin. It is the rape of a virgin Territory, compelling it to the hateful embrace of slavery; and it may be clearly traced to a depraved desire for a new Slave State, hideous offspring of such a crime, in the hope of adding to the power of slavery in the National Government.

Sumner went on to criticize the authors of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Stephen Douglas of Illinois and Andrew Butler of South Carolina. Two days later, Democratic Congressman Preston Brooks, Butler’s cousin, approached his Republican colleague and declared, “Mr. Sumner, I have read your speech twice over carefully. It is a libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine.” Brooks then lifted his gutta-percha walking stick and repeatedly struck the stunned Sumner. The bloodied, staggering senator attempted to flee, but, while running up the Senate aisle, collapsed from his injuries. Brooks continued his assault, until two Congressmen restrained him. Despite this intervention, Brooks still seriously injured the Senator, inflicting head trauma that would plague Sumner for the rest of his life.

This incident and the reaction to it illustrated the polarizing effect that slavery had on America, for Sumner would become a martyr in the North and Brooks a hero in the South. As passionate as they were in praising their regional representative, both the North and the South were just as fierce in their condemnation for one another. William Cullen Bryant of the New York Evening Post, wrote, “Has it come to this, that we must speak with bated breath in the presence of our Southern masters?… Are we to be chastised as they chastise their slaves? Are we too, slaves, slaves for life, a target for their brutal blows, when we do not comport ourselves to please them?” In Boston, Albany, Cleveland, Detroit, New Haven, New York, and Providence, thousands rallied in support of Sumner and, profiting off of the national excitement, newspapers sold more than a million copies of Sumner’s speech. The caning of Sumner inspired many moderate northerners to become abolitionist and confirmed to southerners that Yankees were attempting to destroy their way of life. While Sumner’s assault occurred in 1856, the competing northern and southern perspectives on the slave issue first surfaced during the debates of the Founding Fathers. This ideological debate slowly divided the nation, until, in 1861, sectional tensions became irreconcilable and the Civil War erupted.

In 1787, the Founding Fathers first introduced the conflicting northern and southern views on slavery. Thomas Jefferson, an early advocate of American agrarianism, believed that the moral and economic backbone of the country was agriculture. A northern opponent of Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, argued that the prosperity of the American economy relied on the development of industry. As a result, while Hamilton promoted policies that would foster the growth of American manufacturing, Jefferson “support[ed] policies favoring agriculture over commerce; policies he believed would benefit the South and, incidentally, southern slavery.” While Jefferson’s vision of the country’s future prevailed in the agricultural South, with the emergence of northern textile manufacturing, most northerners favored Hamilton’s plan. During the Antebellum Period, westward expansion and sectional disputes concerning spread of slavery would turn these earlier disagreements into heated and, ultimately, violent confrontation.

Debates between the North and South over the morality of slavery, the power of federal government to contain slavery, and the interplay of slavery and western expansion came together in a perfect storm to cause the Civil War. While differing viewpoints on federalism and western expansion did polarize the North and South, the slave issue was a common theme underlying these sectional controversies.  In the early 1800s, the emerging, northern belief that slavery was not only immoral, but also harmful to a competitive, capitalist economy conflicted with southern desire to preserve slavery, which the South’s agricultural economy relied on for labor. This conflict grew more and more tense as American settlers pushed westward and newly developed territories applied for statehood. Two events in the west that illustrate the divisiveness of the slavery debate are the Missouri Crisis and “Bleeding Kansas”, which this section discussed earlier. In 1819, when the territory of Missouri applied for statehood, the annexation and designation of Missouri as “free” or “slave” threatened to tip the balance of free states and slave states in the Senate. Northerners and southerners fought so fiercely over the issue of Missouri’s annexation that Thomas Jefferson likened the crisis to “a fireball in the night.” In 1820, Senator Henry Clay’s remedied the situation with the Missouri Compromise, which maintained the balance of free states and slave states by admitting Maine as a free state and Missouri as a slave state. The compromise temporarily eased sectional strife and attempted to mediate the future issue of slavery in the western territories. However, as northern and southern stances on the slavery issue became increasingly resolute, no compromise could mend the division between the two regions. Rufus King, a New York politician and a leader of the growing abolition movement, declared the compromise “absolutely void” because he believed slavery was “contrary to the law of nature.” Many southerners saw the abolition movement in the North as a threat to their agrarian lifestyle and argued that federal restrictions on slavery violated the citizen’s right to property. As westward expansion continued, the admission of new territories into the United States reignited the slavery debate.

In 1854, the “Bleeding-Kansas” affair shattered the possibility of compromise. The slavery issue had so divided the North and South that the possibility of further compromise seemed out of reach. Abraham Lincoln described the impossibility of free and slave state coexistence with the metaphor, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” The slavery debates reached a climax on December 20, 1860, when South Carolina seceded from the Union. When the Civil War erupted, the northern public, angered by southern secession, became more radical in their opposition to southern slave power. As years of war and bloodshed passed, the North also became increasingly abolitionist.

During the Civil War, northerners became committed not only to the abolition of slavery, but also to the pursuit of racial equality. After secession, many northerners, particularly abolitionists “expressed their happiness with the departure of slave states.” These abolitionists were tired of northern politicians compromising with southern slaveholders and believed that only military action could end slavery. However, at the beginning of the war, most northerners did not advocate for abolition. The majority of northerners were moderate, meaning they wanted to prevent the spread of slavery west, but were content to let the institution remain where it existed. In 1858, Abraham Lincoln expressed his moderate position by stating “I have never manifested any impatience with … the actual existence of slavery amongst us where it does already exist.” Abraham Lincoln’s view on slavery, like many northerners, evolved throughout the Civil War. The Union’s casualties, the sacrifices of African Americans in the Union army and, with the penetration of Union soldiers into the South, the first-hand observations of slavery’s immorality changed the prevailing, northern stance on slavery. Union military success, specifically the victory at Antietam in September, 1862, prompted Lincoln’s decision to draft the Emancipation Proclamation on September, 22, 1862. While the Proclamation did not free slaves who resided in states loyal to the Union, it did announce that, as of January 1, 1863, all slaves in rebellious states would be free. The Emancipation Proclamation confirmed that the war was a clash of social orders as much as one of armies. In it, Lincoln called for freed slaves to join the Union Army and, in response, thousands of the African Americans enlisted.

