Controversy and History,Confederate Monuments In The Shadows of Antietam’s 155th Anniversary

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155th Anniversary of The Battle of Antietam. Graphic by Yani Meda

(ThePicket)-As nearby Antietam Battlefield marks its 155th Anniversary for the infamous siege this week, Shepherd University students and faculty anticipate the events, but are not ignoring the simmering controversy over the cause of the Confederacy and its monuments.

Visitor Center at Antietam National Battlefield. Photo by Tatum King.

“It’s a very difficult issue…it’s fraught with a lot of emotional reactions and rightfully so,” said Dr. James Broomall, the director of Shepherd’s George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War and an assistant professor in the Department of History.

“The monuments themselves need to be contextualized within the context of their founding, and so very few of them are actually Civil War era,” Broomall said. “Most of them were constructed in the Jim Crow era, so they’re monuments to white supremacy. And, to commemorate the Confederate history, they are historical fabric, they are part of the historical past, so keeping them preserved is the in question. If they aren’t maintained where they are, then they should be moved to museums.”

Cannons on Display at Antietam Battlefield. Photo by Tatum King.

Many in the wake of last month’s white supremacists protests at the University of Virginia in which one counter protester was killed are calling on Confederate monuments around the country to be removed. UVA and Duke University in North Carolina have subsequently moved to remove statues of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. On Friday, Sept. 14, UVA decided to remove all Confederate plaques from The Rotunda.

Broomall said it was up to communities to decide what to do about their Confederate monuments. Without providing context for the statues, some communities may give the “wrong signal,” he said.

Susan Trail, the superintendent of Antietam, said that tourism has not declined at the battleground since the uproar over Confederate monuments.

“We interpret the battle as it occurred here, both on the Union and Confederate side,” she said. “We do talk about the causes [of the war], and we do focus on slavery. We also talk about how one of the results of the battle was the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.”

Irish Brigade Sculpture, one of the many monuments to Union Troops at Antietam Battlefield. Photo by Tatum King.

Of the hundreds of monuments dotting the 3,000-acre national park, less than 10 are Confederate, she said, and only one of those is of a person – Lee.

Broomall said the Lee statue has drawn some attention recently primarily because it’s historically inaccurate – Lee was never in the area and the statue was built by a private citizen before the Park Service annexed the land and the statue.

“There is kind of one thing good that has come out of this,” Broomall said. “There is more discussion about the past now. People are trying to confront it. The statues are fundamentally part of our history and I’m pretty torn about the whole thing. By and large, we need to keep them contextualized to solve the problem, if the statues are displayed at all.”

*Also in connection with The 155th Anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, a new bill has been introduced in congress by three Maryland State representatives calling for the removal of the Statue of Robert E. Lee at Antietam.  The bill is presented by Rep. Anthony G. Brown of the 4th district and is cosponsored by Rep. John Delaney and Rep. Jamie Raskin.

In a statement of support for his bill Congressman Brown stated “Public land should not be home to symbols of hate and bigotry that memorialize leaders of the pro-slavery, traitorous Confederate South, Statues and monuments ought to celebrate the brave individuals who have fought and died for our country and true American values. The statue of Lee commemorates a man that owned and beat African Americans, and fought to preserve the institution of slavery. The statue is historically inaccurate and offensive, and I am looking forward to its timely removal.”

Supporting representative Delaney views the statue’s removal as making a more accurate battlefield, given it’s position in a known union occupied portion of the battlefield where Lee himself likely never stood, saying  “Antietam is a national treasure and a place that every American should visit, Park visitors and taxpayers deserve a battlefield site that actually gives an accurate representation of the battle. Statues and monuments meant to glorify Confederate leadership don’t belong on federal land and they should be taken down unless they serve the clear purpose of educating people about American History and are placed by historians in their proper context for that purpose. The history of this piece, which now resides on this sacred ground, certainly makes it clear it was recently erected by a private citizen out of pro-Confederacy enthusiasm and not to provide historical context or under the direction of a battlefield historian. I applaud Congressman Brown for this legislation.”

This bill will be an interesting development in a debate and dialogue of history and civil rights that will continue to be followed.

For further information on the 155th Anniversary of The Battle and Antietam National Battlefield’s  Events please see the website https://www.nps.gov/anti/planyourvisit/upload/Weekend.pdf

*Additional Edits were made to this story, by Jessica Sharpless Picket Editor, to update for events that followed it’s initial publication.