Civil War Monuments
Take Them All Away

We need to mitigate the looming repolarization of race and racial politics in America after more than half a century of incomplete but hardly trivial progress. This may require some deliberate loss of memory.

Published on: August 23, 2017
Adam Garfinkle is editor of The American Interest.
show comments
  • Suzy Dixon

    Yeah, not only will it not happen, but we all know these confrontations have little to do with the monuments. Confederate monuments have been taken down, periodically, for at least the last 20 years. In late 2007 and into 2008, some stars and bars flags as well as a few monuments were taken down in Georgia and Arkansas. It made the local yokel news, and YT videos were made, although YT and FB were still very young. There were two opposing, small, peaceful crowds. That was it. WE KNOW that the racial divisiveness and minority identity politics from the left has created divisiveness, according to plan. However, it has also created majority identity politics and real push back, not according to plan.

  • Proud Skeptic

    Very nice writing, Mr. Garfinkle. Now, rewrite this assignment eliminating about three quarters of it and resubmit for a revised grade.

  • D4x

    “…The film’s release is also credited as being one of the events that inspired the formation of the “second era” Ku Klux Klan at Stone Mountain, Georgia, in the same year. The Birth of a Nation, along with the trial and lynching of Leo Frank for the 1913 murder of Mary Phagan in Atlanta, was used as a recruiting tool for the KKK.[10] Under President Woodrow Wilson, it was the first American motion picture to be screened at the White House.[11]

    Griffith’s innovative techniques and storytelling power have made The Birth of a Nation one of the landmarks of film history.[12][13] In 1992, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.”
    10. “A Birth of a Nation essays”. Retrieved 2013-07-03.

    11. ^ Stokes 2007, p. 111. Stokes, Melvyn (2007), “D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation: A History of “The Most Controversial Motion Picture of All Time””, New York: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-804436-4 . Although in 1914, the Italian film Cabiria had been shown on the White House lawn. Kennedy, Ross A. (2013). A Companion to Woodrow Wilson. John Wiley & Sons. p. 29. ISBN 1118445686.

    12. The Worst Thing About “Birth of a Nation” Is How Good It Is: The New Yorker retrieved 19 May 2014

    13. “The Birth of a Nation (1915)”.

    “Birth of a Nation is the single most important and key film of all time – it contains many new cinematic innovations and refinements, technical effects and artistic advancements, including a color sequence at the end. It became a formative influence on future films and has had a recognized impact on film history and the development of film as art. In addition, at almost three hours in length, it was the longest film to date. Its pioneering technical work includes: the special use of subtitles graphically verbalizing imagery, the introduction of night photography, the use of outdoor natural landscapes as backgrounds, the definitive usage of the still-shot, the technique of the camera “iris” effect (expanding or contracting circular masks to either reveal and open up a scene, or close down and conceal a part of an image, moving, panning camera tracking shots, the use of total-screen close-ups to reveal intimate expressions, the use of vignettes seen in or iris-shots in one portion of a darkened screen, high-angle shots and the abundant use of panoramic long shots, the dramatization of history in a moving story, an example of an early spectacle or epic film with historical costuming, staged battle scenes with hundreds of extras, extensive cross-cutting between two scenes to create excitement and suspense, and the cumulative building of the film to a dramatic climax. Many of these techniques are now standard features of films, but they were first used in this film. However, it still provokes conflicting views about its message. First off, there are questions about whether or not the government should give funding to preserve this film. Next, because the film is explicitly racist and is used for Ku Klux Klan recruitment one must question whether the film is suitable for today’s society.
    The government should give funding for this film to be preserved. It is a piece of history …”

    • D4x

      “…In Wilson’s first month in office, Postmaster
      General Albert S. Burleson brought up the issue of racially segregating
      workplaces in a cabinet meeting[124] and urged the president to establish this
      policy across the government, in restrooms, cafeterias and work spaces.
      Treasury Secretary William G. McAdoo also permitted lower-level officials to
      racially segregate employees in the workplaces of those departments. By the end
      of 1913 many departments, including the Navy, had workspaces segregated by
      screens. Restrooms and cafeterias were also segregated, although no executive
      order had been issued.[124] Segregation was urged by conservative groups, such
      as the Fair Play Association.[124]

