Remembrance Day: History, Memory and the 20th Maine

By Savannah Labbe ’19

Every November, on the Saturday closest to the 19th, the town of Gettysburg celebrates Remembrance Day. This day is held in memory of those who fought and died at the Battle of Gettysburg and during the Civil War as a whole. On November 19th, crowds gather to celebrate Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and his dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery. These events pose a few very important questions: why do we still remember the Civil War in this manner? Why do we find it so important to have an entire day dedicated just to Civil War soldiers? Why does Civil War memory matter?

Over the semester, I have been working on a project in which similar questions have arisen. I am working to create a new wayside for the 20th Maine on the Gettysburg Battlefield. The one that currently sits there is more a wayside to Colonel Joshua Chamberlain than it is to the men of the regiment. Why do officers seem to loom so far above regular soldiers? During Remembrance Day, the ordinary soldiers who sacrificed their lives are remembered, which is very important because without them, the generals who are usually highlighted would not have been able to accomplish the feats they are best remembered for. Something I have been attempting to do in developing the text for the wayside is remember the ordinary soldier and shift the 20th Maine’s story away from only being about Joshua Chamberlain. This has proved a challenging task, as the ghosts of the movie Gettysburg that propelled Chamberlain to fame do not seem to want to leave.

Gettysburg,_Little_Round_Top,_20th_ME_left
20th Maine memorial on Little Round Top. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

As I am from Maine, this project has been a special one for me. I am helping shape the legacy of fellow Mainers. I am also working to write a text that will influence visitor’s perceptions of the battle and Maine’s role in it. While Maine did have many other regiments at Gettysburg, the 20th is the one that is best remembered and most likely offers battlefield visitors’ only glimpse of the state. I want to do my fellow Mainers and their sacrifice at Little Round Top justice while at the same time making sure I am not being plagued by Chamberlain’s ghost and the idea that the 20th Maine saved the Union. In addition to all of this, I am left with the question of why this matters. Why is the 20th Maine so important, and how will the words I write shape their memory? This is not an easy question to grapple with, but as a history major, I believe that history matters and  the way we remember it is important.

History helps us learn from our past and gives us context for the problems in the present, and thus, how we tell this history and how we shape the past has important contemporary implications. Do we present a past that paints the Maine men as noble and dedicated heroes, or do we portray them as men who had flaws and may not even have wanted to fight? I believe the solution is a combination of both. The 20th Maine was made up of regular men, but they did do something heroic and important. Theirs was a critical position in the Union line but, at the same time, the battle raged on for another day and the war for another two years, so by no means did the 20th Maine save the Union. This question of how to best remember is an important one, and I believe it is raised in both my wayside project and on Remembrance Day. Is it right to remember the men who died through reenactments and parades? How do we shape memory in a way that is true to history, and how do we do justice to the men that died at Gettysburg while at the same time being careful not to make them akin to gods?

Finding Meaning in the Flag: Furl that Banner

By Olivia Ortman ‘19

Hello again, readers. I hope you enjoyed the summer and are now as eager as I am to jump back into our conversation about the Confederate flag. Although I spent the summer at Minute Man NHP, the Civil War was never far from my mind. Even in a northern park dedicated to the American Revolution, I still heard a lot about the Confederate monument debates, and as I spoke with visitors who were following this topic in the news, I was reminded of a similar debate several years ago concerning the Confederate flag.

After researching wartime perspectives, I wanted to write a post focusing on Confederate attitudes toward the flag after the war’s end. I wondered how losing the war affected Southern feelings towards the flag. Were there any former Confederates who rejected it? How did demographics play into this issue? While researching these questions, I stumbled across a 2014 article in the Washington Post about the removal of Confederate flags from the Lee Chapel at Washington and Lee University. A group of students had spoken with the administration and shared their discomfort with having the flags, which they believed to symbolize racism, present on campus. These students cited the Confederate flag’s connection with the interests of slaveholders in the Civil War and its appropriation by hate groups later on. After much deliberation and discussion, the University agreed to the students’ demand and moved the flags from the chapel to the museum in the basement. As part of the justification for this action, the university president cited Robert E. Lee’s own feelings for the flag.

