Confederate Monuments at the Gettysburg National Military Park

The word Gettysburg conjures up many images: the three-day battle in July 1863 between Union and Confederate armies, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address dedicating the cemetery, and the movie Gettysburg based on Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angles. We can also image the fighting at Cemetery Ridge, Seminary Ridge, Culps Hill, and Little Round Top and men like Lee, Pickett, Hood, Longstreet, Stuart, Meade, Chamberlain, Bufford, Reynolds, and Custer.

Major General George G. Meade commanded 93,921 Union forces, and General Robert E. Lee led 75,000 Confederate troops. The battle recorded a total of “51,000 casualties on both sides and was the bloodiest single battle of the entire war.”

The images of the battle are brought to life at the Gettysburg National Military Park. The over 1,325 monuments, markers, and plaques commemorate and memorialize the men who fought and died during the Battle of Gettysburg.

In 1864, a group of concerned citizens established the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association to preserve parts of the battlefield as a memorial to the Union Army. The Association transferred their land to the Federal government in 1895. The government designated Gettysburg as a National Military Park. A Federally appointed commission of Civil War veterans managed the park’s development as a memorial to both armies by identifying and marking the lines of battle. In 1933, the operation of the park was transferred to the Department of the Interior, National Park Service.

According to the American Battlefield Trust,

Civil War veterans were proud of their service and by the early 1880s were concerned by rapid changes taking hold of some battlefields. The population was growing, towns were expanding, and if something were not done quickly, these fields of battle may have been lost forever. While a battlefield preserve had been established at Gettysburg as the war still raged, the first National Military Park was established at Chickamauga and Chattanooga in 1890. At Chickamauga, veterans from both sides rallied together to create a “park capable of providing an accurate tool for military study.” Today, military units from around the world utilize the National Park Service’s battlefield parks, as well as the thousands of monuments and markers that help them to understand where the battle unfolded, why decisions were made, and how the lessons from the past can be implements on battlefields of the future.

Some people want to remove the Confederate monuments from the battlefield. I strongly object to this. These monuments help capture the full story of the battle.

The Confederate monuments indicate the position and movements of Confederate units during the battle. They provide a helpful guide to understand the complex three-day battle.

Early monument funds were raised by the wives, widows, and daughters of former Confederate soldiers. These ladies held book sales and tea parties which raised funds to add Confederate monuments to the national park. Later various associations of Confederate veterans funded monuments to their units and commanders. Most Confederate monuments (21) were placed from 1880 to 1940. More monuments (16) were added from 1960 to 1970 in connection with the centennial of the battle of Gettysburg and reaction to the Civil Rights movement.

The monuments, memorials, and tablets remind visitors of heroic acts and the sacrifices made by the soldiers and civilians during the Civil War. They show us that battlefields were more than places of combat, they were, and are, places of quiet remembrance.

The Confederate monuments are not inscribed with political rhetoric like those in Southern cities. The monuments list the units honored and the men in the units. The first monument to a Confederate regiment, the 2nd Maryland Infantry CSA, was dedicated in 1886 at Culp’s Hill. The inscription on the monument describes the battle action:

On the morning of July 3rd, the battalion moving by the left flank formed at right angles with and inside the works and charged under fire in front, flank and rear to a stone planted 100 yards west from this monument.

In 2000, a monument and a position marker were dedicated by the 11th Mississippi Memorial Association to the 11th Mississippi Infantry Regiment at Gettysburg. As the first Confederate monument, the inscription describes the battle action:

The 11th Mississippi Infantry Regiment, under the command of Col. Francis M. Green and Maj. Reuben O. Reynolds formed west of the tree line on Seminary Ridge behind Maj. William Pegram’s Battalion of Artillery and immediately south of McMillan’s Woods on July 3, 1863. Shortly after 3:00 p.m., Color Sgt. William O’Brien of Company C, memorialized on this monument, raised the colors and the regiment stepped forward. Although clusters of men reached the stone wall near Brian’s Barn, the attack was driven back with heavy loss and the remnants of the regiment reformed in this vicinity.

The Gettysburg monuments contrast with those in Southern cities and towns. Those monuments praised the courage of Confederate soldiers from their community. The inscriptions on the monuments contain remembrances of Confederate dead, statements about the honor of Confederate soldiers, and exclamations about what they died for. The monuments include phrases praising the soldiers for “defending the rights of the South,” “fought valiantly for the liberty of state,” “battled for … the rights of the states,” and “no nation rose so white and fair or fell so pure of crime.”

We should keep the Confederate monuments at Gettysburg National Military Park as part of a  grand outdoor museum and to capture the full story of the battle.

Allen Mesch – 7/2/20

References:

The Gettysburg National Military Park, The National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/gett/index.htm.

American Battlefield Trust, “10 Facts: Civil War Battlefield Monuments, Markers, and Tablets,” https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/10-facts-civil-war-battlefield-monuments-markers-and-tablets.

Bears, Edwin C., Fields of Honor (Washington: National Geographic Society, 2006), pp. 154-202.

Brooks, Rebecca Beatrice, “Best Books About Gettysburg,” http://civilwarsaga.com/best-books-gettysburg/.

Mesch, Allen, Civil War Journeys, “Gettysburg,” http://www.civil-war-journeys.org/ gettysburg_pa.htm. (pictures of national park and reenactments)

Mesch, Allen, Salient Points Blog, “Non-Sibi Sed Patriae,“ (Not for self, but for country), September 5, 2018, https://salient-points.blogspot.com/2018/09/

“Monuments: So Many,” “Gettysburg by the Numbers,” TeachersFirst.com,⋅ Thinking Teachers Teaching Thinkers, https://teachersfirst.com/gettysburg/monuments.cfm.

Petruzzi, J. David and Stanley, Steven, Complete Gettysburg Guide: Walking and Driving Tours of the Battlefield, Town, Cemeteries, Field Hospital Sites, and Other Topics of Historical Interest, Kindle Edition

Shaara, Jeff, Jeff Shaara’s Civil War Battlefields (New York: Ballantine Books, 2006), pp. 83-115.

Return to Commentaries