The Meade Pyramid’s Shifting Sands

By Jacob Ross ‘15

This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka Interns on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series.

In his essay, “The Politics of Memory: Black Emancipation and the Civil War Monument,” Kirk Savage describes a phenomenon in which the plastic arts of memory can re-appropriate blocks of bronze and stone meant to convey a certain message about the Civil War and change their meaning entirely. There is no better materialization of this theory than the Meade Pyramid located on the Fredericksburg Battlefield. The 400-ton granite structure constructed near Prospect Hill had the original intent of marking the location of General “Stonewall” Jackson’s headquarters; however, in time the purpose of the monument shifted to denote the location of a small, but unique, Union success on the Fredericksburg Battlefield – General Meade’s breakthrough of the Confederate lines. It is this monument’s new purpose which provides its modern namesake.

The pyramid was built in 1898 by a partnership between the Confederate Memorial Literary Society (CMLS) and the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad. The intent of the monument’s purpose was clear even in the initial stages of design. R.F.&P. Railroad employee John Rice was charged with visiting the mammoth Confederate memorial pyramid at Hollywood National Cemetery in Richmond in order to take measurements in an attempt to build a scaled-down duplicate by the tracks at Prospect Hill. From personal experience, the Hollywood Cemetery Pyramid sits in the epitome of “Moonlight & Magnolia” romanticism, but its location is isolated in a tucked away small portion of the vast cemetery. The Meade Pyramid, however was placed right beside the railroad tracks with the primary goal of serving as a landmark-memorial to the most geographically diverse audience Fredericksburg regularly experienced – those travelers passing through town by rail. If nothing else, it is safe to say that the pyramid embodied romantic Confederate memory and placed it at a location of highest public exposure. Continue reading “The Meade Pyramid’s Shifting Sands”

A Nation Divided?

By Jacob Ross ’15

Amid the increased use of political campaign attack ads, congressional gridlock, and far-right calls to impeach the president, it seems that divisive conflict is the only adjective that can describe the United States in 2015. A recent nationwide poll conducted by Susquehanna Polling and Research reveals that a majority of Americans tend to agree with this assessment of the political climate; 61% feel that we are a more divided nation than ever before, and things are only getting worse. But have we reached rock bottom? Is it true that the U.S. faces unprecedented division, never before known to Uncle Sam? Civil War historians would agree that the answer is a firm ‘no.’

John L. Magee, “Preston Brooks’ 1856 Attack on Sumner.” Wikimedia Commons.
John L. Magee, “Preston Brooks’ 1856 Attack on Sumner.” Wikimedia Commons.

Continue reading “A Nation Divided?”

The Soldiers’ “Silent” Defender

By Jacob Ross ’15

In war studies, it is sometimes overlooked that every war is fought on two fronts: military and political. The armed forces fight against a foe across the field, but political warriors face a far messier battleground—a convoluted arena, where the lines are blurred between friend and enemy. Representative Alexander Coffroth of Pennsylvania’s 16th District was one of most paradoxical of the Civil War Era political warriors. Mr. Coffroth was a Democrat from Somerset County, newly incorporated into the legislative district, also including Gettysburg, that he would come to represent. His election in 1862 defeated incumbent Republican Congressman Edward McPherson (namesake of McPherson’s Ridge) and dramatically changed the representation of Gettysburgians.

Congressman Alexander H. Coffroth Taken by Mathew Brady c. 1863.
Congressman Alexander H. Coffroth
Taken by Mathew Brady c. 1863.

The easiest way to sum up Coffroth’s role in the Union war effort is to imagine him as a white hat cowboy riding a black horse. In the congressional session immediately following the Battle of Gettysburg, Coffroth proved to be an ardent defender of the Democratic Party. He called the Republican Party treasonous for using the Constitution to oppress the minority and for pushing Southern rebels to violence through the fear of slave property confiscation. He also called President Lincoln to withdraw his Emancipation Proclamation because it violated the objects of the war and energized the Confederate soldiers. Continue reading “The Soldiers’ “Silent” Defender”

Civil Law and Civil War–This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Two of ‘Em

By Jacob Ross ’15

In old westerns the sheriff rules supreme. But as we often have seen, the sheriff and outlaws cannot coexist in the same town. That truth is based in the fact that the sheriff and outlaws are at their core the embodiment of two mutually exclusive concepts. While sheriffs represent the crux of civil authority and social order, outlaws characterize civil anarchy and the state of war. This political situation of opposed states of society can manifest itself in various scenarios, such as when two armies locked in battle occupy the territory of a civil government. Such a situation was present during the Battle of Gettysburg as titan Union and Confederate armies descended upon Adams County, Pennsylvania into the jurisdiction of the Adams County Sheriff Department.
“Plan of the Town of Gettysburg, Adams Co. Penna..” From 1850 survey by J. G. Sidney, CE. Gettysburg College Special Collections, Gettysburg, PA.

Unfortunately, not much has been preserved from the Adams County Sheriff of the time. In the nineteenth century it was common for county sheriffs to take the documents accumulated during their term as sheriff home with them after their service ended. Ultimately, these documents were not seen as important enough to save. This has led to a faceless, even non-existent consideration of civil law enforcement during the battle. In fact, common history has even incorrectly identified the Adams County Sheriff during the battle. Sources ranging from the Adams County Sheriff’s website to published local histories such as Jim Slade and John Alexander’s Firestorm at Gettysburg mistakenly list Adam Rebert as sheriff during the battle. This myth was probably started by inattention to political context. Although it is true that Adam Rebert was sheriff in 1863, knowledge that Rebert’s election was on the second Tuesday of October, that his commission was not granted from Governor Andrew Curtain until November 16, and that he did not take his oath of office until November 23 indicates that Rebert was not even sheriff when President Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address, let alone during the battle. Therefore, let the public record be corrected to note that the sheriff during the Battle of Gettysburg was instead Samuel Wolf, elected in 1860.

Continue reading “Civil Law and Civil War–This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Two of ‘Em”

Pohanka Reflection: Jacob Ross on Appomattox Court House NHP

By Jacob Ross ’15

This post is part of a series on the experiences of our Pohanka Interns at various historic sites working on the front lines of history as interpreters and curators. Dr. Jill Titus explains the questions our students are engaging with here. 

We have all heard the stinging statement, “Americans do not know their basic history.” Although the blame for this atrocity is sometimes laid upon the shoulders of the United States’ educational systems, more often the judgment goes hand in hand with the stereotype that Americans are lazy. And perhaps we are. Like any American college student, my laundry will pile up until I run out of socks, and I would much rather watch a historically sketchy movie than dig through the research stacks at the library. But regardless of our love of television remotes and microwavable dinners, my summer as an intern at Appomattox Court House National Historic Park and the 1994 historical survey undertaken by David Thelen and Roy Rosenzweig have shown me that Americans are taking an active effort to engage and connect with the past, albeit in a utilitarian way.

Ross 1

Continue reading “Pohanka Reflection: Jacob Ross on Appomattox Court House NHP”