For many Southerners in the immediate post-war years, the Confederate flag underwent an amplification of its war symbolism. It became the ultimate representation of hope, strength, and resistance to the Yankees, who were trying to control the South through Reconstruction and brief occupation. Some Southern women would drape themselves in Confederate flags or stick them in their hats and dresses before walking by occupying Union soldiers. U.S. Army Sergeant Mathew Woodruff, stationed in Mobile, Alabama, reported one of these instances of defiance. Walking down the street one day, he saw a black woman reprimanding three girls for waving rebel flags. The girls’ mother justified their actions by saying that the South “was not whipped [and] if they got a chance would rise again.” The war may have ended, but many Southerners were not ready to admit full defeat, especially not in the face of people who used to be considered property. The flag was their proof that the South would rise again and when it did, it would finally crush the North and return to the correct social order.

Some Southerners, on the other hand, rejected the flag and other symbols of the Confederacy in the post-war years. Robert E. Lee, a man who is every bit as symbolic of the Confederacy as the flag, wanted nothing to do with Confederate memory and war memorialization. When asked by David McConaughy to return to Gettysburg in 1869 to recollect battlefield events for posterity, Lee politely declined. “I think it wiser moreover not to keep open the sores of war,” he wrote, “but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife & to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered.” In a letter to John Letcher, the governor of Virginia during the Civil War, Lee firmly stated that all citizens should put aside bad blood and unite in efforts to forget the effects of war.

The Confederate flag is one of the marks of war that Lee removed from his own life. In one popular story, a Southern woman wrote to Lee asking what she should do with an old battle flag. Lee supposedly responded, “Fold it up and put it away.” This has been a source of some contention, however, because no letter has been brought forward with these words. Regardless of whether Lee actually wrote these words, however, he did ask his children to keep the flag out of his funeral. He was buried in a plain suit, not his Confederate uniform, and other former Confederates in attendance were also asked not to wear their military uniforms. The Confederate flag was nowhere in sight that day. Its presence would only have served to open old wounds and forever connect him with one of our nation’s greatest failures.

William Roane Aylett, a colonel under General George Pickett , also publicly denounced the flag in a speech at the 1887 Gettysburg Reunion. “Southern men don’t care who keeps the flags; the past went down in the war,” he stated at the beginning of his speech. He continued with, “what matters who shall keep the battle flags? They passed into your hands in brave and manly combat…and we are as willing your people should keep them as ours.” He effectively ended his discussion of the Confederate flag by pronouncing it dead. This was met with great applause from the audience, which was equal parts former Union and Confederate soldiers.  During the war, Aylett had been a staunch Union hater, as were many of the former Confederates in the audience that day, but during this speech they seemed determined to reconcile with their Yankee brothers, even at the cost of their beloved flag.

Lee and Aylett were not the only ones who recommended moving away from the flag, but they were only a small minority of the Southern population. Many former Confederates, like Jubal Early, became very vocal in their support of the flag after Reconstruction. Interestingly, all of the people I found in that small group of anti-flag Confederates had been officers or clergy during the war. This could just be that these men were literate and important enough for their letters to be preserved, but I think there’s more to it. Each of these men had more to gain from putting the flag aside than honoring it. They were leaders of a failed rebellion that had generated political hostility and tension. If these men wanted any hope of holding a  in the post-war America and in posterity, they needed the North and South to reconcile. No one wants to be history’s villain, which is what you become when attached to a flag that protected slavery and stood against its country. The only way to reconcile and save the manhood/honor of defeated Confederates was by putting aside some of the more unpleasant aspects and connotations of the war. Although I do truly believe these men wanted to see the country reunite for the good of the nation, I think self-preservation was a motivating factor in their views.

If asked their opinions on the removal of Confederate flags at Washington and Lee, I believe Lee and Aylett would both express approval. The flag had a place in their lives at one point, but that ended when the Confederacy lost the Civil War. All of this has left me with a question that I’m now going to put to you: is it right for us to use the Confederate flag today when some of the men to whom it belonged wanted it put aside? To go with that, to whom does a symbol belong? Father Abram J. Ryan expresses his feelings in, “The Conquered Banner,” a poem written mere weeks after the Confederacy surrendered:

Furl that banner, softly, slowly,

Treat it gently – it is holy –

For it droops above the dead;

Touch it not, unfold it never,

Let it droop there, furled forever,

For its people’s hopes are dead


Sources

Carmichael, Peter S. “Prologue.” In The Last Generation: Young Virginians in Peace, War, and Reunion, 1-3. UNC Press Books, 2015. Accessed April 28, 2017.