      Wilson defended his administration’s segregation policy in a
      July 1913 letter responding to Oswald Garrison Villard, publisher of the New
      York Evening Post and founding member of the National Association for the
      Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); Wilson suggested that segregation
      removed “friction” between the races.[124]

      Ross Kennedy says that Wilson complied with predominant
      public opinion,[125] but his change in federal practices was protested in
      letters from both blacks and whites to the White House, mass meetings,
      newspaper campaigns and official statements by both black and white church
      groups.[124] The president’s African-American supporters, who had crossed party
      lines to vote for him, were bitterly disappointed, and they and Northern
      leaders protested the changes.[124] Wilson continued to defend his policy, as in
      a letter to “prominent black minister Rev. H.A. Bridgman, editor of the
      Congregation and Christian World.”[124] Heckscher argues that Wilson had
      promised African Americans to deal generously with racial injustices, but did
      not deliver on these assurances.[126] …”

      124. Kathleen L. Wolgemuth, “Woodrow Wilson and Federal
      Segregation”, The Journal of Negro History Vol. 44, No. 2 (Apr. 1959), pp.
      158-173, accessed March 10, 2016 Stable URL:

      125, Kennedy, Ross A. (2013). A Companion to Woodrow Wilson.
      John Wiley & Sons. pp. 171–74

      126. Heckscher, pp. 291–292.

      • D4x Relief and inscription in the Memorial Hallway of the
        Woodrow Wilson Center

        “The Wilson Center, chartered by Congress as the official memorial to President Woodrow Wilson,
        is the nation’s key non-partisan policy forum for tackling global issues through independent research and open dialogue
        to inform actionable ideas for the policy community.”

        Woodrow Wilson Center
        One Woodrow Wilson Plaza
        1300 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

        Washington, DC 20004-3027

        • D4x

          “Many memorials were dedicated in the early 20th century, decades after the Civil War,
          and according to one theory have some relationship
          with campaigns to promote and justify Jim Crow laws in the South.[2]

          The year 1911 saw the largest number constructed, which was the year of the
          semi-centennial of the Civil War. Memorials were dedicated on public spaces
          either at public expense or funded by private organizations and donors.
          Numerous private memorials were also dedicated. Art historians Cynthia Mills
          and Pamela Simpson asserted in their critical volume Monuments to the Lost
          Cause that the majority of Confederate monuments, of the type they define, were
          “commissioned by white women, in hope of preserving a positive vision of
          antebellum life.”[3]

          Many Confederate monuments were dedicated in the former
          Confederate states and border states in the decades following the Civil War, in
          many instances by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Ladies Memorial
          Associations, and other memorial organizations.[4][5][6][7][8][9] Other
          Confederate monuments are located on Civil War battlefields.[4] Many
          Confederate monuments are listed on the National Register of Historic Places,
          either separately or as contributing objects within listings of courthouses or
          historic districts.[10]

          8. Caroline E. Janney. “Ladies’ Memorial
          Associations”. Retrieved May 23, 2017

          One of the first Ladies’ Memorial Associations appears to
          have organized in Winchester, Virginia. Mary Dunbar Williams, a resident of the
          town, was horrified by the lack of proper burials for the Confederate soldiers
          who had defended her Shenandoah Valley town. In May 1865 she visited her
          sister-in-law, Eleanor Williams Boyd, to whom she recounted a story of a farmer
          who had plowed up the bodies of two Confederate soldiers while preparing his
          field for corn. Williams and Boyd called a meeting of all the town’s women. At
          this gathering, several of the women who had volunteered in the hospitals
          during the war agreed to organize a memorial society, the purpose of which was
          to gather all the dead within a radius of fifteen miles of the town and inter
          them in one graveyard. Once this had been completed, they hoped to establish an
          annual tradition of placing flowers and evergreens on these graves.

