The mere mention of the Civil War always seems to engender yet another brother-against-brother conflict. Emotions still run deep more than 150 years after America’s deadliest war.
New Orleans is experiencing its own small-scale civil war concerning monuments of Robert E. Lee, P.G.T. Beauregard and Jefferson Davis, which Mayor Mitch Landrieu has ordered removed. Officials from other cities are considering taking down certain Southern monuments.
The monuments are coming down, so the best course of action is to find suitable new homes for them. This may be easier than anyone thinks.
The answer is our national battlefields, some of which could really use them. Vicksburg and Gettysburg have their share, from both North and South, but fields such as Shiloh, Fredericksburg and Chickamauga primarily have Northern monuments. The Chancellorsville battlefield has precious few monuments to serve as visual stimulus for conversations on history and military tactics.
The reason is simple. After the Civil War and Reconstruction, the South was too poor to spend money on monuments. In 1866, Mississippi spent more than half its annual state budget providing Civil War veterans with artificial limbs. Monuments were low on the prioities.
The Beauregard monument in New Orleans, which is scheduled to be taken down and has already been defaced, could find a new home at Shiloh. After Albert Sidney Johnston was killed, Beauregard assumed command of the Confederate army. Part of the first day and all of the second day of fighting was under Beauregard’s command.
An equestrian statue of Beauregard near Water Oaks pond at Shiloh would be quite striking. It was in this area he tried to rally the Southern soldiers until he ordered a retreat to Corinth, Mississippi.
New Orleans’ Lee statue came down Thursday, and a Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, may also come down. They could move to Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville battlefields, both of which were stunning victories for Lee. Chancellorsville is considered Lee’s masterpiece.
A great thing about national battlefields is the educational programs led by park rangers near and about the monuments and historic figures. History is actually being taught at these sites, and discussions range from the Civil War to how some Southern leaders preached reconciliation between North and South.
The Jefferson Davis statue could find a home close to New Orleans. Beauvoir in Biloxi, Mississippi, is the last home of the Mexican-American War hero, former U.S. secretary of war and only Confederate president. Beauvoir already has two Davis statues, but finding room for another isn’t beyond the realm of possibility.
These ideas may do little to soothe hurt feelings of the pro-monument crowd, but it would seem a monument at a historic site or national battlefield is far better than in a dusty old warehouse.