With the help of African-American soldiers, the Union Army penetrated into the South and, when northerners witnessed the harsh realities of slave life, many fully turned against the institution of slavery. In one of his letters home, Union soldier George Stephens said that the “slaveholder’s war against the union” was “making abolitionists fast.” This transition inspired a new northern commitment to protecting African Americans, pursuing racial equality, and reconstructing southern, social hierarchy. Union victory and the emergence of northern support for the inclusion of African Americans in the nation’s democracy laid the foundation for Reconstruction.

Section Two: North Carolina Civil War Memorialization

Monuments provide historical closure—they mold a landscape of collective memory. They conserve what is worth remembering and discard the rest.

-Kirk Savage

In North Carolina, as was the case in many other southern states, the end of the Civil War forced men and women of different races to question where they belonged in a radically altered southern society. The conflict had ravaged North Carolina’s physical landscape and, from 1865 until 1877, Reconstruction equally transformed the state’s social hierarchy. During Reconstruction, in order to ensure that the war had not been fought in vain, the North attempted to prevent the restoration of the old southern establishment, which had been built on the institution of slavery. As a result, at a time when white families in North Carolina were recovering from the loss of more than 40,000 men and millions of dollars of destroyed property, many simultaneously feared that the North’s efforts to promote racial equality would result in further social upheaval. Thus, North Carolinians began to distort the Civil War’s events in ways that both justified their involvement in the conflict and discouraged northern reform.

After the Civil War, two groups of North Carolinians formulated an interpretation of the war’s meaning that became almost universally accepted in the South. In North Carolina, white women, many of whom had lost loved ones in the conflict, and the Redeemers, who sought to reestablish white rule in the South, embraced or abandoned certain memories from their traumatic, wartime experiences in order to construct a Civil War narrative that advanced both of their causes. Women wanted to preserve the memory of the struggles that they experienced during the conflict and portray the family and friends that they lost in a positive light. Thus, in North Carolina, women sought to glorify the Confederacy and the sacrifices of its soldiers. In order to dignify the Confederate cause, these women neglected the importance of slavery as an issue of the war and, instead, praised the Confederacy for its “defense of states’ rights.” Similarly, the Redeemers introduced the Lost Cause ideology, which also depicted the Confederate cause as a defense of states’ rights, rather than slavery. These propagandists twisted the war’s meaning not only to idealize the Confederacy, but also to remove racial equality as an issue that needed to be addressed in the war’s aftermath. This removal suggested that Reconstruction was not a northern attempt to remedy a social ill, but, rather, an unnecessary and punitive operation. In order to promote their understandings of the Civil War, white women and the Redeemers constructed memorials that celebrated the Confederacy, presented the Confederacy’s rebellion as a “Lost Cause”, and excluded slavery as a cause of the war.

To understand why North Carolinian women played such an important role in the construction and perversion of Civil War memory, one must first recognize the devastating impact that the conflict had on the state and, more particularly, on this demographic group. North Carolina provided more men (133,905) for the Confederate army than any other state. According to historian Paul Escott, the state “had only about one-ninth of the Confederacy’s white population,” yet “it furnished one-sixth of its fighting men.” At the end of the war, approximately thirty percent of North Carolinians who fought for the Confederacy died. For women, the deaths of sons and husbands only added to the difficulties of life during the war. With the majority of men in the state gone to fight, women “struggled to maintain farms and families.” Oftentimes, these women assumed new and unfamiliar responsibilities. In a letter to his wife, Isaac Lefevers, a Sergeant of the North Carolina “K” Company, wrote, “If I don’t get home I want you to try and have as much corn planted as you can. Do not be broken if I never do come home.” When the men left, the wives of soldiers became the sole providers for their families and caretakers of their farms. The survival of North Carolinian families often depended on letters from husbands and sons who advised women on how to cultivate the land. As a result, the loss of family members to the conflict regularly destroyed North Carolinian households. The uncertainty and stress that women experienced during the war often impaired their health, making the increased workload even more difficult to manage. Moreover, the state’s economic problems, which included food shortages and rapid inflation, further jeopardized the lives of North Carolinian women and their families. Women also actively contributed to the war effort, which tied them closer to the Confederate cause.

When the Civil War ended, North Carolinian women quickly began to memorialize and commemorate the Confederacy not only because they suffered throughout the conflict, but also because they made considerable sacrifices to support the soldiers. Once North Carolina seceded, women in the state offered their own patriotic services, forming Ladies Aid Societies. These associations would “furnish soldiers with goods such as socks, blankets, bandages, and even food.” Additionally, with almost all men absent, women provided the labor necessary to operate North Carolina’s mills and manufacturing centers. This type of work was completely foreign to the vast majority of women in North Carolina, for, during the antebellum period, “few white women…worked outside their homes.” The activity of women on the home front, as well as the deaths of friends and family members, connected this group closely to the events and outcome of the Civil War. As a result, in 1865, when Confederate troops laid down their arms and returned to North Carolina, the women, rather than the veterans, led the process of reflecting on the painful, wartime experience and championed efforts to memorialize the conflict.

Immediately after the Civil War, white women across North Carolina, as they had done during the conflict, organized. These women formed Ladies’ Memorial Associations (LMAs) in order to retrieve and bury the remains of Confederate soldiers. While creating cemeteries for the Confederate dead, LMAs also financed the construction of dozens of monuments; monuments that crafted a positive memory of the Confederacy and, thus, contributed greatly to the Lost Cause movement. After contributing to the war effort at home and losing so many family and friends, white women wanted to preserve the Confederate cause as they interpreted it. A member of one LMA explained that memorials represented “in permanent physical form the historical truth and spiritual and political ideals we would perpetuate.”

