With all the recent upheaval over Confederate flags and monuments, I’ve provided an essay on the matter written by Cynthia Harriman, President of the Texas Civil War Museum. I would encourage all Texans to read the following and think before they support the destruction of statutes and monuments. It’s sad that a ghastly act, committed by a very disturbed, 21 year old boy, has led to such visceral reactions. They will only lead to more hate and resentment in the future.
In the Defense of American History
By Cynthia Loveless Harriman
There seems to be an outcry to destroy all things Confederate. The flag has different meanings as to what it stands for that stem from whom is carrying it, who is looking at it and where it is, and this is likely not to change. There have been widespread reactions and over reactions to ban book jackets, paintings, historical reenactments and online games to name a few. The most outrageous suggestion was offered by the Memphis mayor to dig up the graves of General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife out of the city cemetery. Messing with graves is a special kind of hate that does not belong in civil society. However, this memo is not about them or the flag. It is about Confederate Monuments and was inspired after reading a column written by a Kerry Dougherty of Virginia.
Both the North and the South are heavily dotted with huge chunks of granite as a memorial to those who died in a bloody civil war. There is no outcry to destroy the ones of the Union, only those of the Confederates. A young man living in Texas in 1861 would not hesitate to go to war. His father would have fought in the Mexican War, his grandfather in the Texas Revolution, his great grandfather in the War of 1812 and his great, great grandfather in the American Revolution. He would have dishonored the family name to not join the military and protect his homeland. Some Confederate soldiers supported slavery, and some did not—just as some Union soldiers were abolitionists and most were not. In Texas, 90,000 men would serve the CSA, and there were nowhere near 90,000 slave owners in the state. All of the monuments represent a supreme sacrifice to a most pivotal time in our nation's young history.
People of the mid -19th century lived in a much smaller world than today. Everyone and everything they loved was close by. Their state was to them a sovereign place. All many Southerners knew was someone from someplace else was coming to destroy their lives and homes. Many locations saw the war take away everyone and everything they loved. When all was lost, all that was left was one's honor. The people were honorable, living in their time. And this time is a confounding paradox.
After the war, the state governments in the North and the Grand Army of the Republic quickly erected monuments. In the South, monuments rose more slowly. These monuments were erected by women who did not want their husbands, sons, fathers and brothers to be forgotten. They had died on the battlefield and were buried in mass unmarked graves. The families did not get to bury their loved ones. They did not get to say the final good-bye and had no grave on which to place a tombstone or flowers. The monuments were erected by broken-hearted people who were grieving, and they wanted their loved ones to be remembered. To remember the dead, and remember them well, was the hallmark of the Victorian society. So the survivors sponsored fundraisers, many bake sales, raising pennies at a time. The women, then believed to be the weaker sex, were wildly successful in their efforts. It may have been one of the first, widespread women's movements which in itself validates the reason to keep them.
It is easy for those who have not studied the war for themselves to say it was just about slavery. However, students of the war know it is far more complicated than that. It was about the economy of slavery. True, had there not been slavery, there may not have been a war. Had there been modern farm machinery there would not have been a need for slaves. But this was a primitive time. The entire country, both North and South, participated wholly in the slave economy. Had it not been for the cotton exports after the Revolutionary War, America could have well been a third world country. Cotton was the cash cow, and it was labor intensive. America was producing 3/4 of the world's cotton. Cotton was the only commodity ever given a name by Wall Street—King Cotton. Cotton was the single largest export and NYC was the financial capital of the vital product. Northern slave ships brought the slaves to our shores with great profits for Rhode Island investors. Connecticut insurance companies insured the plantations. The countries greatest asset was the four million enslaved African Americans with a value then of 3.5 billion producing 4.5 million bales of cotton. There just simply were not enough people living in the country at this time to keep up with the demand for this time consuming product called cotton. In the South, 25% of the population were slave owners—leaving 75% who were not. However, 100% of the households were affected by the war. This is the story we should be telling and not erasing. There is plenty of blame and shame to go around, but there is also much pride and grit too. Together, through the good and despite the bad, people in the North and South, both slave and free, along with immigrants and Native Americans, created the best nation on earth. There is room for all to be proud together that our ancestors did this for us.
Monuments do not endorse or promote racism. Monuments do not attack or kill. They stand silent and graceful. They are a reminder for us to stop and reflect. They are beautiful public art, designed and crafted by artisans. If the monuments are torn down, then we lose much more than just a chunk of granite.