Cary Clack, usually a careful and thoughtful writer, penned a piece recently regarding Confederate memorials. His piece betrays a superficial understanding of Confederate memorials. See his opinion piece here in the San Antonio Express News. Mr. Clack argues that the Civil War was primarily caused by slavery, as though someone disagrees with him. Not even Pres. Trump has claimed the civil war was not about slavery.
The Confederate memorials were largely erected by women. According to Kelly McMichaels’ book, “Sacred Memories,” of the 65 Confederate memorials which used to stand in Texas, about 50 were erected by women. A couple of those were started by male veterans of the war, but they could not get it done. The women had to step in and raise the necessary funds. Why were women so successful at a project the men could not accomplish? Dr. McMichaels suggests women were the “rememberers.” They were the ones most likely to safeguard the small things of a lost loved one.
The money for these memorials was raised ten, twenty-five, and fifty cents at a time over years. Mr. Clack engages in stereotypes to suggest the memorials were erected in the early 1900’s when Jim Crow laws were becoming common. Mr. Clack essentially suggests all white folks were trying to diminish the black man. So, these statues must share the same motive. Mr. Clack does not mention that this was also a time when many Civil War veterans on both sides were dying. The union veterans erected their memorials about the same time. Both sides generally purchased their memorials and statues from the same sources.
Neither does Mr. Clack mention that in a time when women could not work, could not vote, and often could not own property, they were raising the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars in today’s money.
These memorials sometimes depict generals, sometimes the common soldier. Yet, they always call on the viewer to recall those who fell. This veteran cannot forget those who fell in any war. Mr. Clack looks at the statues with no notice of the message at the foot of the statue.
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.
Mr. Clack conflates respect for those who fell with respect for secession. He suggests the cause was unjust because contemporary documents pointed to slavery. I deployed to Iraq in 2005. I did not consult the Congressional Resolution that authorized the war. It is very unlikely any Confederate soldier reviewed Alexander Stephens’ “Cornerstone Speech” before enlisting. Soldiers don’t do that. They just serve.
Mr. Clack never addresses the words which actually appear on every memorial: “Lest we forget.”
Mr. Clack ends his piece by asking where is the statue that honors his enslaved ancestor? Indeed. Where are the memorials to our country’s enslaved ancestors? Why remove Confederate memorials, when Mr. Clack could just as easily raise the funds for a memorial to his enslaved ancestor? Removal is relatively easy. Erecting is much the harder task. Those Southern women who could not vote and could not work, however, showed it can be done.