However, the inscriptions on the monuments that LMAs sponsored do not represent the “historical truth.” Instead, with these monuments, white women rewrote history from a Lost Cause perspective. Their memorials purposefully avoided the issue of slavery and, instead, emphasized “honor, courage, duty, states’ rights, and northern aggression.” North Carolina has a website containing the pictures of and the inscriptions on 121 Civil War monuments in the state. LMAs financed the creation of forty-two of these monuments. With the exception of two, every monument commend the “bravery”, “heroism” or “courage” of Confederate soldiers. Nineteen reference the “Lost Cause.” One monument in Clinton, North Carolina, exemplifies the way LMAs venerated the Confederacy. Its inscription reads, “In Honor of the Confederate Soldiers of Sampson County ‘Who bore the flag of a nation’s trust and fell in a cause though Lost still Just.’” In quotations, the Clinton monument’s inscription referenced a poem, titled March of the Deathless Dead, that became a popular ode to the Lost Cause. Excerpts from March appear on memorials throughout the South because the poem represents the war as a doomed, but nonetheless heroic defense of states’ rights; a narrative that the LMAs sought to promote.

However, the romanticization of the Confederacy required the removal of slavery, freedom, and emancipation from Civil War memory. As a result, none of the LMAs’ monuments mention these issues, despite the fact that they were central to the conflict. Rather than confronting the slave issue, the LMAs’ memorials highlight the valor of soldiers or commend the Confederates’ efforts to protect the South and defend states’ rights. Their monuments not only allowed the “war generation to etch their devotion to the cause in stone”, but also served as “reminders of the southern social order and heroic Confederate cause to subsequent generations.”

The LMA memorials had a profound impact on the way North Carolinians reflected on the war even decades after it ended. “Thanks to the ladies’ memorial associations”, one newspaper editor wrote in 1897, “people turn their thoughts back to the war [and] revive the memories of those days of heroism and suffering.” The white women who joined LMA’s and participated in monument building did so in order to glorify the Confederacy and its soldiers. However, this idolization required them to willfully neglect the significance of slavery as one of the war’s causes and, instead, emphasize debates over federalism as being the conflict’s primary issue. The inscription on one of the monuments in Salisbury, North Carolina, reads, “They gave their lives and their fortunes for state sovereignty in obedience to the teachings of the Fathers who framed the Constitution.” By discussing debates over federalism that occurred previously in American history, this monument and others like it paint the war as a battle over competing political ideologies, rather than conflicting, sectional views on the slave issue. The LMAs’ promotion of the Lost Cause benefitted the Redeemers who sought to excise the issue of racial equality from Civil War memory in order to advance their political agenda.

In North Carolina, the Redeemers, like the LMAs, constructed memorials that helped popularize Lost Cause ideology. By spreading this narrative of the Civil War’s events, the Redeemers intended to undermine northern efforts aimed at guaranteeing racial equality. By popularizing the Lost Cause with their memorials, white women contributed to the Redeemer’s mission of reducing the political and civil rights of freedmen to a state of de facto slavery.

The Redeemers minimized the historical importance of slavery and promoted the Lost Cause by using monuments to falsify history. While identifying specific monuments that the Redeemers sponsored is difficult because members of this group did not identify as such, the memorials in North Carolina clearly reflect the success that white supremacists had in popularizing the Lost Cause. LMAs became less prevalent in the late 19th century, when the wives and daughters of Confederate veterans began to die off. However, during this time period, North Carolinians constructed the most memorials because the Redeemer influence was so strong. Regardless of who funded the construction of specific memorials and what their motive was in doing so, all of North Carolina’s Civil War monuments, when analyzed together, illustrate that the Redeemers managed to formulate and propagate a new Civil War narrative, one that downplayed the slavery issue. Of the 121 monuments in the state, sixty-three mention the “Lost Cause”. In 1977, the Memorial Association of Charlotte erected a memorial that espoused the Lost Cause, demonstrating the long-standing pervasiveness of this ideology. The monument’s inscription reads, “Honor Gallant Sons who fought in the Armies of the Confederate States of the South. They struggled nobly for the cause of independence and constitutional self-government.” Oftentimes, monuments in North Carolina portray the North as instigators in order to support the idea that the Confederacy emerged in opposition to northern tyranny. Thirty-two memorials in the state refer to the Civil War as the “War of Northern Aggression”. All the monuments, with two exceptions, avoid the issues of slavery, equality, and freedom. One exception is the monument in Mebane, North Carolina, which commends “the Faithful Slaves” that chose to stay loyal to the Confederacy. By depicting the slaves as willingly subservient to their masters, this monument minimizes the tragedy of slavery and, thus, implies that northern efforts to dissolve the institution were unwarranted. The only other monument that references slavery is located in Taylorsville, North Carolina. While this memorial does recognize the existence of slavery, the rest of the monument inscription aggressively denies the idea that slavery had anything to do with the Confederate cause. In denying that slavery motivated southern secession, this monument presents false evidence. An excerpt from the inscription on the monument reads, “Lee was opposed to Secession and Slavery, having freed his Slaves 17 years prior to the War… Grant owned Slaves, which were freed by Emancipation Proclamation.” Both of these statements are factually incorrect. Robert E. Lee did not free his slaves until December 29th, 1862. Ulysses S. Grant freed his only slave in 1859. When southern Redeemers directly confronted the slavery issue, they often had to misrepresent or warp information in order to argue that racial equality had nothing to do with the Civil War. As a result, most southerners built monuments that neglected the slavery issue altogether. Instead, they constructed memorials like the one in Hertford, North Carolina, which honors Confederate soldiers for giving “Their Lives And Fortunes For State Sovereignty.” The Redeemers’ monuments often emphasize the sacrifices of Confederate soldiers to distract from the importance of the sectional tensions that led to the war and, particularly, from the divisiveness of the slavery issue. The vast majority of North Carolina’s memorials avoid this issue and, instead, of discussing slavery, praise Confederate troops for their protection of the South or their defense of state sovereignty. By focusing on this narrative and neglecting slavery as a cause of the Civil War, the Redeemers portrayed Reconstruction as northern punishment, rather than an attempt to improve the African American social condition.