          By the autumn of 1868, more than twenty associations had
          organized in Virginia, including those at Appomattox Court House, Bristol,
          Charlottesville, Danville, Emory and Henry College (Washington County), Fairfax
          Court House, Fredericksburg, King George County, Gordonsville (Piedmont), Leesburg,
          Lexington, Loudoun Park, Lynchburg, Manassas and Bull Run, New Market, Orange
          Court House, Petersburg, Richmond (three different associations), Spotsylvania,
          Staunton, Warrenton, and Winchester. With a conservative estimate of fifty
          members per association, more than 1,150 of Virginia’s elite and middle-class
          women joined the ranks of the memorial associations in the years immediately
          after the war. Virginia was not the only southern state in which the
          associations organized. Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Mississippi,
          and Alabama also witnessed a proliferation of such groups in the war’s
          aftermath; all told, between seventy and one hundred such associations were
          established throughout the South.

          Confederate Cemeteries

          While the Winchester Ladies’ Memorial Association was busy
          creating a cemetery for Confederate soldiers during the summer and autumn of
          1865, Union burial crews had begun the process of recovering the remains of
          their own soldiers in shallow or mass graves on the southern battlefields. This
          massive reinterment project would send crews across the South to scout for
          grave sites and organize cemeteries for Union soldiers similar to those that
          had been created during the war such as at Gettysburg and Arlington. By 1870,
          300,000 Union soldiers had been reinterred in 73 national cemeteries, at least
          17 of which were in Virginia.

          The Union practice of ignoring the Confederate dead during
          reburial efforts incited increased activity by the Ladies’ Memorial
          Associations in the spring of 1866. The seven associations of Richmond,
          Lynchburg, Winchester, Petersburg, and Fredericksburg alone reinterred more
          than 72,520 remains, nearly 28 percent of the South’s total war dead.

          Members of the associations believed that their cemeteries
          would serve as physical reminders of the Confederate cause for future
          generations. Hollywood Memorial Association of Richmond believed that its
          cemetery would become the “Mecca” of the South, annually attracting
          “Pilgrim widows and Orphans, Fathers and Mothers, Brothers and Sisters,
          relatives and friends” from every southern state. “Let our children
          grow up, to foster it—making this sacred Spot, more and more attractive, each
          succeeding year, worthy of being the deposit of our hearts’ love, honour and

          Memorial Day

          The Ladies’ Memorial Association’s most visible and popular
          activity was the annual celebration of Memorial or Decoration Days. White
          southerners celebrated these days in the spring as a sign of renewal and
          rebirth, but each community chose its own symbolic date on which to gather. For
          example, Fredericksburg, Lynchburg, and Richmond’s Oakwood association all
          selected May 10, the anniversary of Confederate general Thomas J.
          “Stonewall” Jackson’s death following the Battle of Chancellorsville
          in May 1863. The women of Hollywood agreed on May 31, the anniversary of the
          day Richmonders first heard the cannons of war during the Battle of Seven
          Pines–Fair Oaks (1862). Winchester selected June 6, the day Confederate general
          Turner Ashby was killed in 1862 near Port Republic.

          Regardless of the date, Memorial Days tended to follow
          similar patterns. The women of the associations gathered on the days preceding
          the event to make evergreen and floral arrangements and requested that young
          men or boys perform any physical labor needed at the cemeteries such as
          remounding. On Memorial Day, hundreds and even thousands of citizens gathered
          at some central location in town, perhaps a church or town hall, and then
          marched in procession to the cemetery where the women and children decorated
          the graves with flowers and evergreens. Subsequently, orators chosen by the
          memorial associations delivered prayers and evocative speeches. Even though
          women selected men to serve as the featured guests and speakers, everyone
          understood that the Ladies ran the show—they selected the date, chose the
          orators, invited groups to participate in the procession, and even picked the
          musical selections.

