Confederate monument

The Confederate soldier monument can be seen on the Square in downtown Denton.

Throughout the nation, cities and counties are enshrining a fallacy in understanding their Confederate monuments. With no evidence, attempts are made to frame Confederate monuments as objects of white supremacy in the Jim Crow era. Denton is considering such an action as the Confederate monument committee debates over adding the fallacy to address the “monument’s racist heritage.”

Decatur, Georgia, recently placed a sign at the DeKalb County Confederate monument promoting a fallacy that has become popular since the Southern Poverty Law Center released its one-sided study on Confederate monuments. Denton appears to be following the same path promoting bad history and scholarship. Simply, the concept of the monuments placed in the late 19th to early 20th century as supporting Jim Crow and showing white supremacy is a fallacy. To understand the monuments, one needs to look at the broad picture of what was occurring at the time.

The period is better defined as the Monument Movement, and it was not a Southern movement. The Northern memorials recorded in the survey work to date lists 11 monuments erected before 1866, 10 in 1866 and 11 in 1867 — the year the first two monuments in the South, in West Virginia and South Carolina, were placed.

Union monuments are monuments honoring and in mourning to the community’s contribution to the war effort. Some added themes. Out of the 422 Union monuments studied, common Union themes were Defenders of the Union (24), Died so the Nation Might Live (20), Preservation of the Union (16) and Preservation of the Constitution (4) sometimes in combination. Monuments appeared both in cemeteries and public squares.

The community erected these monuments though ladies’ associations and monument associations, and veterans raised funds for the monuments. The Grand Army of the Republic was established in 1866, and by the early 1880s, the women and sons formed allied orders. It was not until 1899 that the United Confederate Veterans was founded with the United Daughters of the Confederacy and Sons of Confederate Veterans in the mid-1890s. All raised funds for the memorials.

From 1867-1900, the Union erected an average of six monuments a year with the highest in that period in 1897 and 1899 with 13 each year. The Southern monuments rose in the early 20th century preparing for the 40th and 50th anniversary years. Also, consider the veterans were dying off by these anniversaries, and efforts to honor them before passing was undoubtedly part of the equation.

However, these same factors were occurring in the North, which memorialized earlier and more often. Thus, the spike of monuments is less significant in the anniversary years. It was not until 1914 that the Confederate monuments equaled the Union monuments.

These memorials served as a healing process for the nation. It was not unheard of for Union veterans to attend Confederate dedications and vice versa.

Many monuments have simple wording such as Denton’s “Our Confederate Soldiers.” Some interpret references to the Constitution and States’ Rights as implying slavery. This is a narrow interpretation of both, as broader constitutional interpretations and States’ Rights issues contributed to the causes of the war.

During this period of U.S. history, most people did not move far from home, save some pioneers. The 19th-century citizen had a greater attachment to the city, county and state, where they considered themselves citizens. For example, Robert E. Lee considered himself a Virginian, notably went with Virginia along with many officers in the U.S. Army before the war left to join their states. Even the immediate past U.S. Vice President John C. Breckenridge was a Confederate general. U.S. citizenship was secondary to the state. In the 21st century, this is not the case.

One difference between the depiction of mourning in Union and Confederate monuments is the funeral motifs are common in Confederate monuments. A log, cut stump or a broken column is a funeral symbol for a life cut short. Denton’s Confederate monument has the cut stump behind the soldier’s right leg. These motifs clearly mean that the Confederate monuments are for mourning the dead and the contributions to the community.

The politically correct world wishes to place a false meaning on the monuments by only examining one side with a predetermined conclusion. Considering a broader portion of history reveals a very different story — one that is much more accurate to the intentions of the people who erected the monuments. The monuments should stand on their own in mourning.

ERNEST EVERETT BLEVINS lives in Charleston, West Virginia, and is a structural historian in Review & Compliance with West Virginia’s State Historic Preservation Office in the Department of Culture and History.

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