Monument Virginia Lee in Gettysburg

In the late 19th Century, the United States was engaged in the Civil War. This War was brought on by a growing tension between the northern and southern states over slavery, states’ rights, and westward expansion. One of the significant turning points in the War was fought in Gettysburg, which took place on July 1st through July 3rd, 1863. General Robert E. Lee the commander of the Confederate States Army, had hopes to turn the tide of the war. His Army of Northern Virginia was riding high after success at Chancellorsville in May, and he hoped to push the fighting North into Pennsylvania. He hoped that if more fighting were done in the North, Union supporters would lose faith in the fight. Lee would find himself losing this battle and retreating what remaining forces he had left back to Virginia. This battle would be the bloodiest in American history and would leave an estimated 51,000 casualties. Months later, in November, Lincoln would give the Gettysburg Address and honor those in remembrance who fought and died for their country. This would lead to many people advocating for monuments to commemorate and celebrate those who fought and died during this battle. This included the motivation to add a Confederate memorial to honor those from the State of Virginia, but each side had their own ideas of what the message of the monument was to portray.

The Confederacy would eventually lose the War, and Gettysburg would soon become a popular tourist destination. The sites where these two sides clashed in battle would already have hundreds of veterans’ markers and monuments during the 1880s and 1890s dedicated to honoring those from the Union. By the beginning of the 20th Century, the Gettysburg National Battlefield Commission owned most of the battlefield and included Seminary and Warfield Ridge areas. They had already built roads like Confederate Avenue, where this army was positioned during the battle.  However, there were no Confederate memorials along these routes, mainly because Confederate veterans were understandably reluctant to commemorate their participation in a major military defeat.

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Confederate memorials would not be seen until the early 20th Century. The idea was to give a Confederate perspective and narration to the valorous efforts of Southern men’s courage. Gettysburg’s tourist industry agreed with this idea to create a new demographic of southern visitors to come and visit the battlefield. In 1903, an article entitled “Memorial to Lee” appeared in the Gettysburg Compiler, proposing Gettysburg’s importance of needing confederate monuments[i]. Thomas V. Cooper, a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Civil War Veteran who fought for the Union during the Battle of Gettysburg, introduced a bill requesting $20,000 for a monument of Robert E. Lee the State of Virginia match the same amount. The article argues that erecting monuments dedicated to Southern commanders would help attract more tourists to Gettysburg, especially people from the South. The increase of tourists would help bring more money into the area, and that would end up benefiting the northern communities. It then asks, “Are the men who fought here still unforgiven rebels, who must remain unnamed as a punishment? Have we taken back their country as part of an indissoluble union but have not taken back the men?”[ii]  The desire of the North to unify the country under reconciliation, while ignoring the causes or consequences of the conflict.

Many argued without other confederate memorials on the battlefield, it would make it difficult to understand the confederate fighting perspective. One Union veteran asserted that without Confederate monuments, it would diminish the Union forces’ bravery.  In the Philadelphia Ledger, he explains, “The battlefield of Gettysburg, as it now stands, is a beautiful, one-sided picture. There is not a monument or inscription to show that an army of equal in numbers and courage to our own struggled fiercely for three days to destroy it.”[iii] The North was trying to show a desire for these Confederate memorials to lead to a reconciliation bringing together the two sides who fought at Gettysburg. However, many Union veterans felt it was sinful and inappropriate to spend money to erect monuments of traitors trying to protect their rights to enslave human beings. Although his bill failed due to the veteran unions’ opposition, the idea started to rub off on the northern citizens who saw it as proof of reconciliation.

In 1908, Virginia started to bring up the idea of constructing a monument, dedicated to honoring the brave men who fought and died for their home state. In his speech, the Governor, Claude Swanson, brought up a discussion in the General Assembly concerning the monument“A more glorious exhibition of disciplined valor has never been witnessed than that shown by the Virginia troops at the battle’ of Gettysburg. The heroic achievements of our troops in that fierce battle have given to this Commonwealth a fame that is immortal, a luster that is imperishable.I recommend that an appropriation be made to erect on this battlefield a suitable monument to commemorate the glory and heroism of the Virginia troops.[iv]”One week later a bill passedby the General Assembly and a committee was put in place to select a location, design, and inscription. Sculptor F. William Sievers was selected to build the monument at a cost of $50,000.