Throughout Reconstruction, southerners promoted a memory of the war in which slavery played no part and blacks participated only as faithful servants who protected their masters’ property. This perversion of history portrayed the Confederacy in a positive light and, thus, perpetuated Lost Cause ideology. Although southerners decisively lost the Civil War, the Redeemers reflected on the Confederacy with nostalgia in an attempt to romanticize their forebears’ cause. The Redeemers’ Lost Cause justified the Confederacy’s secession as a heroic defense of states’ rights in response to the tyrannical power of the national government, building upon the precedents set by the anti-Federalists, the authors of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, and the Nullifiers. The South’s emphasis on the heroics of battle distracted from the importance of the sectional conflicts that led to the war and, as a result, from the divisiveness of the slavery issue.

As the Lost Cause gained popularity, most North Carolinians and southerners as a whole began to view Reconstruction as an attack on their way of life and became even more staunch in their opposition to racial equality. Eventually, the South’s desire for white supremacy outlasted the North’s commitment to protecting African Americans. To justify an end to Reconstruction, northerners largely accepted the Redeemer’s Lost Cause ideology. New understandings of the Civil War held that the conflict was a heroic battle between the Confederacy’s efforts to defend states’ rights and Union’s struggle to maintain national unity. In North Carolina and across the South, northern exhaustion allowed the Redeemers to reestablish white hierarchy without the North interfering. Therefore, the elimination of racial equality as a cause of the war allowed for the disenfranchisement of African Americans and laid the foundation for the Jim Crow Era.

Section Three: Maine Civil War Memorialization

 

Only thank God men have done learned how to forget quick what they ain’t brave enough to try to cure.

-William Faulkner

During the Civil War, the Union Army pushed deep into the South. When northerners witnessed the harsh realities of slave life, many turned against the institution. As a result, during the early years of Reconstruction, most northerners supported Congress when it imposed extensive reforms on the South. With these reforms, the North sought to abolish slavery, to punish Confederates by establishing a more equitable social order, and to improve the social and political standings of African Americans. They believed that Reconstruction efforts to defend African Americans’ rights honored the Union soldiers who suffered and died in pursuit of racial equality.

In Maine, the public’s desire for southern reformation was particularly strong, for the state had contributed 73,000 troops to the Union Army and Navy, which was “the highest figure in proportion to population of any state.” Given their outsized contribution to the war effort, most Mainers wanted southern society to transform significantly and permanently because this transformation would help justify the trauma they experienced during the conflict. For them, the economic and human loss of the war necessitated postbellum, northern action to achieve the Union’s social and political goals, which included abolition and racial equality. However, over time, Mainers, like most northerners, became tired of devoting resources to protecting African Americans in the South. Eventually, the economic demands of, and the South’s unwearying opposition to, Reconstruction outlasted the North’s commitment to racial equality. Rather than continuing this ideological struggle, by the 1870s, many northerners wanted to alleviate sectional tensions and, thus, embraced a spirit of national reconciliation. This shift in popular thinking required the formation and acceptance of a new account of the Civil War’s events, one that rejected slavery as a cause of the war. During Reconstruction, southern Redeemers popularized such a narrative. They portrayed the Confederacy as a “Lost Cause” for states’ rights. Over time, northerners largely adopted this interpretation of the war’s meaning. Rather than recognizing slavery as one of the Civil War’s’ causes, at the end of Reconstruction, most northerners believed that the Union fought to preserve the nation and defend its interpretation of federalism. The omission of slavery from Civil War memory provided northerners the justification they needed to withdraw from Reconstruction and thereby withdraw their commitment to racial equality. In Maine, the memorials built to honor the sacrifices of Union soldiers illustrates how popular memory of the war became distorted over time.

After the Civil War, Mainers followed the national pattern of remembrance. Across the state, cities and towns erected monuments to soldiers. In North Carolina, women and white supremacists led efforts to memorialize the conflict. In Maine, however, veterans associations constructed the vast majority of the state’s Civil War monuments. Maine veterans emerged as the most active, memorial-building group in the state partially because they were such a large demographic with sixty percent of men between the ages of eighteen to forty-five having served the Union. Additionally, in the war’s immediate aftermath, these organizations wanted to celebrate the bravery of Union soldiers, provide them permanent remembrances, and define the conflict’s meaning.

Most of the Civil War memorials that Maine veterans associations built in their state during the Reconstruction Era (1865-1877) recognized slavery as one of the war’s causes. At the end of the war, most Maine veterans believed that Union soldiers fought not only to preserve the nation, but also to emancipate slaves. Furthermore, many Union veterans wanted to achieve racial equality in post-bellum America because, during the war, soldiers witnessed the tragic realities of slave life and some recognized that African Americans, particularly those in the United States Colored Troops, had fought admirably for the Union. As a result, veterans associations, in Maine and throughout the North, created memorials that discussed ideas like equality and freedom, and their centrality to the Union cause.

Of the forty-six monuments built in Maine during Reconstruction, twenty-eight have inscriptions that mention freedom, equality, or liberty. One such monument, which the Winterport, Maine veteran association constructed in 1870, displays this passage on its front face:

In Gratitude To The Citizen Soldiers For Services Rendered Our Common Country In Suppressing The Slave Holder Rebellion of 1861 To 1865, Thereby Maintaining The Union Of the States, And Establishing Equal Freedom And Justice To All The People Thereof.

