Robert E. Lee, the last Confederate commemorative statue removed from New Orleans (The Mercury News)
The reason I decided I wanted to write about the Confederacy, the flags, and New Orleans was because I lived there for three years immediately preceding my entrance to Villanova. Even though I am not originally from New Orleans, the fact that my family has roots and branches there, and the fact that I had so many important experiences there, make it feel like a home. I won’t claim to have the expertise of someone born and raised in the city, or the expertise of someone that has spent an academic career studying it. Be that as it may, I understand this sentiment: we all want to have permission to tell our stories, and those of the people and places we consider closest to us. That is why questions of inclusion are always raised by the excluded.
The South has at times been outspoken about feeling excluded from national conversations, despite the fact that as a solid voting bloc they have typically thrown around a lot of weight. The economic effects of slavery yielded considerable political influence to the Old South and then the Deep South as the country developed and expanded, and even after the formal abolition of the peculiar institution, they have maintained a relationship of cultural familiarity and union. The symbiotic relationship with the practice of chattel slavery united these states enough to flea their fledgling nation out of fear of the end of that practice.
Current White House chief of staff John Kelly, and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders recently said that the American Civil War could have been avoided with more “compromise.” Any amateur historian could tell you that the United States of America and its government compromised plenty about slavery. When the Constitution was written, instead of dealing with the moral paradox of slavery, the framers included the Three-fifths Compromise, so that three-fifths of each enslaved person would count toward slave states’ populations for the purpose of representation in the lower house of the Congress. This was intended so that enslavers would be politically rewarded for their ability to keep other human beings in bondage, but not to the extent that humans who did not own humans would have their political voice minimized. In 1820, the Missouri Compromise determined that slavery could not exist north of the boundary of Missouri’s northern border extended westward. The Compromise of 1850 included New Mexico and Utah in the U.S. as territories without any explicit regard for how they might deal with slavery. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 repealed the Missouri Compromise and declared that states would have to determine for themselves whether they would be slave or free. The point is, there were plenty of attempts to “compromise” before the Civil War; it was an unfortunate consequence of the perpetual procrastination by the government of a nation which portended to believe that “all men are created equal.”
With the Civil War, the Proclamation of Emancipation, and Constitutional Amendments 13to 15, the nation had made several deliberate moves toward stopping slavery’s buck. The United States began slowly to right wrongs inherent to its foundation. Millions suffered under slavery. Thousands died to stop it. Given all that, the civil religion of the south had to structure itself in apathy to this reality in order to perpetuate itself. It became necessary to have symbols like the battle flag and the heroes of the war to imbibe with faith and glory. Statues were erected throughout the South after the Civil War, with the majority being raised in the nineteen-teens and concurrently with the Civil Rights movement of the ‘50s and ‘60s. This was done because the White Supremacist power structures of the region wanted to reaffirm their authority as Black people were struggling for the right to equality. Simultaneously, a culture of neo-feudalism – of gentry and oppression – had to restructure itself after its idea of masculinity was shattered by military defeat to men with which it now had to reconcile.
The hundred years between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries were contentious. The U.S. would follow-up its pre-Civil War campaign against Mexico with a global campaign against Mexico’s former colonizer Spain, and then two other global campaigns, pushing her to a position of international importance. There would be wars in Southeast Asia. The U.S. would continue annihilating the indigenous people of its physical place. Women would stop being barred from their rights as full citizens, at least as far as voting. The United States would undergo an Industrial Revolution, economic recession and a Great Depression, civil rights movements, alcohol prohibition and repeal, drug prohibition and reaffirmation. And all this time, the states in the south were building monuments to slave owners that wanted to separate their states from the rest of the country. To quote Thomas Brown, “Confederate monuments enjoy a dominance in southern commemoration that far exceeds the breadth of support the Confederacy achieved during its tumultuous existence.”