          Other Activities

          The Ladies were also responsible for some of the first monuments to the Confederacy.
          In 1869, the Hollywood association dedicated a
          ninety-foot pyramidal structure in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery made of large
          blocks cut from James River granite. Other Virginia Ladies’ Memorial
          Associations likewise initiated plans for Confederate monuments in the 1860s
          and early in the 1870s. Perhaps the most famous monument associated with the
          associations is the Lee Monument on Richmond’s Monument Avenue completed in
          1890. In the 1890s, the Ladies began to move on to other projects such as
          restoring the White House of the Confederacy and transforming Petersburg’s
          Blandford Church into a Confederate shrine replete with Tiffany stained-glass

          Confederated Southern Memorial Association

          Unlike the United Daughters of the Confederacy, an outgrowth
          of the Ladies’ Memorial Associations that organized in 1894, the Ladies had
          always remained autonomous organizations. But in 1900, the Southern Memorial
          Association of Fayetteville, Arkansas, issued a call for all Ladies’ Memorial Associations
          to unite in one body called the Confederated Southern Memorial Association. In
          keeping with the Ladies’ objectives since the 1860s, the Confederated Southern
          Memorial Association sought to collect relics and preserve the history of the
          Confederacy, instill in the minds of children “a proper veneration for the
          spirit and glory that animated” the South’s soldiers, and continue to
          direct Memorial Day services. But in the spirit of a confederation, this new
          memorial association declared that no individual work of any individual Ladies’
          Association would be interfered with by the confederated group and no joining
          Ladies’ Association would be required to assume any new work except on a
          voluntary basis. The Confederated Southern Memorial Association would gather
          each year at an annual meeting that coincided with the annual meeting of the
          United Confederate Veterans.


          Despite organizing the Confederated Southern Memorial
          Association, membership in the Ladies’ Associations declined steadily early in
          the twentieth century as the Ladies were eclipsed by the more popular United
          Daughters of the Confederacy. Today there are only two known associations in
          Virginia, in Fredericksburg and Petersburg. These Ladies remain dedicated to
          many of the same projects and goals as their predecessors of the last century:
          maintaining cemeteries, providing information to soldiers’ descendants
          regarding grave locations, and sponsoring Memorial Day celebrations. Still
          other Ladies’ Memorial Associations have transformed their organizations since
          the early 1900s. In Lynchburg, a small but devoted group of women persisted as
          the caretakers of the Old City Cemetery until 2005 when the group was
          reorganized as the Southern Memorial Association. Although the Hollywood association
          ceased to exist sometime in the mid-twentieth century, its auxiliary group, the
          Confederate Memorial Literary Society, continues to operate the Museum of the

          Time Line

          1869 – The Ladies Hollywood Memorial Association erects a
          Confederate Memorial Pyramid in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond to honor
          Confederate soldiers.


          Civil War, American

          Women’s History

          Memorials and

          Further Reading

          Bishir, Catherine W. “‘A Strong Force of Ladies’:
          Women, Politics, and Confederate Memorial Associations in Nineteenth-Century
          Raleigh,” in Cynthia Mills and Pamela H. Simpson, eds., Monuments to the
          Lost Cause: Women, Art, and the Landscapes of Southern Memory. Knoxville:
          University of Tennessee Press, 2003, 3–26.

          Janney, Caroline E. Burying the Dead but Not the Past:
          Ladies’ Memorial Associations and the Lost Cause. Chapel Hill: University of
          North Carolina Press, 2008.

          Neff, John R. Honoring the Civil War Dead: Commemoration and
          the Problem of Reconciliation. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2005,

          Whites, LeeAnn. The Civil War as a Crisis in Gender:
          Augusta, Georgia, 1860–1890. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995.

          External Links

          Museum of the

          Fredericksburg Confederate
          Cemetery and the Ladies’ Memorial Association

          Petersburg Ladies’
          Memorial Association

          Encyclopedia of
          Alabama: Ladies Memorial Association

          Cite This Entry

          APA Citation:

          Janney, C. E. Ladies’ Memorial Associations. (2012, March
          8). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from

          MLA Citation:

          Janney, Caroline E. “Ladies’ Memorial
          Associations.” Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the
          Humanities, 8 Mar. 2012. Web. 23 Aug. 2017.

          First published: December 16, 2009 | Last modified: March 8,2012

          Contributed by Caroline E. Janney, an assistant professor of history at Purdue University
          in West Lafayette, Indiana.