By emphasizing the importance of slavery to the war, this monument argues that the Civil War was more than just a political disagreement between the North and the South. Instead, it suggest that the Union also fought to end slavery and establish “Equal Freedom And Justice To All.” In 1871, a veterans association in Wells, Maine built a monument with an inscription that echoed this mission:

To the Soldiers who sacrificed their lives during the Great Rebellion in maintaining our Government and establishing a foundation for the advancement of civil and religious liberty.

This emancipationist interpretation is the one Lincoln referred to in the Gettysburg Address when he spoke of the war as bringing a rebirth of the Republic in the name of liberty and equality. In his address, Lincoln stated that if the country experienced “a new birth of freedom” then the “dead shall not have died in vain.” His vision of the war depicted the Union soldiers as crusaders for abolition and racial equality. During Reconstruction, Maine veterans used their memorials to promote this narrative of the war because it not only glorified the Union cause, but also justified the suffering that the soldiers experienced as being necessary to destroy the evil institution of slavery. During Reconstruction in the North, this interpretation of the conflict dominated popular thought. As a result, since most northerners believed the war was fought to end slavery and secure the vote for black men, when the war ended, they supported government efforts to safeguard African Americans’ rights in the South.

 

Following the Union victory in the Civil War, a Republican Congress imposed sweeping reforms on the South to punish Confederates, abolish slavery, and improve the social and political standing of freedmen. The Redeemers, those who wanted to reaffirm the traditional, southern establishment and white hierarchy, grew in response to Reconstruction. This group sought to undermine northern attempts to include freedmen in America’s democracy. Despite this opposition, early Reconstruction efforts seemed to ensure that the social position of African Americans in the South would improve dramatically.

The ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment on January 31, 1865, abolished slavery. Northern abolitionists, in reacting to the Thirteenth Amendment’s ratification, demonstrated their desire to not only end slavery, but also guarantee civil rights for former slaves. Abolitionist Wendell Phillips said that, while the Amendment “free[ed] the slaves,” it did nothing to guarantee them civil rights and, thus, “ignore[ed] the Negro.” He, along with many other northerners, called for further congressional action to protect freedmen from the Redeemers. Reports of violence and intimidation against former slaves proved to most northerners that abolition alone would not improve race relations in the South. Advocates of more aggressive reform argued that if Union soldiers lost their lives in a war to end slavery, then allowing the Redeemers to disenfranchise and terrorize African American would be an insult to that sacrifice. To honor their fallen comrades, many Maine veterans associations even donated to the Freedmen’s Bureau, an organization that worked in the South to educate and protect the civil rights of former slaves. One organization based in Clinton, Maine, wrote that they decided to raise money for the Freedmen’s Bureau because the “memory of the Union’s brave and patriotic soldiers ought to be honored by a continued commitment to protecting civil liberties.” The Republicans adopted this mindset and, after sweeping the congressional elections of 1866, initiated a decade long period of radical reform.

Congress first passed the Reconstruction Act of 1867, which divided the South into military districts and authorized the military occupation of southern states. For a state to rejoin the United States, Congress required that the state’s government ratify the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment was a response to the South’s post-war enactment of Black Codes, which severely restrained African Americans’ legal rights. White southerners, aiming to control the freedmen, used vagrancy laws to pressure African Americans into signing strict labor contracts, and imposed harsher punishments on criminals if they were African American. The Fourteenth Amendment stated that all people born in the United States, including freed slaves, were citizens. In addition, the Amendment demanded that all states provide “equal protection of the laws.” Congress then ratified the Fifteenth Amendment on February 25th, 1869, which outlawed voting discrimination based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” However, despite these major strides towards improving race relations, northern zeal in defending the rights of African Americans began to diminish in the late 1860s because southern occupation became a financial burden.

Reconstruction ultimately failed in 1877 because most northerners, having become tired of devoting great economic resources to protecting African Americans in the South, began to accept the Lost Cause narrative. While, northern Republicans, in initiating Reconstruction, made a commitment to guaranteeing legal and political equality for former slaves, they abandoned it in the face of violent opposition from the white South. Furthermore, as memories of the war’s horrors became more distant, northerners began to forget the tragedy of the war and what caused the conflict.

The monuments built in Maine after 1877 demonstrate how northerners, in reflecting on the war more than a decade after its completion, largely ignored issues like emancipation and equality, and, instead, focused on the sacrifices Union soldiers made to preserve the nation. Of the sixty-seven monuments built in Maine after 1877, forty-four have inscriptions that include the phrases “One Flag, One Union”, “Defense of the Union” or “Preservation of the Union.” However, in contrast to the memorials built during Reconstruction, none mention freedom, equality or emancipation. Instead of discussing those issues, most of inscriptions on these later memorials recount anecdotes of soldiers who acted courageously in battle. The inscription on one memorial in Gardiner, Maine is emblematic of most in that state. It reads, “In Memory Of The Men of Gardiner Who Died In The War of 1861 So That Their Country Might Live.” Employing similar language, the memorial in Oxford, Maine, celebrates the “Men Who Braved Danger and Endured Hardship To Preserve The Nation” and the memorial in Kennebunk, Maine, honors “Loyal Sons Who Aided In the Preservation and Unity of the Nation.” The inscription on one monument in Cumberland, which the town built in 1885, reads, “Stinson Was The First Volunteer Soldier From Portland To Give His Life For The Preservation Of The Union In The Civil War.” Interestingly, Alonzo P. Stinson was also one of Maine’s first African-American soldiers. However, the monument makes no mention of Stinson’s race and, instead, merely focuses on his battlefield accomplishments. White northerners quite purposefully disregarded the importance of race towards the end of Reconstruction because, given the extraordinary costs of military occupation in the South, they were willing to stop protecting African Americans if that meant their divided country could reconcile and move forward into the Gilded Age. Not surprisingly, many of these memorials were constructed at the same time as the deconstruction of black political participation, for, once equality had been erased from memory, it was easier to erase it from reality. In 1877, the North abandoned its commitment to protecting freedmen’s rights and allowed the racial injustice of the Jim Crow to occur, so that northerners and southerners could unite in the romance of reunion.

