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.

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Dusting Off the Old Heroes of the Republic: The Newest Civil Rights Movement in Washington, D.C.

By Matt LaRoche ‘17

When I decided to attend the Women’s March on Washington this past January, I tried desperately to keep the Civil War out of my mind. I didn’t want to court disaster. Whatever their politics, anyone who knows anything about the Civil War can hear the familiar wails of a nation groaning under the weight of paralyzing political factionalism, deep sectional divides, and a potential constitutional crisis—in the works long before the Drumpf presidency—surrounding the proper limit and application of executive power in our democracy, amongst other threats. But I just couldn’t allow myself to envision the worst. It made me physically sick to have to wonder, honestly, whether my home was on the verge of throwing away the sacrifices of millions of selfless patriots over the years simply because we could no longer see our neighbors, our family members, as human. Because we had so lost faith in the “unfinished work” that we would surrender liberty for safety, virtue for ambition, and love for power. That we would think ourselves so vulnerable, so small, that we would betray our friends and forsake the world. That we would stop being leaders because the job was no longer easy.

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View of Women’s March from Grant Memorial. Photo by the author.

As I stepped out of the terminal at Union Station, into the grey and misting morning, I couldn’t escape these thoughts. Yes, I was thrilled, even energized as I fell into the crowd and somehow we found an irrepressible rhythm that drove us towards the Mall. But I was still scared. This was no battle, but I was bearing witness to a struggle for the nation’s future, and that was too close for comfort for me. Continue reading “Dusting Off the Old Heroes of the Republic: The Newest Civil Rights Movement in Washington, D.C.”

Yonder Stands Jackson Beyond Reproach

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.

By Kevin Lavery ‘16

Yonder, he stands, a lone sentinel of stone amidst the fallow fields of Henry Hill. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, his nom de guerre earned here on the fields of First Manassas, rides tall in the saddle of his steed. The statue’s commanding presence on Henry Hill anchors a memory of that battle that emphasizes the triumph of Jackson, his brigade, and the Confederate army in the defense of Southern soil. It is an embodiment of idealized notions of Southern courage, honor, and martial spirit. At the same time, the monument serves to depoliticize Jackson and the Confederate war effort—yet in doing so, specifically projects its own politicized memory of the war that delegitimizes what the conflict meant to so many people.

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Photo credit Ryan Bilger

Continue reading “Yonder Stands Jackson Beyond Reproach”

The ‘Angel of Marye’s Heights’ and Civil War Memory

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.

By Jon Danchik ‘17

In 1862, the small Virginian town of Fredericksburg found itself between two opposing armies. The Federal Army of the Potomac sat restlessly, eagerly awaiting means with which to cross the Rappahannock River, while elements of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia were called to take defensive positions in and behind Fredericksburg. What ensued was a bloody spectacle that claimed thousands of lives, and tempered the fighting spirit of the armies for the remainder of the Civil War.

Confederate infantry held back the Federal advance by occupying firing positions along the infamous “Sunken Road” at the base of Marye’s Heights. Supported by a considerable number of cannon, Confederate infantry were so effective at halting Federal charges that they nearly ran out of ammunition on several occasions. Despite their numerous successes, many Confederate soldiers were appalled by the bloodshed that they caused, forced by their stationary deployment to continuously gaze upon a veritable sea of dead or wounded Federal soldiers—their own victims.

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“What About Thad Stevens?”: A Call to Action to Commemorate a Great Gettysburgian and an even Greater American

By Jeff Lauck ’18

I love Lincoln. He adorns my iPhone case. A poster of him hangs in my room. I occasionally wear his signature stovepipe hat around the house. Earlier this week, I wrote about the newly dedicated Abraham Lincoln statue outside of Stevens Hall at Gettysburg College. I now make an effort to walk by it every day on my way to class.

