Memorializing without Memorials: Commemorating the Civil War without Controversial Monuments

By Kathryn Bauer

As Americans, remembering the Civil War is vital in understanding our mistakes to avoid repeating them in the future.  However, we have immensely changed as a country from that time.  Now, it is even more important that we commemorate and memorialize the Civil War in a way that is accurate, but not offensive.

Currently, there is great debate over the public display of Confederacy monuments.  It is argued that the statues celebrate the regional pride and tradition of the Confederacy, while practicing the right to free speech.  Others argue that memorializing the Confederacy celebrates a group who did not believe in equality for all, and were simply racist.

Honoring individuals who are faces of America’s adverse racial past makes people uncomfortable, threatened, and upset.  It is easily understandable how one can feel targeted, walking by towering statues of these individuals everyday on routes to school or work.

I agree that these individuals should be memorialized.  It is necessary to remember the Civil Way, but not in a public showcase.  The monuments should be in a museum, where people who wish to learn about these individuals can go, and those who are offended by them can steer clear.

To improve the American public memory, Americans can memorialize without monuments.  In her novel, This Republic of Suffering, Drew Gilpin Faust showcases themes of “Dying”, “Killing”, “Burying”, “Realizing”, “Believing and Doubting”, “Numbering”, and “Surviving”, surrounding how Americans dealt with the great number of deaths of the Civil War, themes that both, the North and South could agree upon.  These same themes can successfully and effectively act as present replacements for commemorating this critical time in history.

Faust focuses on “Dying”, “Killing”, and “Burying”, in that both, the Union and the Confederacy fought and died for their tradition and heritage, therefore they should be commemorated today.  Respectfully burying bodies during the Civil War was challenging.  Soldiers had no self indicators such as dog tags and their deaths usually occurred far from home, leaving fallen bodies unmarked and disrespected.

As a result, the government constructed national grave sites honoring the fallen.  These national grave sites act as a great substitute to monuments for American public memory in present day.  They memorialize and acknowledge the individuals of the Confederacy and the Union with unity and equality.  Regardless of rank or color, the soldiers are memorialized and remembered in an area devoted to the Civil War, yet still easily accessible to the public.



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Photograph by Kathryn Bauer  — This image captured at Elmwood Cemetery, highlights a respectful and quiet approach to memorializing the fallen.  The cemetery utilizes small markers pictured to the right, in combination with petite American flags at the graves of the soldiers.  This signifies, regardless of the size of the gravestone purchased by the family of the fallen, that the American individual is recognized as a one who fought, further memorialized without an aggressive, in your face approach.  Additionally, the gravestone featured in the left image belonging to a Union solider, shares the same commemorative marker as his brother, a Confederate soldier, buried across the country.  Regardless of what side they fought for, each solider, the faces of the Civil War, is remembered and acknowledged in a place of privacy, yet open to all.  This approach to memorializing and commemorating is respectful to the soldiers of the Civil War as well as to all Americans today.

Additionally, Faust illuminates the themes of “Realizing”, “Believing and Doubting”, “Numbering” and “Surviving”.  These themes emphasize awareness and transformative consciousness.  Presently Americans have to understand and acknowledge both sides of the controversial monuments and seek effective alternates.

It is essential we celebrate and address the immense number of fallen war individuals, additionally respectfully memorialize them.  Nevertheless, it is even more essential that in a country where everyone is equal, we do so in a way that ensures no person is felt they are not, due to a Civil War monument.

Remembering the bodies and memorializing them are left to those who are alive: the war survivors then, and all of us as Americans, now.  Remembering American history in a public manner is necessary to understand our past, thus understand our present as a country to come.

We need to move the conterversal monuments to museums, not destroy them and our negative history entirely, just have them at a place where they can be viewed at a place of learning, not a busy street corner.  Faust’s themes successfully serve as bases for commemorating and memorializing the Civil War without controversy.

As a country, America is always improving and growing.  We are not the same as we were during the Civil War, and in ten years changes will have taken place.  To keep up with our ever changing country, we must update how we remember the past, not simply destroy it, to ensure a better future.



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