While Reconstruction sought to guarantee certain rights for African Americans, the Redeemers found creative and violent methods of undermining black political participation. This was particularly true after the North withdrew its military presence from the South and the Jim Crow Era began. During Jim Crow, terrorist groups used violence to suppress the African-American vote. These white supremacists committed acts of lynching, rape, and arson without punishment. A particularly heinous event occurred on April 13, 1873, when the White League, a paramilitary group intent on securing white rule in Louisiana, clashed with the state’s almost all-black militia. The skirmish took place in the backdrop of racial tensions following the hotly contested Louisiana governor race in 1872. In Colfax county, white Democratic leaders, angered by their narrow defeat in the election, called for armed supporters to capture the Colfax Parish Courthouse from the black and white Republican officeholders. During the attack, Redeemers surrounded African-Americans who were attempting to assert their political rights and slaughtered them. The Colfax monument describes the event as follows: “On this site occurred the Colfax Riot in which three white men and 150 negroes were slain. This event … marked the end of carpetbag misrule in the South.” By remembering African Americans’ attempts to vote as “misrule” that was valiantly ended with a mass killing, this monument, and others like it, justified further discrimination. Armed with the false idea that “misrule” accompanied the granting of rights and power to African Americans, both northerners and southerners became more comfortable with the rise of Jim Crow.

Once white supremacists intimidated African Americans and deterred them from voting, the southern legislatures went to work. For example, when Mississippi rewrote its constitution in 1890, the president of the convention declared, “We are here to exclude the Negro.” The Fifteenth Amendment, however, prevented the Mississippi convention from denying African Americans the vote outright. The convention avoided this impediment by introducing voting restrictions like annual poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses, all of which affected a disproportionate number of African Americans. The Mississippi convention cut the percentage of black men registered to vote from more than ninety percent during Reconstruction to less than six percent by 1892. After observing Mississippi’s success in reducing black voter turnout,  southern states adopted similar voting restrictions. From 1896 to 1904, the number of registered black voters in Louisiana, for example, decreased from 130,334 to 1,342.

The Redeemers not only disenfranchised African Americans, but also wanted to, once again, make freedmen subservient laborers. State governments eliminated the “rights of ex-slaves to bargain for labor contracts” and, after the establishment of sharecropping systems, most African Americans lived in a state of de facto slavery. In addition, the South, with the approval of the Supreme Court in the Plessy v. Ferguson decision, created a thorough system of segregation to reinforce the message of racial supremacy.

Unfortunately, the Civil War’s skewed memory and its enduring social consequences have persisted to the present day. Americans excised race and slavery from the Civil War story in order to reunify and move past the sectional conflict of the Civil War. While the Civil War’s adapted narrative helped both regions of the country reconcile, the elimination of racial equality as an issue of the war allowed this reconciliation to happen at the expense of African Americans living in the South, who experienced the political, economic, and social repression of the Jim Crow Era. Manipulation of Civil War memory provided northerners the justification they needed to end Reconstruction. Free of northern occupancy, the Redeemers excluded African Americans from the political process. Devoid of political power, blacks were at the will of southern whites. Until the Civil Rights Movement, this subordinate social position persisted for almost a century. In 1940, a “mere 3 percent of voting-age black men and women in the South were registered to vote.” The political repression of African Americans has continued to this today and, as the Neo-Confederate movement, the Confederate flag debate, and the 2015 Charleston church shooting illustrate, so too has the Civil War’s flawed legacy.

Section Four: The Ongoing Conflicts over Civil War Memory 

The philosopher George Santayana said, “those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” While that is true, the memory of the Civil War shows that the misuse of history can be as damaging as the failure to remember it, for those who can control the memory of the past can manipulate it to control both the present and the future.

In the decades following the Civil War, white southerners crafted a favorable history of the old South and the Confederacy. In order to vindicate the white South in the wake of crushing defeat, the Redeemers constructed memorials that claimed liberty as a southern principle, promoted white supremacy, and celebrated the Confederacy as a courageous, albeit doomed, stand against northern tyranny. This misrepresentation of Civil War history, one that disregarded slavery as one of the conflict’s causes, became popular not only in the South, but also in the North, for adopting this false memory proved useful for both regions. Over time, white Americans began to remember the war as a struggle between competing northern and southern interpretations of federalism. This narrative provided northerners, many of whom were tired of devoting resources to protecting African Americans in the South, an opportunity to abandon their commitment to racial equality, and allowed southerners to reestablish white supremacy without the threat of northern intervention.

In their misuse of history, the Redeemers achieved surprising success. They created memorials that praised southern soldiers, made claims about the benefits of harsh racial hierarchy, and idolized the Confederacy. Their memorialization efforts helped stifle northern aims for racial equality during Reconstruction and promoted a vision of an old South within southern and then American perception. As the Civil War’s meaning evolved in the nation’s collective memory, the North, despite the economic and human costs of the war, surrendered its commitment to creating a more just southern society. Rather than continuing efforts towards improving race relations, after Reconstruction, a fragmented nation embarked on the slow process of reunion.  Thus, the defeated in the Civil War established the conflict’s legacy, a reality that has been fueled by and has contributed to the nation’s persistent racism. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the Civil War is that, as David Blight notes, “Americans still struggle everyday to discern and enact that society of equality that the Civil War at least made imaginable.” As the Neo-Confederate movement, the recent debates concerning the display of Confederate symbols, and the Charleston church shooting demonstrate, the Redeemer’s success in perpetuating the Lost Cause has hindered efforts at improving race relations in modern, American society.