Regardless of my more-than-slight obsession with our 16th President, I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed when I heard the space in front of Stevens Hall was to be the spot for another Lincoln statue. When I walked on campus for the first time this semester, I saw the new walkway and the granite pedestal, which very clearly would soon be the base for a new statue. Not having heard who the statue would depict, my mind flurried with possibilities. I quickly settled on the perfect candidate: Thaddeus Stevens. Thaddeus Stevens had, after all, provided the land for the college when it was first founded in 1832. He was an avid abolitionist and supporter of freedmen during Reconstruction. A statue seemed like a perfect way to recognize his efforts during the sesquicentennial years of Reconstruction. Most importantly, the statue was going to be right outside Stevens Hall, a building that was named for him. But Thaddeus Stevens was not the subject of this new statue. Rather, “The Great Emancipator” has taken a permanent seat on our campus.

Where is the love for Thaddeus Stevens? M. P. Price. Portrait of Thaddeus Stevens, 1792-1868. Published in 1898. Library of Congress.
Where is the love for Thaddeus Stevens? M. P. Price. Portrait of Thaddeus Stevens, 1792-1868. Published in 1898. Library of Congress.

Continue reading ““What About Thad Stevens?”: A Call to Action to Commemorate a Great Gettysburgian and an even Greater American”

President Lincoln Finds a Permanent Seat on Campus: The Dedication of the New Abraham Lincoln Statue Outside Stevens Hall

By Jeff Lauck ’18 

Students, faculty, and visitors to Gettysburg College have likely noticed the most recent addition to our campus. Last Friday, a brand new bronze statue of President Abraham Lincoln was dedicated outside Stevens Hall. The statue, which stands nine feet tall, depicts a seated President Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation and was designed by Stanley Watts, who also designed the Lincoln statue outside the Gettysburg Public Library on Baltimore Street. The statue unveiling comes almost 153 years to the day when President Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which gave the Confederate States 100 days to return to the Union before emancipation would become law.

The statue dedication was preceded by a luncheon and panel discussion on the significance and legacy of the Emancipation Proclamation. Dr. Michael Birkner moderated the panel, which featured Dr. Scott Hancock, Dr. Jill Ogline Titus, and Dr. Peter S. Carmichael. Dr. Carmichael began the discussion by explaining the context for the Emancipation Proclamation. According to Dr. Carmichael, as the war carried on, Lincoln realized that slavery was severely undermining the Union war effort and that emancipation was therefore a necessary tool to achieve victory. On September 22, 1862, a few days after the Union victory at Antietam, he issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Upon issuing the final document on January 1, 1863, Lincoln declared: “I never, in my life, have felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper.” Continue reading “President Lincoln Finds a Permanent Seat on Campus: The Dedication of the New Abraham Lincoln Statue Outside Stevens Hall”

Silent Guardian: The 15th New Jersey Monument

By Elizabeth Smith ‘17

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

The 15th New Jersey Monument. Photo credit Elizabeth Smith.
The 15th New Jersey Monument. Photo credit Elizabeth Smith.

He stands at rest, knees slightly bent, musket casually leant back. His hands loosely grip the barrel, one over the other, calm but prepared. His mustached face looks with weary eyes over the slaughter ground. In the background can be seen trees alongside a winding dirt road and a solitary wheel—perhaps from a cannon—beside his left leg. He stands immobile, forever gazing over the picturesque landscape, the beautiful green of the earthworks, the scene of hell on earth just 150 years ago.

The Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, known for the infamous Muleshoe Salient and the Bloody Angle, was fought May 8-21, 1864, immediately following the Battle of the Wilderness. On May 12, the twenty-two hours of continuous hand-to-hand combat at what would become known as the Bloody Angle would earn Spotsylvania a place in the history books. It is over this portion of the heaviest fighting that the 15th New Jersey Monument stands.