Coski, John M. “Unfurl the Old Flag.” In Confederate Battle Flag : America’s Most Embattled Emblem. Harvard University Press, 2006. p. 45, 48-49. Accessed April 28, 2017.
ProQuest ebrary.

Cox, David. “Cox: Honoring Lee anew.” Roanoke Times. July 14, 2014. Accessed April 28,
2017.

Evidence Suggests That Robert E. Lee Would Agree: The Flag Had To Go.” Yabberz.com. July 10, 2015. Accessed April 28, 2017.

Feimster, Crystal N. “General Benjamin Butler & the Threat of Sexual Violence during the
American Civil War.” Daedalus, Emerging Voices, 138, no. 2 (Spring 2009): 126-34.
Accessed April 28, 2017. JSTOR.

Freeman, Douglass Southall. “Vol. I Vp215 Chapter XIII.” Robert E. Lee (by Freeman) – Vol. IV Chap. 13. Accessed April 28, 2017.

Pollard, H. R. “William Roane Aylett.” The Virginia Law Register 6, no. 8 (1920): 570-72.

Robert E. Lee to David McConaughy. August 5, 1869. In MS – 022: David McConaughy Papers. GettDigital: Civil War Era Collection, Special Collections and College Archives, Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Accessed April 28, 2017.
http://gettysburg.cdmhost.com/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p4016coll2/id/841/rec/1

Shapiro, T. Rees. “Washington and Lee University to remove Confederate flags from chapel after protest from black students.” The Washington Post. July 08, 2014. Accessed April 28, 2017.

Bearing the Battle, Binding the Wounds

By Kaylyn Sawyer ’17

When I arrived at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park for my summer 2016 internship orientation, I introduced myself as being from Yorktown, VA.  The ranger quipped “you must have a thing for surrender towns.”  I hadn’t really thought about it, but I suppose I do.  I’ve lived in and around historic towns my entire life. I was born in Richmond, graduated high school in Yorktown, attended college in Gettysburg, and completed internships in New Market, Appomattox, and in the Hampton Roads area.  I never seem to be far from a battlefield or a battle town, physically or emotionally. I love these towns and the stories of the ordinary people who fought within them.  I have some relatives who fought for the Union and others who fought for the Confederacy, and although not a family relation, I feel a special connection to James Greenleaf of Pennsylvania.

McLean House
The Wilmer McLean House in 1865, where Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Continue reading “Bearing the Battle, Binding the Wounds”

Fredericksburg’s Gray Angel: Truth or Utility?

By Jon Danchik ’17

As with other battles, the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862 yielded shocking results. Homes were destroyed, thousands died, and military doctrine was challenged and changed. One particular story, however, has emerged from Fredericksburg to represent a different narrative, one of compassion. The actions of a 20-year-old Confederate sergeant named Richard Rowland Kirkland are enshrined in stone at the end of Fredericksburg’s infamous “Sunken Road.”

I wrote a post about this statue and its meaning last summer while I had the privilege of interning at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Military Park. I was asked to write about a monument and its historical connotations, and Kirkland immediately came to mind. After all, it is perhaps the most popular monument in the park. Kirkland’s story became very popular in the 1880s, and the statue was erected in the 1960s—both times during which Civil War commemoration followed a particular bias which I attempted to trace. If you want to read about historical context, check out my older article. Today, though, I wish to revisit the Kirkland story because there are some factual controversies that call into question its usefulness as an interpretive resource.

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The Kirkland Monument, visible just above the only surviving portion of the Sunken Road’s stone wall. Photo by the author.

Continue reading “Fredericksburg’s Gray Angel: Truth or Utility?”

