The Wrongheaded Righteousness of Spray Paint

Vandalized Texan MonumentWe’ve had such a good month here at ECW that I hate to end on a sour note. However, I received an alarming note from Rob Orrison this morning about some unfortunate shenanigans in the Wilderness where, it seems, the Texans were again under attack.

Lo and behold, some aspiring Picasso chose to express his righteous indignation in spray paint on the face of the Texas monument.

In case you can’t read that, it says, “Fuck UR Rebel flag.”

The picture, Rob tells me, comes from the Bull Runnings Facebook page; he passed it on to me from there. 

Located along Plank Road, the Texas monument marks the location where the Texans arrived on the morning on May 6 at a crucial moment of the battle of the Wilderness. Lee’s Confederate army faced total collapse on the right, but the timely arrival of Longstreet’s First Corps, with the Texas Brigade in the lead, shifted the tide. “Texans always move them,” Lee said as the Lone Star soldier swept forward. He wanted to lead them into battle himself, but as the story famously goes, the soldiers began crying out “Lee to the rear!” Another monument next to the Texas monument commemorates that part of the episode.

The Texas monument, made of pink Texas granite, is one of ten identical memorials the state put up on Civil War battlefields to commemorate the Centennial: Antietam, Bentonville, Chickamauga, Fort Donelson, Gettysburg, Kennesaw Mountain, Mansfield, Pea Ridge, Shiloh, and the Wilderness.

Regardless of where you stand on the topic of Confederate monuments, there are two essential points here. First, vandalism of any sort is bad, and we should certainly hate to see it at a National Park; and second, nowhere in the swirl of controversy over Confederate monuments have I heard anyone credible seriously suggest that such monuments are in any way out of place on national battlefields.

(Of course, I also cringe at the idiotic “UR.” Apparently, “your” was too much to spell. Or else they weren’t sure whether to use “your” or “you’re,” so they just decided to avoid the problem by spelling it as though they were texting.)

It’s impossible to talk rationally to people who think vandalism is an appropriate form of First Amendment expression. In this case, someone decided to be offended by the entire notion of the Confederacy 155 years after the fact, and in their righteous indignation, chose to express their frustration by spray painting their protest over a monument in such a way that, obviously, settles the whole point.

They don’t see their own act as being offensive, nor do they see their offensiveness as being the hypocrisy it is. According to this way of thinking, if you’re offended, it’s not hypocritical to be offensive in return. After all, you’re right, right?

Of course, that sort of escalation has a long-proven track record of not solving anything, ever, but hey, it’s not about solving anything or discussing anything or understanding anything—it’s about shouting your rage and shouting down your opponent. It’s not about justice, it’s about pissing people off because you’re pissed off.

And in this case, I daresay someone is pissed off about something they probably don’t even understand. Confederate heritage and Civil War history in general are subjects that demand nuanced discussion in order to really understand them, not broad brush strokes or can sprays. Confederate heritage is especially touchy, and this kind of asshattery prevents dialogue. Spray painting monuments erases middle ground.

It also paints opponents of Confederate heritage as a bunch of hypocritical, frothing-at-the-mouth libs, which dehumanizes them and undercuts legitimate concerns about Confederate history and race relations. That doesn’t help dialogue, either.

Finally, let’s add one last component to the equation: Law enforcement has to investigate the vandalism. Restoration experts have to clean the monument. Someone’s tax dollars have to pay for all that (and by “someone’s,” I mean yours and mine).

As I’d mentioned, we’ve had a great month here at ECW: the second-best month of readership in our history. The only month to surpass this month was last August, when events in Charlottesville turned into tragedy and catapulted Confederate monuments into the national headlines. As the monument controversy reached a fever pitch, I heard people suggest that some monuments should be taken down not because they were offensive but in order to protect them from being vandalized or damaged. I admit, that perspective surprised me at first, but then didn’t as I thought about it—and now here we have a case in point.