In his article “The Politics of Memory: Black Emancipation and the Civil War Monument”, Kirk Savage discusses how monuments do much more than just memorialize a unit or person, they memorialize an idea. From the idea of slavery to states’ rights to emancipation, monuments speak through both what they say and what they do not say. For this post, I will be discussing the 15th New Jersey Monument in light of Savage’s article. Continue reading “Silent Guardian: The 15th New Jersey Monument”

Go Tell The Yankees: The New Jersey Monument and the Battle for Memory at Andersonville

By Blake Altenberg ‘17

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

 The prison site of Andersonville, also known as Camp Sumter, is today just an empty field in picturesque Southwest Georgia. The only physical remains of the original site are the earthworks that surrounded the camp to protect Camp Sumter from a cavalry raid or an attack by Sherman’s Army. It is hard to fathom that nearly 45,000 men lived in this field at one time or another over a fourteen-month timeframe and of those nearly 13,000 perished. The 30% fatality rate for those who came through the gates make it the single deadliest site of the Civil War. The men’s cries for water, food and their pleas for someone to come and put an end to their horrific suffering are just echoes now. Yet their story lives on and the battle for memory at Andersonville still rages.

Large numbers of people pass through the prison site and museum at Andersonville, and all have reactions to the site one way or another. Some of the more interesting reactions come from white southerners. They are either disgusted with Captain Wirz – the Confederate commanding officer of the camp – and hold him accountable for the prisoners’ suffering, ashamed that their beloved South could induce such horrors and suffering. However, some residents are dismissive, make excuses and try to justify the actions of Captain Wirz. They put the blame of the camp’s existence itself to General Grant and the Northern officials for their refusal to reinstitute the exchange program, which is true. These Southerners commonly come up to the information desk angered by the museum and cite Northern Civil War Prison Camps such as Elmira and Point Lookout as a point of comparison. Their argument is “The South by 1864 did not have the resources to feed these men, the North had the assets and they let the Southern Soldiers starve in their camps. They should have reinstated the prisoner exchanges or this would not have happened.” They almost always storm out of the building. Why does this museum and National Park Service facility bring out such emotions in many visitors? Simply put, Andersonville for many Americans is synonymous with suffering and death in the Civil War. Thus, many of the monuments erected by the Union states, unlike those at most Civil War sites and battlefields, do not convey a sense of victory, but of sacrifice and somber reflection.

A view of the soldier perched atop Andersonville’s New Jersey Monument. Photo credit Blake Altenberg.
A view of the soldier perched atop Andersonville’s New Jersey Monument. Photo credit Blake Altenberg.

Continue reading “Go Tell The Yankees: The New Jersey Monument and the Battle for Memory at Andersonville”

Antietam – The Maryland State Monument and Reconciliation

By Sam Kauker ‘16

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

Though its monuments are not nearly as numerous as those at Gettysburg, Antietam National Battlefield is still dotted with hundreds of monuments that commemorate those who fought and died in the struggle between North and South. Most of the monuments here reflect that struggle; there are monuments to northern states and regiments, and then there are other monuments, though much fewer, that memorialize those soldiers who fought for the Confederacy. There is one monument here that breaks the mold. It does not focus as much on the fighting of the battle as it does on the reunification and reconciliation that occurred afterward.

The Maryland Monument at Antietam Battlefield was dedicated in 1900 to demonstrate reconciliation between citizens torn apart by the war. Photo credit Sam Kauker.
The Maryland Monument at Antietam Battlefield was dedicated in 1900 to demonstrate reconciliation between citizens torn apart by the war. Photo credit Sam Kauker.

The Maryland state monument is one of the main attractions for visitors, in no small part because it commemorates the soldiers that fought and died defending their own land. This monument is unique because it is a memorial not to either Union or Confederate soldiers, but to men from both sides. In the Battle of Antietam, Marylanders fought in both the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Union Army of the Potomac, killing each other on the ground that they both called home. Continue reading “Antietam – The Maryland State Monument and Reconciliation”