Immediately after the Confederate soldiers laid down their arms, southern municipalities constructed monuments, southern writers picked up their pens, and the Redeemers terrorized African Americans to accomplish what the South could not achieve on the battlefield: the preservation of a society built on racial oppression and white supremacy. Due to the Redeemers’ prolific memorial-building efforts, monuments to Confederate soldiers vastly outnumber those built to honor the Union cause even in border states that never joined the Confederacy. Even in border states where the majority of the population fought for the Union, the vast majority of public monuments are dedicated to Confederate soldiers. For instance, in Kentucky, where the legislature voted not to secede and where, early in the war, Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston said his troops found “no enthusiasm, as we imagined and hoped, but hostility,” Confederate monuments still dominate the landscape. Ninety thousand Kentuckians fought for the Union, while only 35,000 joined the Confederate army. Nonetheless, the state has only two Union monuments and seventy-two Confederate ones. Pro-Confederacy individuals and groups during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries also won the memory of the war in parts of Maryland. The United Daughters of the Confederacy, a group that grew out of the Ladies’ Memorial Association movement, built a monument next to the Rockville Courthouse with an inscription that reads, “To our heroes of Montgomery Co. Maryland: That we through life may not forget to love the thin gray line.” This monument exists despite the fact that Maryland’s population overwhelmingly supported the Union. Maryland did not secede, and, while the state contributed 24,000 men to the Confederate forces, it also sent 63,000 to the Union army. Furthermore, when Robert E. Lee marched his army through Maryland expecting to find recruits and supplies, the residents rejected their requests for aid and, after Antietam, welcomed traveling Union soldiers. One Confederate leader, Jubal Early, even ransomed $200,000 from the city of Frederick. Despite all this, Frederick has two memorials to Confederate veterans and, according to the city’s current mayor, during Memorial Day, “Very little is done on the Union side. It’s mostly Confederate.” While more Kentuckians and Marylanders fought in the Civil War for the Union, subsequent generations in these states largely aligned themselves with Confederate ideology.

The Redeemers, and later Neo-Confederates, achieved this realignment by claiming and popularizing the belief that the Civil War was rooted in states’ rights, but as David Blight explained, “like any other constitutional doctrine, it significance rests with the issue in whose service it is employed.” Southern states exercised “state sovereignty”, seceded, and formed the Confederacy because, according to the President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis:

She [the South] has heard proclaimed the theory that all men are created free and equal, and this made the basis of an attack upon her social institutions; and the sacred Declaration of Independence has been invoked to maintain the position of the equality of the races.

Despite Jefferson Davis’ explicit claims that he led the Confederacy to war in order to preserve a racial order founded on slavery, prominent Neo-Confederate groups, such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy or the Sons of Confederate Veterans, not only deny the significance of slavery as a cause of the war, but also assert the benefits of the institution, arguing that it was somehow pro-family. Perhaps the greatest indication of the Lost Cause’s pervasiveness is that, according to a 2011 Pew Research study, “by a 48%-to-38% margin, more Americans say states’ rights rather than slavery was the main cause of the Civil War.” These percentages can be partly attributed to the Internet, which Neo-Confederates have used to spread Civil War misinformation to a larger audience. In modern America, physical emblems of the Lost Cause, such as monuments that the Redeemers constructed or public exhibitions of the “Stars-and-Bars”, provide palpable evidence of the Civil War’s perverted legacy and, to this day, influence how the war is remembered. With their websites and blogs, Neo-Confederate groups have, in a more anonymous and far-reaching manner, utilized the Internet to miseducate the public, generate pro-Confederate sympathy, and recruit people to their cause.

Ever since the Civil War ended, advocates of the “Lost Cause” have used monuments to spread Civil War misinformation. The Internet has provided Neo-Confederates a new platform from which they can disseminate their ideologies to a wider audience. Neo-Confederates have used their websites, much like the Redeemers used their memorials, to portray the Confederacy in a positive light. Neo-Confederate groups share a deep sense of paranoia: they feel that their way of life is under constant attack. The terrorist threat from white supremacists and, most notably, the 2015 Charleston church shooting, demonstrate the potential harm that can come from such a persecution complex. While the Redeemers downplayed the significance of slavery and race relations with the memorials they built after the Civil War, modern Neo-Confederates have gone further on their websites, espousing the more radical and more dangerous belief that America is actively undermining white, southern heritage.

On their websites, Neo-Confederates portray the Confederacy as a victim of tyrannical, northern government, describe an ongoing fight for the preservation of southern heritage, and deny that slavery influenced southern secession. One leading Neo-Confederate group, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, is an organization for male descendants of soldiers who fought for the South in the Civil War. The Sons of Confederate Veterans formed in 1896 to “protect the legacy of those who fought for the Confederacy.” They believe that the government and media have attempted to taint the legacies of their forebears by depicting slavery as a central cause of the Civil War. The organization’s website rejects any connection between slavery and the Confederate cause. On the website’s homepage, Dean Boggs, a leader of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, wrote that he decided to become a member “Because even today, some of our school books, movies, television programs and press falsely portray southerners as rebels and traitors who fought to preserve slavery, misleading our children and millions of Americans ignorant of history.” The belief that outside influences are purposefully attacking southern heritage is dangerous because some Neo-Confederates blame these supposed transgressions on specific ethnic and racial groups. This, in part, is the reason why there is significant overlap between members of the Neo-Confederate and white supremacist movements.

Strangely, Neo-Confederates, many of whose ancestors owned slaves, often view themselves as victims of modern-day race relations. Their belief that America has tarnished the glory of the Confederacy and southern, white culture is responsible for this persecution complex.  Unfortunately, when Neo-Confederates express their ideologies online, deranged individuals sometimes read and adopt their ideas. These individuals sometimes identify a specific group as a threat to their way of life and respond violently, as was the case last summer with twenty-one-year-old Dylann Roof.

