Lee-Jackson Monument, Wyman Park, Baltimore, Maryland, 1948. Photograph by A. Aubrey Bodine (Via Maryland Historical Society)

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On Confederate Legacies

Writing by Christine Manganaro
with photographs by Nate Larson

Marylanders, including and perhaps especially Baltimoreans, had complex positions on the Civil War’s stakes and varying experiences of the war itself. Maryland was a slave state where secession was popular. Yet after the federal government imposed martial law and the pro-slavery but anti-secessionist Governor Thomas Hicks intervened, it became part of the Union. While a majority of enlisted Marylanders fought with the Union army, Confederate sympathies were strong enough in Baltimore that citizens rioted when Union troops came through. Nevertheless, Maryland was part of the Union. But you wouldn’t know this from casual encounters with monuments.

In recent weeks, a long-simmering public debate about Confederate symbols and monuments has been revitalized. In late June, Baltimore County and city officials called for Robert E. Lee Park to be renamed and the mayor announced a commission to review city monuments.

Recently I have been visiting regional monuments, cemeteries, battlefields, and parks and schools named for historical figures in an effort to learn about how the Confederacy has been memorialized. In my historical research I work in archives, libraries, and museums. However, because of the intensity of public debate about commemorations of the Confederacy in public spaces, I decided to take a close look at these sites. Some have been installations celebrated as works of art and some have been banal, like suburban highways named for Robert E. Lee. Most of them are not related to the Civil War per se, as they were built long after the fact.

One of the loudest critiques of potentially changing the name of Robert E. Lee Park and examining city monuments is “We cannot erase history. We must embrace it and learn from it.” Variations on this argument are everywhere on social media. I heard it at a July 4 BBQ, too. The charge is that removing the double equestrian Lee and Jackson monument on Art Museum Drive, for example, is destroying or “whitewashing” a piece of history, a historical artifact.

Confederate monuments in Baltimore city are not historical artifacts from the Civil War or its immediate aftermath. Robert E. Lee Park wasn’t named until after World War II. Wealthy Baltimorean Elizabeth Garrett White specified prior to her death in 1917 that proceeds from the sale of her estate fund a monument to Lee in Druid Hill Park. In 1945, Robert Garrett, White’s great-nephew and executor of her will who also happened to be chairman of the city’s recreation commission, petitioned the Circuit Court to use White’s bequest to fund recreation at Lake Roland instead. The connection between the north Baltimore park and the war is the redirection of one wealthy Lee enthusiast’s bequest nearly three decades after her death. The Lee and Jackson monument was created in 1946. It sits in a spot with no evidentiary connection to the events of the Civil War. This monument is celebratory rather than historical. If it has an educational function, it is to communicate its donors’ wishes and perhaps also what kind of public display was considered respectable in its day.

The battlefields and cemeteries I have visited suggest that there has been installation of Confederate monuments in Maryland, including Baltimore, disproportionate to public opinion before, during, and in the decades immediately following the war. Erected during the twentieth century largely in the service of individuals’ and heritage clubs’ agendas, the balance of monuments overstates Marylanders’ loyalties to the Confederacy and its military leaders. This imbalanced account also holds us back from fully reckoning with the legacy of white Marylanders who were anti-slavery and pro-Union, but remained committed to white supremacy.
To argue that everything referencing the Civil War must be preserved “because you can’t change history,” as I have heard numerous times, is to underestimate the rich resources we do have. Artifacts and historical evidence from the Civil War safely reside in archives and museums as well as in preserved historic sites. People who wish to pay respects to the war dead may visit numerous cemeteries. Visiting battlefields like Mononacy and Antietam offers the opportunity to encounter the land where so many men died that in the case of Antietam, the creek was said to have run red.

Some advocates for leaving the monuments where they are claim that questioning the value of their display is succumbing to political correctness or engaging in “revisionist history.” But all history is revisionist, if by revisionist we mean constantly being reexamined.

Civil War iconography and monumental largess have been used mostly to communicate values. Public deliberation about monuments and park names empowers citizens to engage in the same kind of argumentation about values as the monuments’ donors. Our responsibility is not to concede the names and content of public spaces because of an abstract “duty to history,” as some have argued, but to our fellow citizens. Deliberation about whether celebratory monuments and park names align with residents’ civic goals is also a historical act. Far from erasing, it creates new history that becomes part of the history of Baltimore.
Lee & Jackson Monument, Baltimore, Maryland, June 2015
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Activist Intervention at the Lee-Jackson Monument, Wyman Park, Baltimore, Maryland, October, 2015
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Baltimore Police Removing the Activist Intervention at the Lee-Jackson Monument, Wyman Park, Baltimore, Maryland, October, 2015
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Confederate Soldiers of Montgomery County Monument, Courthouse, Rockville, Maryland, June 2015
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Confederate Soldiers of Montgomery County Monument, Courthouse, Rockville, Maryland, August 2015
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Confederate Soldiers of Montgomery County Monument, Courthouse, Rockville, Maryland, December 2015
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Confederate Women of Maryland Monument, Bishop Square Park, Baltimore, Maryland, 2015
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Spirit of the Confederacy Monument, Mount Royal Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland, c. 1900 (Via Library of Congress)

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Spirit of the Confederacy Monument, Mount Royal Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland, 2015

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Spirit of the Confederacy Monument Inscription, Mount Royal Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland, 2015

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Roger B. Taney Monument, Mount Vernon Place, Baltimore, Maryland, 2015
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Confederate Women Monument, Loudon Park Cemetary, Baltimore, Maryland, 2015
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