By Olivia Hammond, Matt Gates, and Matt Walsh, VI Form
History Fellowship: Civil War Monuments and Historical Memory
Editor’s Note: The project was part of a History Fellowship unit looking at the Civil War and historical memory. Students were asked to select a monument(s) and–1. Describe, in detail, your monument(s) (who, what, when, where, why, etc.); 2. Explain the question(s) that you are exploring about your monument(s); and 3. Describe the answer(s) to your question(s). They could use a medium of their choice (e.g., paper, movie, etc.) to present their analysis.
Olivia–Racial Attitudes in the Civil War Era: Seen Through Two Boston Monuments (video)
Matt G.–Confederate Statues in the Cherokee Nation (video)
Matt W.–Civil War Memory through Local Newspapers (essay)
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Civil War Memory Through Local Newspapers
The historical consensus on the Civil War has evolved: between the end of the War and Reconstruction, the North believed that it fought to end slavery. However, the South’s proficiency in dedicating monuments and rewriting Civil War history advanced the Lost Cause ideology, or the notion that Northern encroachment on the Southern way of life, rather than slavery, caused the War. Even if the North has never implicated itself as the War’s aggressor, it did adopt one aspect of the Lost Cause ideology: the denial of slavery as the cause of the Civil War. Now, most Northern and Southern Civil War monuments mention states’ rights or preserving the Union as the cause of the War. The dedication of Civil War monuments in the North and the South by monument committees have warranted local news coverage: in 1911, The Laurens Advertiser in Laurens County, South Carolina covered the dedication of a monument in Clinton, South Carolina that honored forty-four Confederate soldiers. Five years later, an article in the Vermont Phoenix of Brattleboro, Vermont covered the dedication of a Union monument in Newfane, Vermont. Both of these articles provide interpretations of Civil War history and thus offer a glimpse into the how the North and South remembered the Civil War. In recounting the dedication of Civil War monuments, both the Phoenix and the Advertisers promoted their regions’ causes in the War. However, the Advertiser’s more editorialized account of the Confederate monument dedication shows that advancing the Lost Cause interpretation requires appeals to emotion and Southern pride.
TheAdvertiser’s coverage of the Clinton monument dedication illustrates how the South used sentimentality to promote the Lost Cause ideology. Similar to most covering Civil War monument dedications, the article in the Advertiser provided a background on the process of funding, erecting, and dedicating the monument, describing the construction of a Confederate monument the “first and dearest aim” of the Stephen D. Lee chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (Advertiser). Nonetheless, the author’s recount of the Civil War and his analysis of the War suggests that the Lost Cause was entrenched in Southern orthodoxy. In describing the how surviving Confederate soldiers now reminisce on the “fields of Virginia” and “the coast stretches of Carolina” when they remember fallen Confederate soldiers, the author romanticizes the South, evoking nostalgia and regional pride in readers (Advertiser). By juxtaposing this idyllic imagery of the South with descriptions of the “battered, suffering bodies” of fallen Confederate soldiers, the author attempts to elicit admiration of the sacrifices of the Confederate dead in his readers (Advertiser). Lastly, the author assures that, because of the positive memories of the antebellum South and the woeful memories of War that the Clinton monument helps to evoke, the Southern people will always remember “the glory…and justice of the Lost Cause and its heroes” (Advertiser). The Advertiser’s coverage of the dedication of the Clinton monument, which bears the brief inscription, “Our Confederate Heroes/Lest we Forget”, accompanies the monument by advancing the Lost Cause narrative of the Civil War (Advertiser). Without the article, the author may have feared that viewers of the monument would honor the sacrifice of Confederate soldiers but forget the credo of the Lost Cause. However, the monument may have also incited Southern pride in the author, suggesting that Confederate monuments—even those with brief inscriptions, like the one in Clinton—advance the Lost Cause ideology by stirring emotions and memories of the War. Nonetheless, in both cases, emotional appeals are integral to the Lost Cause interpretation.
Published five years later, the Vermont Phoenix article on the dedication of a Union monument in Newfane lauds the Northern cause in the Civil War but presents itself as a neutral source on Civil War history. Like the Advertiser article, the article in the Phoenix describes the process of building and dedicating the monument without editorial spin. However, the author implied his support for the Northern cause in the Civil War, dubbing the Civil War the “war of the Rebellion” and describing the citizens of Newfane as “thrilled with patriotic fervor” (Phoenix). Although implicit, the author draws a contrast between a patriotic North, which fought to preserve the Union, and a South culpable of starting a rebellion. While much of the article includes quotes by figures who spoke at the dedication, by declaring, without quotations, that “the men of Newfane pledged their…honor to the constitution of the Union”, the author suggests that the belief that the North fought to preserve the Union was fact (Phoenix). Furthermore, the author quotes Judge Frank Fish, a speaker at the ceremony, who asserted that the North fought “to save the union and crush slavery” (Phoenix). However, the author interrupts a long line of Fish’s quotations to paraphrase him: the author claims that the South “adopted the principles of state rights that had been taught by their fathers”, neglecting to identify slavery as the cause of the War (Phoenix). By interrupting Fish’s quotations with paraphrases and thus rejecting his interpretation, the author presents himself as a neutral fact-checker, further establishing that the North accepted preserve-the-union interpretation of the Civil War as fact.
ThePhoenixand theAdvertiserarticles covering the dedication of Civil War monuments in their locales illustrate that the North viewed the preserve-the-union interpretation of the Civil War as fact, whereas the South viewed the Lost Cause interpretation as fact. Nonetheless, the tone of the Advertiser’s coverage of the monument dedication in Clinton, contrasted with that of the Phoenix, demonstrates that the Lost Cause ideology relied on appeals to emotion while the Northern interpretation did not. After the Civil War, Southerners’ understanding that the Confederacy fought to preserve slavery conflicted with their desire to oppose racial progress. Furthermore, many Southerners viewed slavery as a questionable cause for which to honor their dead fathers, uncles, and brothers. In the South, the erasure of slavery as a cause of the War required Southerners to emphasize the sacrifice of the Confederate dead, giving rise to the sentimental Lost Cause ideology, an abundance of monuments in the South, and the perspective espoused in the Advertiser. Likewise, after it had grown weary of fighting for social equality in the postbellum South, the North began to deny slavery as a cause of the Civil War. In the North, the belief that the Union fought to end slavery gave the Northern cause of the Civil War an emotional bent. Thus, erasing slavery from Civil War history removed some sentimentality from the Northern interpretation of the War, giving rise to and articles like that in the Phoenix and monuments that ignored slavery.