Recently, I contributed a piece called “Days Gone By, Days to Come: Monuments and the Politics of Peace” on the political teeth with which monuments are often imbued (or are deliberately denied). While I do not intend to ramble on about this issue—I hope that the previous piece will do enough to inspire readers to take a critical eye to any monuments that they cross in the future—I felt that one more story of poor documentation deserved illumination. The context: as Charles Lane chronicles in his book The Day Freedom Died: The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court, and the Betrayal of Reconstruction, on April 13, 1873—Easter Sunday—the racial and political tensions already boiling in Reconstruction-Era Louisiana burst into decisive, open racial warfare. On that date, the Colfax courthouse in Grant Parish was stormed by a mob of white Democrats who, in a final bid to resolve the question of which party’s candidate had won the 1872 gubernatorial election, shattered the trench lines around the courthouse with small arms and a small cannon. Defending the courthouse were hundreds of freedmen and white Republican officials who had fled into Colfax from the countryside as racial violence had grown increasingly prevalent and organized. Most were refugee women and children. By massacre’s end, three whites and up to one hundred and fifty freedmen lay dead. A PBS documentary on Ulysses S. Grant reports that “nearly half [the victims were] murdered in cold blood after they had already surrendered.”
In the century and a half following the events of that Easter Sunday, the victims of Colfax have not been allowed to rest. Their memory has primarily been ignored or bent toward political ends, usually by those who couldn’t care less for the massacre’s victims of white supremacy. The site’s monuments reflect this. Perhaps there is no more abhorrent example of blood bound to stone for shallow aims in all of U.S. history. Continue reading “Tributes to Terror: The Mis-Monumentation of the Colfax Massacre”
July 2012. My best friend and I packed into my 2003 VW Jetta wagon and headed out from Gettysburg, bound for Virginia. We were on Grantcation, a Civil War road trip of two former college buddies. Our mission was to wander battlefields in 100 degree plus heat, a trip which our wives endorsed willingly, I suspect, because they both knew it was far better for us to do it together than subject them to such unabashed nerdery.
Heather: In our last post, Bryan and I explored the unique challenges that the reenacting hobby poses to the interpretation and public understanding of the American Civil War. In it, we touched on just a few of the many motivations that inspire individuals to reenact. As we continue our Point/Counterpoint series below, we look to explore the relationship of the reenacting hobby with a particularly complex and problematic ideology–the Lost Cause.
Bryan: There are many breeding grounds for that despicable interpretation of the Civil War known as the Lost Cause. Perpetrated by Confederate veterans after the war, the Lost Cause teaches that the Civil War was neither caused by nor fought over the question of slavery, and that Confederates of all ranks, classes, and creeds were simply honest Americans nobly fighting for the doomed yet righteous cause of states’ rights. These claims are dubious at best; the importance of slavery in particular is universally agreed upon in academic circles due to the indisputable evidence for its centrality to the official Confederate justification for secession. One of the most interesting venues for the propagation of this questionable ideology is, I have noticed, that of reenacting. Continue reading “Point/Counterpoint: An Insidious Cycle”
I was excited to see the first experimental showing of the documentary Hallowed Ground on Thursday, November 14th. The movie focused on many main characters and included the history of a few physical sites. The first character, a Lincoln impersonator, held a deep passion for the time period and the 16th president which kept him going even through economic hardship. His story is symbolic of the difficulties between rivaling definitions of the Civil War.
A large portion of the film included a father-son story of southern Lost Cause sentiment and old time, white supremacist race relations. To offset the radical nature of these Sons of Confederate Veterans, Hallowed Ground featured the narrative of a battlefield guide who argued that the Civil War started over the issue of slavery. These two stories exemplified the constant battle between people who have a connection to the Civil War, whether through ancestors or just auxiliary obsessions.