The Louisiana and Mississippi State Monuments

The Louisiana and Mississippi State Monuments, located in close proximity on West Confederate Avenue on the Gettysburg Battlefield, were sculpted by Donald DeLue and erected within two years of each other. Louisiana???s monument went up first, in 19…

This post was first published on the Civil War Institute’s previous blog901 Stories from Gettysburg.

The Louisiana and Mississippi State Monuments, located in close proximity on West Confederate Avenue on the Gettysburg Battlefield, were sculpted by Donald DeLue and erected within two years of each other. Louisiana’s monument went up first, in 1971, followed by Mississippi’s in 1973. Both monuments were cast of bronze in Italy, and each cost $100,000. DeLue’s monuments are known for their capture of moments of extreme courage and their depictions of idealized bravery; his works on the field at Gettysburg are no exception.

Officially titled “Spirit Triumphant,” Louisiana’s monument features a muscular, majestic, ten-foot tall figure called “The Spirit of the Confederacy” elevated above the body of a dead artillerist. The casualty, nine feet in length, is presumably of the Washington Artillery of New Orleans, whose position on the field is approximately marked by the monument.

DeLue’s decision to cast the two figures in similar sizes with “The Spirit of the Confederacy” only a foot larger than the wounded soldier conveys the notion that Louisiana’s dead, and indeed the larger Confederacy’s dead, are second only in will and spirit to the cause for which they perished. “The Spirit of the Confederacy” is also known as Saint Barbara, the patron saint of artillerymen. Barbara holds a flaming cannon ball in her right hand, which is raised above her head, and she sounds a trumpet held in her left. Her cannon ball aflame symbolizes not only the physical power and destructiveness of Louisiana’s artillery, but also the lit flame with which the memory of the state’s soldiers will forever burn.

Tucked in the laurels between St. Barbara and the dead cannoneer is a dove of peace with its wings spread. DeLue’s placing a dove on the monument is indicative of his reputation for depicting idealized heroism and courage, but the choice also gestures to a sanitized, idealized version of national reconciliation and reconstruction. A Confederate battle flag shrouds the artillerist, covering his chest, midriff, and upper thighs, indicating that he will be forever protected and eternally comforted by the dream of the Confederate nation. His bare feet are exposed, suggesting that he has fought quite literally until his shoes were worn out demonstrating his valiant effort to fight for the Confederate cause to the very end.

The Mississippi State Monument prominently features a wounded color bearer propped up against a tree stump, and a second soldier who remains on both feet. This soldier is posed with his musket over his shoulder, swinging it like a club in defense of his fallen comrade and the flag that has fallen with him. As in the Louisiana monument, the men’s bare feet are exposed. The monument stands at the approximate location from which General William Barksdale’s Mississippi Brigade launched its July 2nd, 1863, charge against the Peach Orchard, which resulted in hand-to-hand fighting much like that suggested by the monument. Barksdale’s men played an essential role in the Confederacy’s successful attempts to break the Federal line on the second day of the battle.

The monument, which is meant to directly represent all Mississippi soldiers at Gettysburg, not just those who fought and died under Barksdale, is a memorial to their “bravery, devotion, and sacrifice . . . in the face of great odds.” Of the approximately 5,000 Mississippians present at Gettysburg, it is estimated that between 1,500 and 1,700 were casualties. An inscription on the monument’s base forms in the observer’s mind a very specific image of the “brave sires” fighting on the monument’s ground “for their righteous cause,” noting the “glory,” “valor,” and “new dimensions of courage” shown by the soldiers, as well as the “noblest fulfillment” of duty each man embodies and the “sacred heritage of honor” he inherently possesses. The club-wielding infantryman and the fallen color bearer he defends become every Mississippi soldier, who fights not only for his cause and his flag, but also in defense and protection of his native brother in arms.

Given the meaning and significance of the regimental and national colors in battle, it is entirely fair to ask why the monument does not depict the standing soldier in the act of picking up the fallen flag. However, the particular moment DeLue captures not only suggests that the next move the soldier makes will be to take the flag from his wounded (and likely dying) comrade, but it shows that he must fight to get it. If DeLue had chosen to sculpt the flag changing hands, visitors would not get the visceral, even frightening experience of standing before the monument and seeing the determined infantryman swing his rifle butt almost directly at the visitor. Both figures depicted on the monument embody the inscription on the monument’s base, though in their own ways. The color bearer, fallen wounded, has sacrificed himself on behalf of his cause, which is represented by the flag. He has, essentially, fulfilled his soldierly duty to its maximum potential. The musket-swinging soldier brings a “new dimension of courage” to the bravery exhibited by his fallen comrade, for he carries on and validates that bravery.

Together, the Louisiana and Mississippi State Monuments on the Gettysburg battlefield tell a story of glorious sacrifice and celebrated valor. These monuments’ depiction of martial heroism demonstrates that no act of bravery in defense of a “righteous,” though ultimately defeated, cause will ever be neglected or forgotten. These monuments challenge visitors not only to think deeply about military sacrifice in the abstract, but also to engage with the scenes they depict. DeLue’s sculptures boldly and directly state that all soldiers, fighting for all causes, are worthy of honorable commemoration.

For further reading and additional photos:

The Louisiana Monument

The Mississippi State Monument

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