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”
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.