Ironically, spray painting “Fuck UR rebel flag” as a protest against the Confederacy is a uniquely un-American act. Our whole system of government was built around the principle of respecting differences of opinion, enshrined in our two-party system. Furthermore, our whole society depends on the rule of law. A single vandal with a can of spray paint and an ax to grind flaunts both of those things.

Vandalized Texas Monument cleanedThis afternoon, I walked out to Widow Tapp field to see the monument for myself. I’m happy to say that it’s been cleaned up since the first photo was taken. My thanks to the Park Service personnel who fixed it up.

There is a meaningful discussion to be had about Confederate heritage. Spray painting obscenities on a Confederate monument is not the way to have it. That’s about as un-American as it gets.

The First Decoration Day

150 years ago today was the first Decoration Day, as proclaimed by John A. Logan and the Grand Army of the Republic. Other communities had started ceremonies of remembrance, but this became the major link in the chain that created what today in the U.S. is Memorial Day.

The text of Logan’s order is here.


Scenes from Vicksburg (postscript)

part of a series

After my two and a half days in Vicksburg, I’m safely ensconced back home in the heart of the Eastern Theater of the Civil War. But wow, what a time I had. I had a few extra shots I wanted to share that didn’t necessarily fit in with the rest of the collection, so I thought I’d add a quick postscript.

I also wanted to offer a huge thank-you to the American Battlefield Trust for inviting Emerging Civil War to partner with them on this fantastic Facebook LIVE excursion—with a particular shout out to the Trust’s education manager, Kris White. The Trust has been a fantastic partner to work with, and we’re so glad we’re able to help support their important preservation work. (Thanks, too, to the Trust’s Connor Townsend for all her great camera work, directing, and social media management!)

I also want to offer a big thank-you to Vicksburg National Military Park. I was honestly stunned by how many people who followed along on the Facebook broadcasts said things like, “I didn’t know that much about Vicksburg.” It’s every bit as important as Gettysburg and worth just as much close study. I also saw a lot of people say, “I’ve never been there, but I want to go now that I’ve seen this.” I assure you, it’s an impressive park that will not disappoint. If you make the trip to Vicksburg, you will not be disappointed!

Vicksburg front sign

Vicksburg Superintendent

Historian extraordinaire Parker Hills, Vicksburg NMP Superintendent Bill Justice, Vicksburg NMP Superintendent Scott Babinowich, and the Trust’s Kris White plan out the action for our Thursday shoot. Scott spent all day with us, and he really impressed me with his enthusiasm, knowledge, and smooth, polished delivery.

Cairo Bell

The ship’s bell from the USS Cairo, recovered with the ship and cleaned up, now sits on display in the Cairo museum. The artifacts on display there tell a fascinating story about the ship’s life, loss, and recovery. Our thanks to NPS Historian Ray Hamel for sharing that story with us!

Vicksburg Illinois Monument

If there’s a temple anywhere on any battlefield, it’s the Illinois Memorial near the Shirley House. It’s a highly symbolic structure: the 47 steps to get inside, for instance, represent the number of days of the siege. Lincoln, Grant, McClernand, and Logan (whose division attacked along this avenue) all had Illinois connections, and the state had more men participate in the siege than any other state. The gold eagle is NOT “Old Abe” of the 8th Wisconsin, BTW–wrong state.

Breckinridge Bust

My wife is a collateral ancestor of Confederate general John Breckinridge, so I had to stop at his monument to pay my respects.

Kentucky Monument panorama

I really love the concept of the Kentucky monument, which has a plaza-like feel between the lines, where Kentuckians of both sides squared off against each other during the battle. However, the central figures–Lincoln and Davis, both Kentucky born–have freakish proportions and look especially awkward and un-life-like. The sculptor originally wanted them shaking hands to replicate the figures in the state seal who are shaking hands (and the seal is inscribed at their feet), but Lincoln and Davis never actually met, so a handshake, no matter how much artistic license one might excuse, would’ve been too historically inaccurate.