Confederate Memory

By Olivia Ortman ’19

This year as a CWI Fellow, I’ve been doing a lot of research and thinking on Civil War memory, specifically that of Confederate memory. When doing this work, the question at the back of my mind is always: How should monuments, symbols, and other examples of Confederate memory be handled? This is a very difficult question, so up until now, I’ve left it alone, knowing that there would come a time in the future that I would sit down and wrestle with my conflicting opinions on the matter. A couple days ago, the Civil War Era Studies Department here at Gettysburg College sent out an email sharing the news that New Orleans had begun removing Confederate monuments and several other cities were thinking of doing the same. After reading this, I knew the time had come for me, and all of you, to join the discussion about Confederate Memory.

The first question that I ask myself when thinking about how to handle Confederate Memory is what the people want. Confederate monuments have a variety of owners. In some cases, the monuments are owned by a private organization or individual who put them up, in other cases, the city, state, or federal government may own them. The same goes for the land they are on. If owned by individuals or private groups, it’s their choice what happens. When the monument or land belongs to the local government, as is the case with the New Orleans monuments, it should be the people’s choice what happens. Although the city council of New Orleans voted 6 to 1 to remove several monuments, the residents didn’t get the chance to vote. For many issues, allowing the council to take care of matters on their own is fine; the people elected them because they trusted them to make the right decisions. In matters that generate a lot of public concern, though, residents are usually asked to vote. We vote on taxes, why not on monuments? If the majority of city residents agree with the removal of a Confederate symbol or monument, remove it and say no more. If the majority of residents are against the action, however, it doesn’t seem right to disrespect their wishes. The popular vote in New Orleans may have agreed with the removal of the monuments, but without that formal vote, we can’t know for sure.

Continue reading “Confederate Memory”

The Conflicting Conflict: Memorialization and Memory of the Great War

2017 marks the hundred-year anniversary of the US joining the First World War. This post will be part of a series examining the Great War in scope and in memory.

By Danielle Jones ’18

July 1st through 3rd, 2013 marked the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. There were an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 visitors to the national park, including as many as 10,000 reenactors. The Civil War sesquicentennial was commemorated from the very beginning, and ended with a reenactment in Appomattox that saw over 6,000 people visit to re-live the end of the American Civil War. On April 9th, bells across the nation, including at Gettysburg College, tolled for 4 minutes to honor the four years the war raged on. Plans were started for the anniversary almost a decade in advance and millions of Americans in commemorating of the war that cost 600,000 Americans their lives. A collective narrative of the war began forming  before the surrender was even signed, and while each side had a different memory directly after Appomattox, the settled upon collective narrative still exists today.

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While the Great War had a massive impact on the American home front, the war itself has largely faded from public memory. Image courtesy of Gettysburg College Special Collections.

As I write this, I think of a different time, a different war, and a different April. On April 6th, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany, joining France, Great Britain, and Russia to fight in the World War I. The United States’ entry into the war was controversial; President Woodrow Wilson had asked Congress for a declaration of war on April 2nd, and after four days of debate the Senate passed the declaration 82-6 and the House of Representative passed it 373-50. During the war, 116,516 American Servicemen lost their lives to battle deaths and disease. The Great War, as it came to be known, had a significant impact on the United States domestically and internationally. Entrance to war marked a significant change in America’s traditionally isolationist policy. The end of the war brought an economic boom to the States and a role in international politics it had not seen before. A spot at the table at Versailles, the League of Nations, and an increasingly globalized economy illustrated that the United States was not just a nation across the Atlantic anymore. It had begun establishing itself as a world power whose presence continues to define international politics today. Continue reading “The Conflicting Conflict: Memorialization and Memory of the Great War”

Appomattox: 152 Years Later

By Jonathan Tracey ’19

Just over a week ago was the 152nd anniversary of General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House.  Although that number may not be as big a deal as the 150th anniversary a few years ago, there was something else special about this year. For only the seventh time since 1865, April 9th fell on Palm Sunday, just as it did on the day that Grant and Lee met in the McLean House. Not only was I lucky enough to attend this commemoration, but I was able to revisit the job I held over the summer by volunteering that weekend. Arriving on Friday, I donned a volunteer uniform, attached my nametag from the summer, and walked out into the surprisingly cold air.

Names on Bags)
A small section of the 4,600 paper bags with the names of slaves emancipated in Appomattox County that lined the roads throughout the park. Photo courtesy of the author.