On July, 17, 2015, Dylann Roof, a white supremacist who frequented Neo-Confederate websites, attended a Bible study group at a historically black church. After sitting with the group listening to their prayers, he interrupted, yelling “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” He then opened fire on the churchgoers with a handgun, killing nine. This tragic event focused national attention on the relationship between the white supremacist movement and Neo-Confederates. This connection is accurate, for the ideology of the Neo-Confederates differs from that of the white supremacist movement only in its degree of radicalism. When discussing Neo-Confederate ideology in his manifesto, Roof agreed with all of their tenets with the exception of one: the non-violence pledge. He wrote, “We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the Internet… Well, someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”

Racism is one of America’s greatest contemporary problems, but its roots stretch into the nation’s history. The Redeemers’ and Neo-Confederates’ efforts to distort the Civil War’s legacy continues to interfere with the advancement of race relations. These groups portrayed the Civil War as a battle over states’ rights. According to them, the war was not fought over slavery, so its aftermath should not promote equality as atonement for slavery. Redeemers put forth their message through Civil War memorials. Using these monuments, the Redeemers distorted history to change Americans’ perception of what the war could accomplish. Since many of these memorials still stand, American society must confront these memories, and decide to either preserve or eliminate them.

Monuments, like the one in Colfax, Louisiana, that section three of this paper examines,  should be removed because they pervert the past and present. In 1873, a group of Redeemers surrounded African-Americans, who were asserting their newly won rights, and slaughtered them. The Colfax monument recounts the event as follows: “On this site occurred the Colfax Riot in which three white men and 150 negroes were slain. This event … marked the end of carpetbag misrule in the South.” This monument still stands in 2016. Society should seek to remove this memorial and others like it, for they falsify history in ways that vilify African-American political participation, and, thus, encourage racial discrimination. A museum contextualizing the monument within the history of American race relations would be a better location for this memorial. While Americans should place monuments that clearly distort the past and promote white supremacy in museums, what should society do with the thousands of Civil War memorials that may not fabricate history, but do omit pieces of it?

This paper mentions several monuments that support Lost Cause ideology not by presenting false facts about the past, but by neglecting the complete, historical truth. As the memorialization work of the Redeemers and Neo-Confederates has demonstrated, such misguided historical memories can promote modern injustice. At the same time, Americans must examine, discuss, and confront these memories rather than simply erase them in order promote a more just society. The impulse to eliminate all of the Redeemers’ monuments is understandable, but this could cause people not to learn from the nation’s troubled past. Moreover, when a monument is not a purposeful distortion, it would be better to encourage contextualization, education, and conversation around these memorials rather than simply removing them.

In order to educate people about the importance of slavery as a cause of the Civil War and discredit the Lost Cause mythology, society should contextualize memorials that disregard issues like emancipation. To do so, memorialization societies, museums, and other public educators should explain why racial injustice helped ignite the conflict, and should emphasize the fact that the Union wanted racial equality to be an outcome of the war. Moreover, simply placing placards that identify all of the war’s causes next to existing monuments would hinder the spread of the Redeemers’ myths.

Another approach would be to build monuments that recognize the significance of slavery and racial justice in connection with the war. This has already been done. For example, Augustus Saint-Gauden’s built a majestic memorial to the Massachusetts 54th Regiment. This monument, which is located in a place of honor across from the Massachusetts State House,  commemorates a regiment of valiant African-American soldiers who fought for the freedom of enslaved blacks.

In a similar fashion, the Chamberlain Freedom Park, which is located in Brewer, Maine, constructed monuments in 1996 to celebrate the Civil War as a struggle not simply over federalism, but also as a battle for freedom and racial justice. This Park has statues honoring the Gettysburg hero, Maine resident Joshua Chamberlain. However, it goes even further by presenting a statue of a slave striving for freedom on the Underground Railroad and presenting this in the context of the Civil War.

While these efforts to correct Lost Cause mythology are admirable, society should be on the lookout for the lingering influence of that myth. For example, in 1925 the “Ladies of the Monument Circle” in Lisbon Maine erected a monument to the Civil War that read:

Erected in Loving Remembrance of the Boys of Lisbon who braved danger, endured hardships and faced death to preserve our nation. Their lives were well spent, and given in grateful recognition of sacrifices and services, and with a just pride in their high achievements.

This homage to the fallen men of Lisbon mentions the idea of preserving the nation, but it nowhere discusses slavery, emancipation, or equality. Given that it was constructed in 1925, this is not surprising.

The repetition of such a half truth in 1999, however, is shocking. In that year, the Lisbon Historical Society dedicated another memorial to the town’s sons who died in the Civil War. Despite the passage of time and the intervention of the Civil Rights Movement, the Historical Society created a small monument whose inscription reads:

Dedicated July 10th 1999/In Memory Of The Volunteers/From Lisbon Who Died During The/Civil War To Preserve The Union/May This Monument Forever Remind/Us Of The Spirit Of Patriotism And/Perpetuate The Principles For Which/These Brave Men Fought And Died/Presented By The Lisbon Historical Society.

“Preserve the Union.” “Spirit of Patriotism.” Nowhere does this contemporary memorial acknowledge the centrality of race and equality in the story of the Civil War and the noble sacrifices that these men made. An even stronger affront is the fact that this memorial, constructed in 1999, shows not only an American Flag, but also the flag of the Confederacy, the entity that came into being, at least in part, to preserve slavery, the institution that many Mainers went to war to end. This 1999 monument is continuing the reconciliationist interpretation of the Civil War’s memory instead of the emancipationist interpretation.

Because the Lost Cause lingers, the struggle to promote a different interpretation of the past should go on. This is the only path to a just future.

IMG_1464Joseph Lyons is a VI Form day student from Southborough, MA. Academically, Joey enjoys integrating his favorite disciplines (history and literature) in humanities classes.

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