A few weeks ago, I decided to apply for the Lord Baltimore Fellowship at the Maryland Historical Society to continue the research I started in 2015 on the history of Baltimore’s Confederate monuments and Civil War memory in Baltimore. This week, I heard the good news that the Maryland Historical Society accepted my application. This year-long fellowship is unpaid but comes with the exciting opportunity of “staff-level” access to the Society’s library and archives.
I began researching Confederate memory in June 2015 just a few days after the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. I created a simple timeline on the history of Confederate monuments in Baltimore and published a blog post detailing the earliest local effort to erect a Confederate monument in 1880. That fall, I put together a detailed report for Baltimore Heritage and presented testimony before the Special Commission to Review Baltimore’s Public Confederate Monuments.
Of course, my own interest on this topic has a history of its’ own. A July 2011 archaeological dig to explore the Civil War camp and hospital at West Baltimore’s Lafayette Square and a Civil War bike tour in November led to a presentation at the Society for Historical Archaeology in January 2012 on the meaning of public archaeology and Civil War history in historically black neighborhoods. In November 2013, I put together a tour of Mount Vernon Place on the histories of slavery and emancipation. You can find my rough notes for that tour in the Baltimore Heritage open tour collection.
Why am I sharing all this back story? I think it is important for everyone, myself included, to think about how our knowledge of the past is built up over time. Our understanding of the past as individuals and communities is directly shaped by the politics of the places where we live and learn.
After the publication of the Special Commission’s final report in September 2016 and the installation of new interpretive plaques at each of the Confederate monuments considered in the city’s review, there has been little public discussion around Baltimore’s Confederate monuments. Without funding or more active leadership by Baltimore’s Mayor or City Council, all four monuments seem likely to stay in place for the near future.
In New Orleans, however, the removal of four monuments associated with white supremacy and the Confederacy began in April and ended on May 19, 2017. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu marked removal of the last of the four monuments with a widely-circulated speech explaining the city’s decision to take them down:
So relocating these Confederate monuments is not about taking something away from someone else. This is not about politics, this is not about blame or retaliation. This is not a naive quest to solve all our problems at once.
This is, however, about showing the whole world that we as a city and as a people are able to acknowledge, understand, reconcile and most importantly, choose a better future for ourselves making straight what has been crooked and making right what was wrong. Otherwise, we will continue to pay a price with discord, with division and yes with violence.
I feel confident that Baltimore is not done talking about Confederate monuments and Civil War memory. Given the Maryland Historical Society’s own history in shaping local Civil War memory and importance role as a place where collections related to both the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement have found a home, the institution seems like the perfect place to take a closer look at these topics. If you’re interested, you can read my research proposal below. I’d love to hear your questions or suggestions for my research in the year ahead.
Baltimore has a notable number of Confederate monuments for a city that remained with the Union throughout the Civil War. There are three Confederate monuments located in the city’s public parks and medians: the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument (1903) on Mount Royal Avenue, the Confederate Women’s Monument (1917) on University Parkway, and the Lee-Jackson Monument (1948) located at Wyman Park Dell. A fourth statue on Mount Vernon Place—the Roger Brooke Taney Monument (1887)—memorializes a Maryland lawyer and Supreme Court Justice whose decision in the 1857 Dred Scott case earned him lasting infamy as an opponent of black freedom.
Many other monuments and statues have connections to Civil War memory—some obvious but others obscure. Thes include memorial statues to the Confederate dead in Loudon Park Cemetery; the enormous 1909 Union Soldiers and Sailors Monument relocated from Druid Hill Park to Wyman Park Dell in 1959; a 1911 monument to Confederate veteran John Mifflin Hood located at Preston Gardens since 1963; a 1919 statue of Confederate veteran and Baltimore Mayor Thomas G. Hayes at City Hall.
Reminders of Civil War memory are seen in the red and white symbol of the “Crossland Banner” in the Maryland State Flag (officially adopted in 1904) and heard in the state song, “Maryland, My Maryland” adopted in 1939. The Maryland Historical Society itself put on numerous exhibitions of Civil War art and artifacts over the institution’s history. In October 1947, the Maryland Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy worked with the Maryland Historical Society to open an exhibition of Confederate relics for students in Baltimore City public schools. In 1968, the addition of the Thomas and Hugg Building included a “Union Room” established to supplement the long-standing “Confederate Room”.