Confederate Monuments in New Orleans
We have discussed the Battle for Liberty Place and the monument in a prior post. We have a few other things to discuss, so I will summarize. New Orleanians did not like the idea that Northern Republicans were going to force them to treat Blacks like people. Thanks to Andrew Johnson’s lax attitude about Reconstruction, there really was not a lot of forcing going on. New Orleanians were pretty free to be oppressive. In July of 1866, some formerly-enslaved African-American were massing in the streets out of excitement that they were allegedly on their way to voting rights. Some white former-Confederates took issue with that and got violently involved. A police officer ended up getting shot by a Black guy. A massacre ensued. Two days later the local paper said the affair should be physically commemorated. Land was set aside in 1882; the obelisk was raised on Canal Street in 1891; in 1932, a plaque declaring the battle was fought to “overthrow the carpetbag government, ousting the usurpers” and that “the national election of 1876 recognized white supremacy in the South and gave us our state.” In 1989, the statue was moved from Canal Street – where the Battle took place – to Iberville Street because of construction, and a new plaque honoring “those Americans on both sides… who died in the Battle of Liberty Place.”
The statue of Robert E. Lee was erected in “a circular plot of land encircled by St. Charles Avenue in its 900 and 1000 blocks” in 1884, according to a document linked-to from its page on the website for the National Register of Historic Places. The document situates the statue as representative of “the Cult of the Lost Cause” – of Southern revisionist historical justification, of mythologizing the honor and nobility of the Confederate cause, of the deification of General Robert E. Lee. That is to say, the National Register declared this historically notable specifically because it is a physical notation of the thought processes of Confederate loyalists and sympathizers. Their passionate dedication to their archaic and oppressive ideology is historically notable because of its distinctiveness. It is not to be lauded. That is how I feel, and Mitch Landrieu – the first white mayor of New Orleans since 1978 – seems to agree. He said, “To literally put the Confederacy on a pedastal in our more prominent places – in honor – is an inaccurate recitation of our full past, is an affront to our present and it is a bad prescription for our future.”
Like Lee, Davis is depicted alongside Stonewall Jackson at Stone Mountain (Confederate Mount Rushmore) in Georgia. Like Lee, he attended West Point. He was Secretary of War, a southern gentleman and – according to NOLA.com – knew that slavery could not last forever, despite the fact that he owned slaves and led the rebellious coalition that wanted to keep the institution in perpetuity. He was anti-secession, until Mississippi seceded. Jefferson Davis considered freeing slaves that would fight for the Confederacy – which helps somewhat his personal claim to fighting for something other than slavery – but the notion was rejected – which does not help the claim that no Southerners were fighting for slavery. Also, his farewell address to the Senate (immediately preceding becoming Confederate President) declared slavery a constitutional right the violation of which provoked Mississippi’s just secession, in case someone somewhere is still confused as to what this whole Civil War thing was about. Jefferson Davis is widely-regarded as a poor president – being quick to criticize and thin-skinned to criticism among his flaws – largely-despised by his military and other subordinates even before leading the Confederacy for ruin. I suppose I ought to thank him for that. Anyway, he was captured in a loose-fitting overcoat and his wife’s black shawl to protect him from the rain when he was captured in Irwinville, Georgia, and U.S. newspapers depicted him as a man in drag. Statues were meant to restore his honor as a statesman.
P.G.T. Beauregard, the handsomest of devils (from WaPo)
In 1915, the statue of General Pierre Gustave Toutant (P.G.T.) Beauregard on horseback was erected near City Park, at the roundabout leading to the entrance of what is now the New Orleans Museum of Art. P.G.T. Beauregard led the attack by Confederate forces on Fort Sumter in South Carolina, the attack which marked the beginning of the U.S. Civil War, which contemporary revisionists ironically like to call “The War of Northern Aggression.” Though clearly not named for the initial, inspiring acts, perhaps it is so-called because the Confederate incursions into the North were typically less-successful than the Union incursions into the South, which include the aforementioned blockade-and-capture of New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and the later razing of Atlanta.
