“We see this as part of our duty to continue the work of our veterans”: The Kentucky State Monument at Vicksburg

by Michele Seabrook, ’14 Further complicating an already contentious struggle over the collective national memory of the Civil War and its aftermath were the legacies of the war in border states like Missouri and Kentucky. These were especially vo…

by Michele Seabrook, ’14

Further complicating an already contentious struggle over the collective national memory of the Civil War and its aftermath were the legacies of the war in border states like Missouri and  Kentucky. These were especially volatile states, each experiencing fierce internal conflicts, as citizens struggled to pick a side. Kentucky experienced a great deal of inner turmoil, eventually joining the Union cause, although faced with the specter of a Confederate shadow government that quickly formed within the state and pledged loyalty to the Confederacy. Although this shadow administration had little effect on the governing of Kentucky, it did represent a great deal of people who cast their fate with the Confederate cause. The central star on the ubiquitous Confederate Battle Flag is representative of Kentucky, signifying not only the state’s tumultuous position during the war, but also the difficulties that arise in attempting to define Kentucky’s continued Civil War legacy.

This difficulty is distinctly present in the Kentucky state monument at Vicksburg National Military Park. The monument, erected in 2001, features bronze statues of Abraham Lincoln and his wartime political rival, Jefferson Davis. The National Park Service summarizes the symbolism and history of the memorial: “The memorial symbolized the division within Kentucky during the Civil War as well as the reunification of the state and country afterward” (National Park Service). Descendants of Confederate soldiers, though, did not find this monument to be a sufficient representation of their ancestors’ sacrifices. Vicksburg Park historian Terry Winschel discussed the three sites at the National Military Park that had been set aside for Kentucky monuments: “…park officials had set aside three sites, originally chosen by Kentuckians in 1903, for Kentucky—a Union monument, a Confederate monument, and a state memorial to honor both sides of the state” (National Park Service).

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The new Confederate monument showed Kentuckians inability to truly reconcile themselves or their state: “The Commonwealth erected an initial state memorial in 2001, which featured the statues of Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln. The new monument is constructed of light gray granite with a black marble insert inscribed with Kentucky’s role during the battle. A bronze Confederate flag drapes the top pillar of the monument with the Kentucky Confederate Seal etched in the granite underneath” (The Kentucky Civil War Bugle).

The Union memorial site remains empty, reflecting the larger postwar phenomenon of Union humility regarding their military victory. No organization counter to the Sons of Confederate Veterans exists, and descendants of Union soldiers and those living in the states that did not secede are rarely as vocal and belligerent as Confederate descendants who claim to be “unreconstructed.” The Sons of Confederate Veterans, as well as its sister organization, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, continue striving to win the struggle over Civil War memory. As author LeeAnn Whites explains it, “The fathers, despite their courage and valor, may have nearly ‘trailed’ the Confederate flag in the dust, but now their daughters would keep it aloft and even pass it on to their children. Here the United Daughters of the Confederacy proposed to do on a cultural level what their fathers had failed to do: win the war for the South” (The Memory of the Civil War in American Culture).       

Although an estimated 25,000-40,000 Kentucky Confederates fought at Vicksburg, not one is buried in the Vicksburg National Cemetery. This, along with the state’s decidedly reconciliationist stance, explicitly brought to life in the Kentucky Civil War monument, is an example of the fuel for Confederate need to remember their ancestors separately from the state monument.

This exclusion is an example of the hypocritical and confusing nature of postwar relations between the Union and ex-Confederates: reunions and the Federal government’s general amnesty policy were indicative of larger issues. The barring of Confederate dead from national cemeteries was, in some ways, a preface to the later issues of establishing an appropriated Kentucky monument at Vicksburg. Kentucky, as a border state and a state that sent both Union and Confederate regiments to war, embodies the complications and inconsistencies of Civil War remembrance and legacy today.  

Sources:

“Kentucky Monument Dedication Saturday in Mississippi.” WKYT Home Page. 04 May 2010. Web. 02 May 2011. <http://www.wkyt.com/wymtnews/headlines/92748154.html>.

“Vicksburg Monument.” The Kentucky Civil War Bugle. Web. 02 May 2011. <http://www.thekentuckycivilwarbugle.com/2010-3Qpages/vicksburg.html>.

Whites, LeeAnn. The Memory of the Civil War in American Culture. By Alice Fahs and Joan Waugh. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2004. 213-36. Print.

“Vicksburg Monument.” The Kentucky Civil War Bugle. Web. 02 May 2011. <http://www.thekentuckycivilwarbugle.com/2010-3Qpages/vicksburg.html>.

“Kentucky Memorial.” National Park Service Vicksburg National Military Park. Web. 02 May 2011. <http://www.nps.gov/vick/historyculture/cemhistory.htm>.

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