The Other Beauregard Monument

Pierre G.T. Beauregard

Welcome back, guest author Sean Michael Chick

For Civil War historians living outside of Louisiana, Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard is a colorful figure. For many, he is an underrated commander. For others, a figure who is exotic and comical, particularly given his overly dramatic statements and pronouncements. In Louisiana though he is something more, one of the state’s most famous natives. His roots go back to the founding of the colony.

Beauregard’s family were the Toutant-Beauregards. The French Beauregards married the last survivor of the Toutant family, Welsh refugees from Edward I’s conquest of Wales (1277-1283). The first to arrive in French Louisiana was Jacques Toutant-Beauregard, who led a convoy that brought supplies to Louisiana during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). Jacques brought back timber to France and won the Cross of St. Louis for his actions. He moved to Louisiana after the war.

In 1766 the Spanish took possession of Louisiana after France gave the unprofitable colony away in the Treaty of Fontainebleau. Louis, Jacques’ son, allied himself with the Spanish and became a wealthy planter in St. Bernard Parrish. He also became an officer in the Spanish army. In 1779, Élie Toutant-Beauregard, a relative of Louis, ran supplies to the Americans during the American Revolution. This assistance was one reason P.G.T. Beauregard was accepted into West Point.

Beauregard’s mother was Hélène Judith de Reggio, descended from the illustrious Modena family. His father, Jacques Toutant-Beauregard, was the master of a profitable Toutant Nord sugar-cane plantation in St. Bernard Parish. Although Louisiana had been American since 1803, St. Bernard was still thoroughly Creole in culture and language. Beauregard was born at Toutant Nord on May 28, 1818. The plantation was eventually dubbed Contreras, in honor of Beauregard’s role in the battle in the Mexican-American War.

In 2017 New Orleans’ removed a grand statue of Beauregard at the entrance of City Park. Of all the removals, it was the most divisive given Beauregard’s local accomplishments as an engineer, civic leader, and businessman. Yet, it is not the only monument to the general in the region. Tucked away on the edge of the state, in a place closer to the Gulf Mexico than it is to New Orleans, is a pyramid dedicated to Beauregard. It is also dedicated to his family, naming his children, first wife, parents, and grandparents.

The Monument

The monument was designed by Earl Desselles, sometime after World War II but before Richard Nixon became president. It was subsidized by Judge Leander H. Perez. He was a controversial figure, an ally of Huey P. Long who ran Plaquemines Parish with a tight grip and was willing to defy anyone who trampled on his truf. During the fights over de-segragation in Louisiana, Perez took a hard-line. He infamously threatened to jail Civil Right activists in Fort St. Philip. One of the only things he did that drew wide support was the restoration of Fort Jackson, which was a museum until it suffered major flood damage in Hurricane Katrina.

I wanted to find the monument but was unsure exactly where it was located. Instructions were vague and merely placed it on Bayou Road. I also wanted to find the grave of his first wife, Laure Villeré, and his son Henri, who served on his staff during the Civil War. Along with Andrew Simoneaux, an old friend and photographer, we set out down river, passing Arabi, the Chalmette Battlefield, Meraux, and Violet to St. Bernard, the oldest community in St. Bernard Parish.

I was not sure of the exact location of the St. Bernard Cemetery. Google Maps placed it behind the St. Bernard Church. Find A Grave had it on Kenilworth Street (which is actually Drive). It was instead across from the church. The cemetery is among the oldest still active in Louisiana. We very quickly found the grave of Laure. On the tomb, and in French, was Beauregard’s heartfelt farewell: “Spirit from Heaven you have returned. Sleep in peace, daughter, wife and dear mother.”[1]

Parents’ Grave

The surprise across from the Laure/Henri tomb was the tomb of Beauregard’s parents, Hélène and Jacques. I had found Jacques’ short obituary, but I found nothing for Hélène’s death. The tomb indicated that she died on October 5, 1848. Also buried there, with a worn down plaque, were Hélène’s parents.

While Andrew took pictures I stopped in the St. Bernard Church to ask a few questions. It is a small and simple structure. The inside was quiet and quaint. Unfortunately, there was no rector, despite the office hours posted. I was wondering if we would find the Contreras monument as easily as we found the resting place of Laure and Henri, and hoping the rector could help.

