Why do you think these memorials and monuments were erected?

The civil war and memory

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The Civil War, the Lost Cause, and Memory
The Civil War is one of the most heavily debated events in U.S. history – we can’t even agree if
the war ever really ended or resolved, especially when we examine lingering tensions over racial
injustice and the legacy of the war itself.
People still debate the cause of the Civil War (even though, as we have seen in primary accounts,
it was in fact mostly about slavery). Sometimes it may seem that things like the Civil War only
exist within a history class, or a textbook, or an essay you don’t really want to write. But in
actuality, it is around us in so many ways, and the links between that war to today are clear.
This year saw the passing of John Lewis, a longtime Georgia congressman and genuine icon of
the Civil Rights movement. Lewis is perhaps best known for leading a group of freedom
marchers across Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama in March 1965, and for the brutal
beating, he and others endured there for simply demanding their right to vote – a right
supposedly guaranteed by the 15th Amendment, one of three important amendments to emerge
from the Civil War and Reconstruction (see Foner).
The site of that historic event, Edmund Pettus Bridge, was named after Edmund Pettus, a
Confederate general, slave owner, and leader of the local Ku Klux Klan. Some are arguing in
favor of renaming the bridge after Lewis, in this time when we are seeing so many memorials
coming down, many of which depict people with links to America’s most unsavory, darkest
chapters. In another Civil war connection unrelated to Lewis, last summer NASCAR banned
the flying of the Confederate flag, and Mississippi became the last state to remove the
Confederate emblem from its state flag with voters approving a new design – though
Confederate symbols are persistent. https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/01/us/mississippi-state-flagconfederacy-flag-trnd/index.html
The whole debate over these statues and memorials to the Civil War in fact has to do with how a
society “remembers” the past, and how it then writes or creates the narrative that it then tells
future generations. No historic event is more argued over in America than the Civil War, and
much of that is a commentary on how the war is remembered differently – not surprisingly this
difference in interpretation falls along North-South lines (remember sectionalism?).
So it becomes all about who “gets” to tell the history, and in what form does that history-telling
take place.

The Assignment:

This last response is meant to get you to think about how people “remember” history, and how
they interpret the past. In this case, you will watch two videos – one deals with Confederate
memorials and how they got erected in the first place, and the second looks at people who “reenact” Civil War battles as a way to connect to history.
Write a good solid page (so maybe 300-400 words or so) on the film clips and the topic described
– memory and the Civil War. Quote twice from Foner (last chapter) and twice from any of the
film clips.

Background Clips:

Here is some background on the causes of the war (didn’t we just write about this?):
A short video on how the Civil War began with the election of Abraham Lincoln. How does this film clip explain the reasons why the Southern states seceded from the Union? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9dNDWzsZTI
• For a little more detail, watch this Crash Course in U.S. History video on the Election of
1860 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=roNmeOOJCDY Same question – what are some of
the reasons John Green gives to the cause of the war?

The Main Clips:

These two videos describe how the Civil War is remembered today by Americans, including
people whose ancestors fought in the war. Notice how people have completely different views on
what the cause of the war was – either slavery or states’ rights.
1. This video deals with the Confederate memorials that exist in all of the states in
the South. Why do you think these memorials and monuments were erected?
Who put these statues up, and why? And how else did these same people try to
control or tell the history they wanted to be told? What messages do the memorials
convey or represent? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOkFXPblLpU
2. This last video features people engaged in the historical reenactment of Civil War
battles. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UqeDYW_K9nA How do people
connect to the Civil War through historical reenactments and the memorialization
of their ancestors? Why do you think people engage in these activities, a field of history we call “living history?” And what is the “Lost Cause” interpretation of the
Civil War? Who holds this belief and why?
Also now that you have studied the Civil War a bit, what do you think about the controversy over
the Confederate memorials? Why do you think those memorials were erected in the first place –
what point or argument is being made? Are memorials real “history,” or are they more of a
glorification of a person or an idea?

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