P.G.T. Beauregard’s statue in New Orleans, from The Advocate, by Eliot Kamenitz
P.G.T.’s legacy might otherwise be wrapped-up as championing the version of the Confederate battle flag that modern neo-Confederates are so proud of. The one that inspired the color palette of the University of Mississippi athletic program. Unlike Davis (Virginia) or Lee (Kentucky/Mississippi), Beauregard was from New Orleans. He grew-up on a sugar plantation in St. Bernard Parish. He had early success, with his victory during the Battle of Manassas/Bull Run the impetus for changing the flag to make it more distinct. He later fell out of favor for Lee, due in part to his constant bickering with Davis. After the war, as a prominent and successful general, he did not mesh as well with the Lost Cause memory which appealed to an injured Southern pride. He became a railroad director, adjutant general of Louisiana, and manager of the Louisiana lottery; and marked his last year’s bickering with former-general Joseph E. Johnston, Jeff Davis, and William Preston Johnston over his role in the war and their depiction thereof.
We are up against our word limit here. In a couple days we will conclude this series on New Orleans, the Confederacy, and memory in discussing the legacy of the Confederate flag and the contemporary public discourse of race and Civil War history. I just want to summarize and reaffirm what has thus far been stated. The Confederacy was a union of statesmen and soldiers which rebelled against the country they had sworn allegiance to because they wanted to maintain the institution of slavery. The Civil War began when Confederate troops led by P.G.T. Beauregard fired on Union troops at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. New Orleans was occupied by Union troops for nearly all of the U.S. Civil War. After the Civil War, in New Orleans and across the South former Confederates began enacting laws and public policies to oppress the formerly-enslaved.
The first “Confederate-era” monument went up in the 1880s, and commemorated a race riot (see: police-assisted massacre) that took place in 1866. The monument to Robert E. Lee, beloved general of the Confederacy, went up in 1884. The monuments to Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Confederate general P.G.T. Beauregard went up in 1911 and 1915. Fifty years after the Civil War began, and then fifty years after it ended, in a different century, between different wars, people in New Orleans – like their compatriates across the South – were commemorating traitorous losers as heroes in concrete and bronze.
Astor, Maggie. “John Kelly Pins Civil War on a ‘Lack of Ability to Compromise,’” from The New York Times, Oct. 31, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/31/us/john-kelly-civil-war.html
Ball, JR. “7 things to know about Jefferson Davis, now that his Confederate monument is gone,” from NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune, 11 May 2017.
Brown, Thomas. “Confederate Monuments,” from The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, Vol. 4: Myth, Manners, and Memory. Edited by Charles Reagan Wilson. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press (2006), pp. 43-8.
Davis, Jefferson. “Jefferson Davis’s Farewell Address.” The Papers of Jefferson Davis Archive at Rice University. https://jeffersondavis.rice.edu/archives/documents/jefferson-davis-farewell-address
Document “36053001” from Office of Cultural Development, Division of Historic Preservation, National Register of Historic Places.
Hunter, Lloyd A. “The Immortal Confederacy: Another Look at Lost Cause Religion,” from The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History. Edited by Gary W. Gallagher and Alan T. Nolan. Bloomington: Indiana University Press (2000), pp. 185-218. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt16gzbp2.12
Jefferson, Thomas. The Declaration of Independence. The National Archive. https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript
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Liptak, Adam. “Supreme Court Invalidates Key Part of Voting Rights Act,” The New York Times June 25, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/26/us/supreme-court-ruling.html
Ruane, Michael E. “Gen P.G.T. Beauregard was a rebel hero. Now his statue in New Orleans is gone.” The Washington Post, 17 May 2017.
Selk, Avi. “Jefferson Davis: The Confederacy’s first, worst and only president.” The Washington Post, 11 May 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/retropolis/wp/2017/05/11/jefferson-davis- the-confederacys-first-worst-and-only-president/?utm_term=.cf8a671adafa
Simon, Darran, and Steve Almasy. “Final Confederate statue comes down in New Orleans.” CNN.com, 19 May, 2017. http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/19/us/new-orleans-confederate- monuments/index.html
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Brittanica. “P.G.T. Beauregard,” from Encyclopaedia Brittanica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/P-G-T-Beauregard
“The Voting Rights Act: A Resource Page.” The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, August 4, 2015. https://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/voting- rights-act-resource-page;
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