Driving down Bayou Road, we saw a road closed sign. An earlier one had forced us to a detour, but just there at the end was the Beauregard monument. It is intimate, if lacking in the artistic grandeur of the New Orleans one. The spot is now a private park. The flag poles have been abandoned, but there are benches and some of the most lovely oaks I have ever seen, one of them sprawling on the ground and creaking as the breeze brought much needed cool air. Confederate monuments have been coming down, mostly in America’s big cities and universities. Yet, tucked away in the small town and the countryside are places where removal is unlikely to ever happen, due both to money and memory. Sadly, it reminds one of the general drifting apart in contemporary America.

Once a fire pit, now a trash pit…

Contreras is a desolate space, fenced off from private property with barbed wire. A nearby fire pit is filled with trash, including beer cans that have been blown away by shotguns. I found shotgun casings nearby and one road sign had been used as a target. Looming overheard were vultures. I was reminded of the closing of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias.”

“Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

We left the monument and grabbed snowballs, a New Orleans favorite, from a small roadside stand. We had just enough time to photograph the home of René Beauregard, the general’s older son. During the war he commanded an artillery battery. After it he became a judge, historian, and quixotically a Republican. His home, which is at the Chalmette Battlefield, can be visited but is currently closed for repairs. Thus ended a day of accomplishment cut with a streak of melancholy.

[1] Leon, Beaux, Belles and Brains of the Sixties, 293.

After It Is Saved, Then What?

A fascinating article in the Spring 2018 issue of the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust newsletter On The Skirmish Line. If you have not checked out their website, or thought about joining their effort, considering heading on over after reading about their work on scene restoration.

The CVBT is a lands trust. Aside from special tours for CVBT members, we do not typically open the land we have acquired to the public. That is a task for those who know how to do those things well, such as national and state resource agencies. We hold on to land only as long as necessary to pass it on to those who will care for it and make it accessible to visitors. What sometimes comes as a surprise is that while acquiring land can take years of negotiating and fund raising, getting land into the hands of a public agency and making it understandable to visitors is also a lengthy process with its own challenges.

Getting Land into Public Ownership
One problem to be overcome has been a condition imposed by a certain type of funding. In
Virginia, state grants require that an easement be placed on property acquired with those
funds, to be held by the funding agency. That condition is a logical one when public funds are used to preserve ground, but the National Park Service cannot purchase or receive in donation any land that is thus encumbered. The Commonwealth of Virginia has been quite generous in funding Civil War preservation, and the Civil War Trust and CVBT have been aggressive in pursuing those opportunities. The public benefit that justifies the use of public funds is the recognition that people are drawn to visit historic places, which helps to support local economies. Making the transition from saving land to effectively managing it, though, has been held up by the requirement that easements be removed before relinquish to the National Park Service. During its 2018 session, the Virginia Assembly has enacted legislation that finally addresses this stumbling block to transferring preserved ground to National Battlefield Parks. The Commonwealth of Virginia is now able to work with the federal government to transfer certain battlefield easements. There is still much work to do in this regard, such as getting Congress to expand certain National Park boundaries, but this step in Virginia is a huge step forward.

Scene Restoration
Another issue in managing battlefield land is to return the terrain to its wartime appearance. Once CVBT acquires a property, we demolish any structures that do not relate to its historic importance. We also cap any wells as a matter of safety. After that, the next step is to address the natural cover of the site. Was it wooded? Cultivated? Both? Does it need to be screened from nearby development? All of these things need to be considered for the land to have any value as a historic resource. The National Park Service has become quite adept at scene restoration, having carefully worked out a variety of techniques to reestablish the Civil War landscape. We explored how this type of work was
pioneered at the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania NMP in our latest volume of Fredericksburg History and Biography. In an article by our own Bob Krick, called “Restoring Battlefield Scenes in 1972 and Beyond: A Memoir,” we presented the challenges, both practical and political, that eventually provide the visitor with a compelling experience when visiting a park. Again, such efforts take years to complete and shows how keeping land from being developed is only a first step. SL