Although scholarly research on the Civil War in Maryland is extensive, histories of Civil War memory in Maryland are harder to find. Charles W. Mitchell covers the topic in the epilogue to his extensive compendium Maryland Voices of the Civil War. Other historians, notably David Blight in his influential 2002 study Race and Reunion or Paul Shackel in his 2003 book Memory in Black and White, have looked at the significant role of Civil War battlefields and related memorials as sites of conflict and reconciliation.
My own 2015 research on the history of Baltimore’s Confederate monuments has inspired my current interest in looking at the broader picture of Civil War memory in Baltimore and exploring how the monuments fit within a landscape of visual and literary culture created by Confederate and Union veterans, their descendants, and scholars who studied the Civil War from the nineteenth century up to the present. Within this landscape, the central importance of education, such as textbooks and approaches to teaching Civil War history, stands out as a subject that demands deeper consideration.
In addition, I’m interested in unpacking the largely obscure political dimensions of Civil War memory in Baltimore. For example, in 1887, Mayor Ferdinand Latrobe refused to appear at the dedication of the Taney Monument at Mount Vernon Place to protest the prominent speaking role granted to his political antagonist Severn Teackle Wallis. In 1948, the Afro-American Newspaper responded to Governor William Preston Lane Jr.’s remarks at the dedication of the Lee-Jackson Monument at Wyman Park Dell by challenging his support from the Southern Governors’ Association and their opposition to desegregation of public universities. In both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Confederate monuments cannot be separated from the politics of the people who supported their erection. I believe the enduring legacy of local expressions of Civil War memory cannot truly be understood or evaluated without putting the topic in conversation with the history of the politics surrounding race and Civil Rights movement.
Given the breadth of the Maryland Historical Society’s collections there are several potential directions for how I could use the available resources to further this research. Relevant materials include the papers of Confederate veterans like Adalbert J. Volck (MS 867); early historians of the Confederacy such as J. Thomas Scharf (MS 1999); institutions that served Confederate veterans directly such as the Confederate Maryland Line Beneficial Association (MS 255) and the Maryland Line Confederate Soldiers’ Home (PP159; MS 256); individuals who directly participated in the creation and dedication of Confederate monuments such as Colonel Benjamin Franklin Taylor (MS 1863). Additional context on the process of commissioning of public artwork during the early twentieth century might be found in the records of the Municipal Arts Society (MS 2875). One of the most significant collections available for this research is the records of the United Daughters of the Confederacy covering the period from 1936 to 1984 (MS 2846). The availability of records from the 1960s and 1970s suggests the possibility of learning more about the group’s reaction to such efforts as the creation of the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture (MCAAHC) in 1969 or the Negro Soldier Monument originally located next to the Battle Monument in 1972.
The overall goal of this effort, however, is not just to satisfy my curiosity with a detailed scholarly study or unearth forgotten records from the archives. Instead, I hope to explore new ways to make Civil War memory relevant and meaningful to Baltimore residents in the present. I’m especially interested in how to make the topic relevant to young people; a goal that, perhaps ironically, many “Lost Cause” historians in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century shared.
Connecting African American audiences with Civil War history has been a challenge for many contemporary public historians. Writer and Baltimore native Ta-Nehisi Coates reflected in a 2011 NPR interview on how African Americans have been excluded from the interpretation of the Civil War through “Lost Cause” mythologies. Coates remarked that, “one of the most depressing things [he] found,” was when a tour guide at the Gettysburg Battlefield park told him, “‘You can sit there for hours — and you can count on one hand the number of African-Americans that come into the battle park.’” In a 2012 article for The Atlantic magazine, Coates describes how the “country’s battlefields are marked with the enduring evidence” of the “tireless efforts” by Confederate descendants to present their own story of the Civil War—a story that, despite their defeat in the conflict, erased their ancestors complicity with the system of slavery that Confederate troops had fought for and died trying to preserve.
In 2015, the Charleston church shooting pushed the topic of Confederate memory to the front of public debates in a new way. The often contentious debates that followed have made it difficult to ignore the continued political significance of Civil War memory as an issue. With this study, I hope to find ways of using the history of Civil War memory to support constructive conversations on the relationship between memorials and politics in the past and in the future.