          • D4x

            The origins of America’s Memorial Day:

            Article about Jennie Vernon’s kind act, as printed in the Mobile Register, June 18, 1868
            “Historians acknowledge the Ladies Memorial Association played a key role in these rituals of preservation of Confederate “memory.”[40] Various dates ranging from April 25 to mid-June were
            adopted in different Southern states. Across the South, associations were
            founded, many by women, to establish and care for permanent cemeteries for the
            Confederate dead, organize commemorative ceremonies, and sponsor appropriate
            monuments as a permanent way of remembering the Confederate dead. The most
            important of these was the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which grew from
            17,000 members in 1900 to nearly 100,000 women by World War I. They were
            “strikingly successful at raising money to build Confederate monuments,
            lobbying legislatures and Congress for the reburial of Confederate dead, and
            working to shape the content of history textbooks.”[41]

            In 1868, some southerners appended the label “Confederate” to what they originally called “Memorial Day”
            after northerners co-opted the holiday.[42] The tradition of observances were
            linked to the South, they served as the prototype for the national day of
            memory embraced by the nation in 1868.[30][43]


            40. Karen L. Cox (2003). Dixie’s Daughters: The United
            Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture.
            University Press of Florida, 2003
            Memorial Day


            41. David W. Blight (2001). Race and Reunion: The Civil War
            in American Memory. Harvard U.P. pp. 272–273

            43. Lucian Lamar Knight, “Memorial Day: Its True
            History”. Retrieved May 28, 2012.

            30. National Park Service, “Flowers For Jennie”
            Retrieved February 24, 2015


  • Stephen

    Ahh…But, you will not be allowed to forget.

  • Angel Martin
  • WigWag

    “As Thomas Friedman had the courage to say a few weeks ago, just because Donald Trump says something doesn’t mean it’s wrong.” (Adam Garfinkle)

    Adam Garfinkle’s essay is thought provoking and insightful. With that said, only a person thoroughly soaked in the muck and mire of the Washington D.C. swamp would think Tom Friedman is “courageous” for acknowledging a trivial point of agreement with Donald Trump.

    Our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq are courageous. Our police officers who patrol crime-infested inner city neighborhoods are courageous. To claim that there is anything that Tom Friedman or any other bloviating pundit might do that is courageous is to make a mockery of the concept of courage.

    • D4x

      Adam’s essay spins too many almost fake points of history into something provocative. Antebellum Manhattan got rich on shipping cotton to Britain. Copperhead Mayor Fernando Wood wanted to secede with the Confederacy. Elihu Yale traded slaves from his perch in India before being asked for a donation for what would then be named Yale College. What does John C. Calhoun have to do with “the point that northern commerce benefitted handsomely from the southern plantation system.”??

      Woodrow Wilson’s screening of “Birth of a Nation” at the WH in 1915 is credited with ‘normalizing’ the “second era” Ku Klux Klan” in 1915. The 2nd era KKK was NOT the force behind the monuments. It was mostly southern women, starting with burying the Confederate dead, and then the monuments, 1911 was a big year, and, our Memorial Day:

      National Public Radio is peddling this propaganda:

      Using Adam’s logic, my vote goes to erase The Wilson Center – not the building, which can be repurposed – and put everyone associated with it on trial for perpetuating racism an extra 50 years: guilt-by-association trials. Erase Woodrow Wilson first.

      Apologies. I was so incensed by Garfinkle’s concoction, I posted a five-part comment to make my case.

      Erasing history is such a slippery slope.

      Other history spins:

      Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind” won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1937. Adam’s odd disdain is probably because she was greatly influenced as a teenager by “Birth of a Nation”, especially since she loved the author’s trilogy.

      Louis B. Mayer, made enough money on distribution rights of “Birth of a Nation” in New England, that led to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and Mayer was the founder of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. The film was banned in NYC, still is.

      By Adam’s logic, Cuba and the Philippines have unhealed wounds, which is why Theodore Roosevelt is next to be erased, already labeled Racist last week, because of VP Pence’s speech at the Panama Canal.

      Mexico will require so many erasures, could take decades…,

  • Fat_Man

    I looked at the rss feed for this article and I said: gee that is really moronic. I opened the article and its author is Garfinkle. Figures. Once again, I appeal to Garfinkle’s family and friends: this man is in a very bad place he needs help from experienced mental health professionals. Please do what you can so that he get it.

