Saturday, May 18, 2013

Gallery: What the rebels won at Gettysburg

Detail of Louisiana's monument, dedicated in 1971 on the Gettysburg battlefield.
The Confederates didn’t win much at Gettysburg, but they did win the battle of the monuments. It took a while, and they won it only in aesthetics, not in numbers.

There are 1,328 monuments and memorials on the battlefield. Despite the seeming exactitude of this number, it is almost always preceded by “approximately,” leaving room for the possibility that even today stone sentinels are hiding somewhere on the vast battlefield. Nearly all the Union monuments were put up during the late 19th century to honor specific regiments, brigades, corps and states. This is no surprise. Gettysburg is in a Union state, and the Union army won a decisive victory there.

From the Virginia monument (1917)
The first Confederate monument, Virginia’s, went up in 1917, more than half a century after the battle. Several other states erected monuments during and just after the centennial of the war.

In part, the addition of these monuments, even in the 1960s, was a sop to Jim Crow America. They represented the triumph of reunion over abolition as the object of the postwar peace, a preference that began with the Civil War veterans themselves. No matter which side they fought on, the white veterans had much more in common with each other than they did with the African-Americans freed by the war. When Reconstruction failed, most northerners accepted the racist regime that supplanted the so-called peculiar institution.

Soldiers and Sailors Monument (1965)
Because the Confederate monuments came later, they appeal much more to modern sensibilities than their Union counterparts. Some Union monuments have an antiquated Victorian charm or a neat specificity about the things soldiers carried, but most are stiff and stodgy. By contrast, the faces and postures depicted on southern monuments are romantic and heroic, befitting the myth of the Lost Cause. These are solid men, selfless and fearless men, shapely men, supermen -- little clusters of Clark Kents rendered in stone and bronze. Some statues even look biblical, conjuring visions of the archangel Gabriel trumpeting the saints into line of battle or Moses leading his beleaguered people to the Promised Land.

Over the years, my friend Dave Sullivan, a watercolor artist and photographer who helped me assemble the more than 100 photographs that appear in Our War, has shot many pictures of the Confederate statues at Gettysburg. I’m posting several of them in this gallery.

To my eye their well-chiseled beauty exceeds that of their far more plentiful brethren in the fields and ridges just across the Emmitsburg Road, a short but deadly charge away.

Detail from the Mississippi monument (1973)

Virginia (1917)
North Carolina (1929)

Detail from the North Carolina monument, dedicated in 1929.

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