America’s deadliest war also is most memorialized, says CU-Boulder professor

June 28, 2011

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. Within months after the South Carolina militia fired the first shots at Fort Sumter in April of 1861, the largest armed forces ever gathered on the North American continent met at Manassas, Virginia, launching the country into four years of brutal fighting. More than 600,000 soldiers, Union and Confederate, would die by war’s end making this the deadliest American conflict and the most memorialized.

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June 28, 2011      

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. Within months after the South Carolina militia fired the first shots at Fort Sumter in April of 1861, the largest armed forces ever gathered on the North American continent met at Manassas, Virginia, launching the country into four years of brutal fighting. More than 600,000 soldiers, Union and Confederate, would die by war’s end making this the deadliest American conflict and the most memorialized.

CUT 1 “The Civil War was our most destructive war. It claimed the most lives and it also was on our territory. So up until the Korean or Vietnam wars all the other deaths in all the other wars didn’t add up to what the death toll was during the Civil War. (:16) It’s been memorialized more than any other war in our history.” (:21)

That’s Professor Kenneth Foote of the University of Colorado Boulder’s geography department. In general, public memorials are created to act as a reminder of a tragic event, or because an event has an important moral or ethical lesson that needs to be preserved, says Foote.

CUT 2 “I think memorials and monuments fulfill a very important function and it goes back to the root of a word. The idea of a memorial is a memory or as a monument is to remind. So there is a sense very often of fallen heroes, of great leaders and so on, to try and remember them, to try and honor them in some way and to keep that memory alive. (:19) Or, in the events like the Civil War, to also provide that sense of warning or making sure this isn’t repeated in the future.” (:28)    

And in the case of the Civil War, says Foote, many people in America feel a personal connection to the war.

CUT 3 “For the Civil War there has been an interesting figure quoted in the news that something like two out of every 10 Americans had some family member involved in the Civil War. And so there still is, even after these many generations, there still is a direct family connection and in many cases people are tracking back to their relatives and they see this as something very much tied to their family history.” (:23) I think the other fact is because it involves such a controversial event and the issue of slavery in the United States.”

Gettysburg is one of the most visited and recognized Civil War sites. It also is one of the most decorated battlefields in the world, according to Foote. Virtually every corps, army, division, brigade, regiment, company and battery that served at Gettysburg has erected a memorial, he said.

CUT 4 “Almost all of the major battlefields are marked very extensively. Some of them are more important like Gettysburg or Vicksburg because they mark critical turning points in the war -- Appomattox as well. So they represent key moments.” (:15)

Civil War monuments and memorial styles have changed over the years, Foote says, and are very much a function of the time when they were built.

CUT 5 “Initially many of these memorials started out as very partisan. So the Northern memorials were celebrating the heroics of the Northern forces, the Union forces, and the Southern ones were kept as a means to protest. One of the most common statues in the South was Nathan Bedford Forrest who was a general but also the founder of the Ku Klux Klan. (:21) The styles changed through time. They are very much a function of the time that they were built. So during the 19th century these figurative statues were pretty common -- statues of the soldiers and officers and so on. But through time that has changed. So, for example, at Gettysburg some of the early figurative work gave way to much more abstract designs.” (:40)

Foote became interested in studying memorial sites during a 1980s visit to Salem, Mass. While there, he was surprised to find at that time no memorial site or markers associated with the Salem witch trials, a significant chapter in early U.S. colonial history and in Salem’s history. He has visited hundreds of sites that have been scarred by war battles or other incidents of violence or tragedy in the United States and abroad, and is the author of the book “Shadowed Ground: America’s Landscapes of Violence and Tragedy.”

-CU-

 

 

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