In the Iraq war, like all wars, we lost a few buddies. Each death carries with it these tremendous ripple effects. For every death, 5, 6 soldiers or more say, “If I had been there SGT Saenz would still be with us. I should have gone out on that patrol.” The guilt, as irrational as it might be, can be devastating. Multiply those ripple effects some 20 or 30 times and you get the U.S. Civil war. The casualty rate in that war was 20-50% in combat units, compared to .02% in the Iraq war for all units. During the Civil War, armies did not collect and bury the dead. There were no funerals back home. There were no honor guarded processions. There were no gifts of a flag to the grieving family. After the war, hundreds of families, North and South, wandered these battle fields looking for lost loved ones. One historian estimated there were 35,000 dead, lying unburied, unmarked between Baton Rouge and Vicksburg. That was just one small corner of the war.
So, after the war, communities across America built memorials to the confederate dead. Northern communities did the same. Those memorials applied a much needed salve to deep, emotional wounds. But, how did a South with its economy in shambles raise the money for memorials?
In her book (“Sacred Memories”), Kelly McMichaels describes the process employed by male veterans and the female United Daughters of the Confederacy in erecting hundreds of veteran memorials across America. Overwhelmingly, most were built by the women. Dr. McMichaels attributes that to the nature or role of women in the 1890-1930 time frame when most of these memorials were built. Women were often the “rememberers.” They tended the graves. They laid aside the old baby slippers and the old worn hat from lost loved ones.
One of the first memorials was the Robert E. Lee statue in New Orleans. Fund-raising started the year of Mr. Lee’s death in 1870. The fund-raising committee included bankers and leading merchants of the city. But, these were banks and merchants who had no money. The economy was reeling. The committee came close to disbanding in 1876. But, they re-organized and added many more merchants and former Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard. By 1884, the committee raised the $36,000 necessary for a very large, beautiful Lee statue.
But, to reach that huge figure, they held hundreds of bake sales and public entertainments. The public entertainments included militias performing close order drill, a play titled “Cinderella,” for the children; lectures on Robert E. Lee and his life. Admission was generally .25 cents for children and .50 cents for adults. In 1877, 98 persons pledged $100 each which brought them close to the stated goal of $30,000. Contributors included Sen. Charles Furlong, a Republican Senator from Mississippi and union veteran.
My ancestor, George P. Crane, supported one such public entertainment as part of his social club. He recorded in his diary for May 16, 1878, that the old Opera House had never seen such a “jam.” Thousands, he said, had to be turned away. From a building that could seat 1,600 souls. Even allowing for some exaggeration, the white folks of New Orleans supported their Confederate memorials.
But, the Lee monument in New Orleans was unique. Most memorials were erected by women, usually the United Daughters of the Confederacy. In a time when women could not work, could not vote, often could not own property, they got the job done. Among the 65 Confederate monuments in Texas, two were started by men, but finished by the women. Of the 65 Confederate memorials, twelve were erected by the male veterans. The remaining 50 or so were erected by the UDC. The San Antonio chapter of the UDC relied on hundreds of bake sales and quilting bees to raise the $3,000 necessary for their memorial in 1899. The San Antonio memorial depicted the common soldier. The Grand Army of the Republic, the veterans organization for union veterans, contributed to the San Antonio monument and participated in the unveiling ceremony. The Grand Army of the Republic followed right behind the United Confederate Veterans in the lengthy procession.
Both Union and Confederate veterans generally supported each other’s memorials and attended each other’s reunions. The replacement cost of the San Antonio memorial has been valued at $450,000 in today’s dollars.
Some of the monuments, typically those found in the larger cities, depicted Confederate generals, but most Texas memorials depicted the common solder. All included some words on the pedestal asking the community to remember those who fell. “Lest We forget,” a then recent poem by Rudyard Kipling, was a familiar refrain carved into the base. These memorials filled a void. These were the funerals those families never had.
Dr. McMichael states in her book that the statues were also intended to support white supremacy. But, her citation does not support her assertion. Dr. McMichael points to John J. Winberry’s article, “Lest We Forget: The Confederate Monument and the Southern Townscape.” Mr. Winberry offered four reasons for the erection of Confederate monuments across the South. None of his reasons include sending a message of white supremacy.
Even when the men erected the monument, it was often the women who did the actual work. To some folks today, those memorials represent vestiges of racism. But, in reality, they represent hundreds of bake sales, bazaars (similar to yard sales), public entertainments and thousands of ten, twenty-five and fifty cent contributions. Seeing those beautiful memorials spat on, spray-painted and pulled down unceremoniously deeply saddens this Iraq war veteran.