The 114th PA at Chancellorsville, Overlooked in Plain Sight

Chris@114thPAThe Chancellorsville monument to the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry is arguably the battlefield’s most visible monument—and, ironically, the least accessible. The granite tablet sits next to the eastbound lane of Route Three, facing the forest rather than the road, maintaining both a high profile and public anonymity. I’ve had to bushwhack here from the open ground at Fairview: through the pathless woods, across a low swampy area, and around various bits of highway trash.

Better known as Collis’ Zouaves, the 114th PA is better memorialized in this area for its action on December 13, 1862 at the Slaughter Pen Farm during the battle of Fredericksburg. Their colonel, Charles Collis, won the Medal of Honor for the action. Collis later commissioned painter Carl Röchling to capture the regiment’s colorful assault in a painting that now hangs on display in the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center. 

At Gettysburg, Collis’s Zouaves are commemorated with a handsome statue marking their precarious position along the Emmetsburg Pike as part of the Peach Orchard action.

114th PA Monument Dedication C-ville

Veterans from the 114th PA at the 1899 dedication of their unit’s monument at Chancellorsville (photo courtesy Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park)

In contrast, their marker at Chancellorsville—installed on May 2, 1899—looks like a modern tombstone, and it sits in the wrong location. The regiment actually fought a couple hundred yards closer to Hazel Grove to the south. No documentation exists to explain the monument’s errant placement, but locating it near the road ensured that passersby along the Orange Plank Road would see it. (That was the same principle that guided the 1888 placement of the Jackson wounding monument on the opposite side of the road, a few hundred yards west.) According to former Park Service Historian Don Pfanz, Collis admitted in his speech that the 114th PA’s monument had been placed incorrectly, “suggesting that when the battlefield became a National Park the monument could be moved to its proper location.” The Park came, but the monument stayed.

On May 2, the regiment had moved south toward Cathareine’s Furnace to harass the tail of Jackson’s flanking column. On May 3, they shifted back toward Hazel Grove, sent in to replace Thomas Ruger’s brigade. Here’s how Don Pfanz described the action:

Ruger’s men had gallantly turned aside several Confederate thrusts that morning, but it was now running short of ammunition. As they advanced, the men of the 114th came under a heavy fire from Confederate infantry protected by earthworks. The Zouaves charged the works and using only bayonets drove the defenders back. Meanwhile, the rest of the brigade was not faring so well. Determined assaults by Stephen D. Ramseur’s and J. H. S. Funk’s brigades forced Graham’s brigade back, including Collis’ men, who were compelled to relinquish their hard-won trenches….

114th PAI’ve passed the monument for the 114th PA a bizillion times, but because of its location along busy Rt. 3, with no nearby pullover for parking, I’ve never had the chance to actually visit it. Don’s excellent monument study for the park includes the history of this monument and a transcription of its bronze table, but I want to see the monument for myself.

On its east-facing side—away from the road—the monument lists the names of the 3 officers and 35 men of the regiment killed on May 3:


GEORGE LUTZ, CO. C.              GEORGE W. YOUNG,  CO. F.
FRANK MC. GRADY, CO. D.              JAMES BRYAN, CO. I.

Despite the noise of the traffic zooming by on Rt. 3, my attention is drawn instead to the stand of woods south of the road. So many unwritten, unremembered stories from May 3, 1863, haunt those woods. Here, Collis’ Zouaves actually have a marker to commemorate their story and yet, because of the marker’s inaccessibility, that story remains as unremembered and unrecognized as all the others. Coming to read the names gives me the chance, if just for a few minutes, to remember these men and recall their story.

So that’s my invitation to you on this anniversary of the battle of Chancellorsville, wherever you are: Surely there’s some marker or monument or memorial that you pass by all the time—take a moment to finally stop. Check it out. Read the text. Recite the names. Remember the stories.