The State of Virginia monument was placed on the location where it is thought that Lee observed the advance of Pickets charge on the third day of the battle. The location was dedicated on June 8th, 1917 and features a 14-foot portrait of Robert E. Lee sitting upon his horse “Traveller”. The monument stands 41-feet high and is the largest of the Confederate monuments on the Gettysburg battlefield, a fitting tribute to the state that contributed the largest number of soldiers. Underneath Lee stands seven Confederate soldiers who represent men of all walks of life who participated in serving in the military. From left to right are symbolic representations; of a professional man, a mechanic, an artist, a boy. A businessman, a farmer and a youth.[v]  One notable feature is the flag chosen for the monument is the Virginia State flag and not the Confederate battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. The initial proposal had the Confederate flag but was denied by the Battlefield Commissioners because they felt it had other political meanings[vi].

The final controversy regarding the monument was the inscription chosen for the monument. Originally Virginia wanted the inscription to say, “Virginia to her soldiers at Gettysburg they fought for the faith of their fathers”.  The chairman of the Gettysburg National Park Commission declined to accept the writing. The law that pertained to the monument stated that the inscriptions were not to have censure. Again, the chairman criticized the inscription and produced some of the writings that should have been considered inscribed. The inscriptions were “Virginia to her soldiers who fought for Gettysburg or Virginia to her son who fought for Gettysburg.” Through these inscriptions, Nicholson, the chairman of the National park commission, believed that these inscriptions could include every soldier who fought in the battle. Again, he stated that it should be agreed that the commission could consider that fact and not an opinion. Lomax admitted to the suggestion and quickly responded with an agreement that the line of the fight for their fathers’ faith was of no use. Moreover, Lomax stated that he needed to discuss with Thomas, who not in agreement. In March 1912, Thomas submitted the inscription again, which still contained the line that was offending. Finally, Smith agreed, and the inscription that was finally wrote was approved to be “Virginia to her sons at Gettysburg.” It is evident that Virginia was trying to keep the patriotic fervor alive and keep the remembrances of the Lost Cause.

During the dedication ceremony the narrative of the Lost Cause would continue. The first speaker was Reverend James Powers Smith, who previously had worked with Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. In his invocation he described the cause as “a great story of warlike power and skill, of unselfish devotion of life and every sacrifice to great ideals of rights and liberties[vii]”. He was telling how the South fought for there political liberties while hiding the truth that they were fighting to oppress the liberties of African Americans. The next speaker Henry Carter Stuart, Governor of Virginia would speak of the gallant effort of the South,“This monument will always stand here and it will tell future generations of valorous deeds and devotion to ideals and principles that the passage of time cannot erase[viii]”. The monuments message was one of embracing the Lost Cause of virtue and honor in fighting to protect the “states right”. The true message of fighting in order to keep men oppressed in slavery.

The time period in which the monument was built and dedicated was still a time of a divided country. War had broken out in Europe and President Woodrow Wilson would look to reunite the country in reconciliation in order to join together in fighting in World War I. However, in the South the building of monuments was to promote and justify Jim Crow Laws. During this time period between 1900 and 1920s, America saw the biggest increase in the construction of Confederate Monuments[ix]. The American Historical Association noted that the erection of Confederate monuments during this time period was “part and parcel of the initiation of legally mandated segregation and widespread disenfranchisement across the South[x].” The Virginia Monument still stands today and still tells the story of how the brave men of Virginia stood here and fought for their own cause. Instead of causing reconciliation between the North and the South, the monuments history shows how there was still division between these two sides

[i]Mclean, “Memorial to Lee.”

[ii]Mclean.

[iii]Park, “The Lee Controversy of 1903.”

[iv]Delegates, Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Pg. 22

[v]“9 Jun 1917, Page 1 – Adams County News at Newspapers.Com.”

[vi]Institute, “Warriors of Bronze.”

[vii]Buckley, Buckley’s History of the Great Reunion of the North and the South and of the Blue and the Gray. Pg. 215

[viii]Society, Southern Historical Society Papers. Pg.90

[ix]Little, “How The US Got So Many Confederate Monuments.”

[x]“AHA Statement on Confederate Monuments | Perspectives on History | AHA.”

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