Luckily the weather was vastly improved on Saturday and Sunday, as hundreds of visitors flocked to the small village far out of the way of most tourists. Volunteers greeted visitors at the parking lot and helped to answer questions across the site. All weekend, interpretative programs were delivered on topics including Union General Philip Sheridan’s 1865 Central Virginia campaign, the United States Colored Troops at Appomattox, and the surrender proceedings themselves. Reenactors, both Union and Confederate, camped within the park, carrying out firing demonstrations to represent the fighting within and around the village and recreating the stacking of Confederate arms. Continue reading “Appomattox: 152 Years Later”

Finding Meaning in the Flag: Ex-Slaves and Newsies

By Olivia Ortman ‘19

This post is the fourth in a series about the Confederate flag in history, memory, and culture. It offers one Fellow’s individual perspective as she investigates different sources and opinions. Please feel free to engage with the author and the Civil War Institute community in the comments section. Read the first post here, the second post here, and the third post here.

Thus far we’ve talked about predominately white Union and Confederate views of the Confederate flag, so for my last piece on perspectives during the war I want to talk about the views of African Americans. For African Americans, especially, the Civil War was tightly intertwined with the matter of slavery. They realized that the outcome of the war would be instrumental in determining the fate of slavery as an institution and believed that a Confederate victory would be detrimental to the prospects of their freedom. If Southerners had their way, slavery would likely never die.

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Frederick Douglass in 1887, as photographed by J.W. Hurn. Via Library of Congress.

None express this better than Frederick Douglass, one of the most eloquent and influential African Americans of the time. In his newspaper, Douglass’ Monthly, Douglass printed a copy of a lecture he delivered on June 30, 1861. He stated that slaveholders “have written piracy and robbery upon every fold of the Confederate flag” and that “they are for slavery, and for all its kindred abominations.” Douglass leaves no room to doubt that the flag stands for human atrocities. He also sees no difference between slaveholders and Confederates. They are one and the same to Douglass and many other African Americans.

Continue reading “Finding Meaning in the Flag: Ex-Slaves and Newsies”

The Legacy of “Old Osawatomie”: John Brown in Art and Memory

By Ryan Bilger ’19

Have you seen this man before?

John Brown Kansas
Tragic Prelude (1940) by John Steuart Curry. Located in the east wing of the 2nd floor rotunda in the Kansas State Capitol Building. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Perhaps you have, and perhaps you’ve already thought a bit about him and what he represents to you. But if you have not, take a moment and just look at him, and consider the question I have raised. What emotions does this painting, showing a man towering over other figures and a landscape like a god stir up in you?

Continue reading “The Legacy of “Old Osawatomie”: John Brown in Art and Memory”

Reassessing Braxton Bragg with Earl Hess

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Image courtesy of Lincoln Memorial University.

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming 2017 CWI conference about their talks. Today we are speaking with Dr. Earl Hess. Dr. Hess is the Stewart W. McClelland Chair in History at Lincoln Memorial University, where he teaches courses on the American Civil War, American military history, and the life and times of Abraham Lincoln.  He is the author of more than 20 books, over 30 articles, and more than 100 book reviews for academic history journals.  His most recent book is Braxton Bragg: The Most Hated Man of the Confederacy (UNC Press, 2016).

CWI:  How did Braxton Bragg’s contemporaries view his prowess as a general? What impact did Bragg’s critics have on him, both personally and professionally?

HESS:  The opinion of Bragg’s contemporaries proved to be one of his major and unsolvable problems. Newspaper editors tended to be excessively critical; many of his subordinate generals were recalcitrant and had no faith in his leadership. But, ironically, most Federal generals admired Bragg’s generalship, a handful of newspaper editors supported him, and many of his own generals retained an admiration for and a faith in him. Unfortunately, Bragg’s enemies were very vocal and his friends tended to be pretty quiet.

Historians had always portrayed Bragg as the instigator or the target of criticism and abuse, but have not been fair in assessing how the negative opinions of others affected Bragg’s own mind and morale. The truth was that the lack of faith in his plans among key subordinates dealt a devastating blow to Bragg’s self-confidence and his ability to command the Army of Tennessee. Some of his best-laid plans were spoiled by lack of cooperation. Continue reading “Reassessing Braxton Bragg with Earl Hess”