  • FriendlyGoat

    Taking them all down is the same false equivalence as leaving them all in place. The Confederacy is something that never should have happened at all. A big war was fought over preserving one group of people’s self-proclaimed superiority and supremacy over another group of people and the related “states’ rights” to do so. Those Southern concepts lost the war and we have finally decided (in a hundred years from the Civil War to Civil Rights) that both of the Southern concepts (slavery and the related states’ rights) were bullsh*t from the get-go. Those who insist on resurrecting either one in “celebration” are back in the old bullsh*t. We should call it what it was—–and is. Today the stars and bars represent nothing but the desire of a bunch of rebby boys to diss somebody. Don’t humor them. Don’t give them an “out”.

  • Stephen

    Seriously? The credulity possessed by the author of this short piece and all the others who seem to believe that this sudden war on monuments has a basis in either a sincere and deeply held grievance, or belief, astounds. It is so transparently fake that it speaks to the decadence of the time that any of it is taken seriously. If only Nietzsche were alive to take it all in. He would surely smile.

    • Stephen

      Look at the people involved in these so-called demonstrations. It’s like a gathering of reenactors; in this case, reenacting the civil rights clashes of a distant past. So desperate for attention on all sides; sides that include, apparently several authors on this site. “Selma envy” it’s been called: so desperate to escape the ennui of bourgeois man, the “Last Man”, unable to make war on the present, they make war on the past. It would be pathetic, if it weren’t so laughable.

  • Jeff77450

    I can’t agree with taking them all down. As I’ve stated elsewhere in this forum some of the monuments were created to honor & acknowledge the courage & sacrifice of those who fought & served (one of whom was my great-grandfather, John Thomas York, Texas 22nd Infantry). In his excellent three volume history of the Civil War Shelby Foote states that when captured Confederate soldiers were asked why they were fighting the most common answer given was “Because you all are down here.” They didn’t own slaves and probably didn’t care whether they were governed from Washington or from Richmond, but once a northern army invaded those points became moot. They knew darn well that historically invading armies do *bad* things to citizens’ homes & women (in particular).

    • James_Eric

      You’ve put your finger on the reason why our adventures in
      Vietnam and Afghanistan are failures and must be failures unless we are willing
      to totally annihilate the population, i.e. commit genocide. An insurgency
      appears as the response to the presence of an army of occupation. Trying to
      manage that insurgency only fuels the insurgency. Ultimately, the insurgency
      will prevail. The only alternative is genocide. American settlers would have
      never prevailed if that hadn’t committed genocide on the Native American

  • Gary Hemminger

    Taking action because the far right and far left use symbols to further their own cause only furthers their own cause. Instead of pushing these people to the fringe, such action makes them actually mainstream. It shows them they have power. Absolutely horrific idea and simplistic as well.

  • Kenneth Currie

    Yes, Adam, much better if we pretend the Civil War never happened, that we never study its causes, that we never learn. Let’s just stick it in a memory hole somewhere. This is the most absurd of the many absurd articles this author has written.

  • James_Eric

    To my mind, the most interesting assertion in this piece is that the Civil War could have been avoided and the abolition of slavery could have been achieved by peaceful means. It’s something to think about. The war wasn’t inevitable. The war wasn’t necessary for progress. All that suffering and carnage was a mistake. All the statues are monuments to stupidity.

  • Anthony

    “…Perhaps the decision to remove some monuments is defensible; to remove them under demogogic pressure never is. All this is more reason for judgment to be exercised….”

  • charlesrwilliams

    If all the monuments disappeared overnight, the progressive assault on America will continue. The monuments are a local issue, properly decided by the people in each community through a local political process. I live in Bradenton, FL. We probably have a monument somewhere but no one cares except the birds. Believe me the monuments issue has nothing to do with slavery or Jim Crow or whistling dixie and waving old flags. It is a pure power grab on the part of the violent, repressive left. They will not stop at Stonewall Jackson.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2018 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service
We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.