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Gettysburg's Best and Worst Monuments

By Kim A. O'Connell 
Originally published by Civil War Times magazine. Published Online: March 29, 2011 
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Immortals:
Where to Find Gettysburg's Best and Worst Monuments

73rd New York Infantry

Picture 10 of 10

(Excelsior Field) Most of the young men who fought at Gettysburg had another life before the outbreak of war—as farmers, businessmen, students or laborers. The 73rd New York Infantry, also known as the 2nd Fire Zouaves or Fourth Excelsior Regiment, consisted of volunteer firemen whose names were kept on the active rolls of their respective stations throughout the war. This 1897 monument portrays this double identity: A common soldier stands shoulder to shoulder with a New York fireman, holding a horn. It’s a powerful acknowledgment of the sacrifices required by war.

At Gettysburg, Robert E. Lee will forever look across that open field toward the copse of trees. Gouverneur Warren will always survey the rocky downslope of Little Round Top. Dozens of foot soldiers will always defend their posts. And Father William Corby will always pronounce absolution over the bloody fields. These men are all immortalized in stone and bronze statues for present and future generations to admire.

In the last few years, the National Park Service has gone to great lengths to restore the Gettysburg battlefield to its historic 1863 appearance. This, of course, can never truly be achieved because of the more than 1,300 monuments, markers and statues dotting the battlefield. As many observers have noted, these markers have become historic in themselves and are the subject of books, websites and Flickr galleries. Many of these distinctive markers are must-sees for visitors.

Although all art is subjective, here is one take on the best and worst monuments at Gettysburg. "Worst" does not mean boring. In fact, those who took that dubious honor are among the battlefield's most memorable—there are literally hundreds of other markers that are banal and forgettable, perhaps of interest only to students or descendants of this or that particular regiment.

You'll also find two notable memorials missing from the list—the State of Pennsylvania Monument, the classical domed structure that is visible from many parts of the battlefield, and the State of Virginia Monument, with its elegant equestrian statue of Lee high on a pedestal. These two monuments effectively represent North and South themselves on this hallowed ground, and they're not to be missed. But the others listed here are arguably more moving, more interesting or more confounding.

Photography by Eric Forberger


20 Responses to “Gettysburg's Best and Worst Monuments”


  1. 1
    Bruce Brawley says:

    Dear Civil war Times,

    I am writing in response to the article about the best and worst monuments at Gettysburg. I am disapointed to see the 90th Pennsylvania Infantry monument on this list.As a stonemason from Westerly Rhode Island, where this monument was quarried and carved, I can tell you that to make a piece of granite look so much like an oak tree is an incredible feat in itself. The pride that the carvers had in this town is legandary. I understand that the choice isn't made based on artistic ability. That said, it is still one of my favorites at Gettysburg. I always show it to people when I'm there.
    I really like the story about the soldier placing the nest back in the tree. With so much distruction all around, maybe that was his way of making sense of it all that fateful day.

    Sincerely,
    Bruce Brawley

  2. 2
    Fred Mossbrucker says:

    I am somewhat confused as well when Ms. O'Connell judges the Longstreet statue to be so disproportionate that it makes #1 on her list of "worst" statues but then places the disproportionate Mississippi Monument as #3 on her list of "best" monuments.
    Personally, I find it objectionable that anyone would apply a 20th or 21st point of view to these memorials. I have always liked the 7th NJ Monument, even as a child. I'm sure the old veterans of the 7th NJ were not thinking about nuclear warheads when they poured their hearts, souls and money into an appropriate and befitting statue that would honor not only their deeds but the deeds of their comrades who never returned home!

  3. 3
    John Renn says:

    As soon as I saw the cover to my new Civil War Times magazine and read the title “Best and Worst Gettysburg Monuments” I knew there was going to be trouble! I personally would never try to “rank” any of them. This one article may generate more mail than all of the others combined.
    However, on the topic of the worst, the monument to Longstreet should perhaps be on both lists; best and worst. It is true he looks strangely huge on his horse Hero. But, isn’t this because Hero was made purposely 4/5 his size due to the fact that Longstreet and his mount were going to be put upon a pedestal? Also, Hero’s hoof is lifted off the ground, usually signifying the wounding of the rider. Of course we all know Longstreet was not wounded at Gettysburg. The fact that Longstreet is pulling back Hero’s head can also symbolize to many holding steadfast to the “Lost Cause” that Longstreet purposefully slowed his advance on that fateful third day of the Battle of Gettysburg.
    Worst for the contradictions, best because of all the controversy. What monument could ever want more?

    John Renn
    History and Social Studies Teacher:
    Portland Middle School, Portland Michigan

    • 3.1
      kbrown2225 says:

      I think you will find that the belief that a horse's hoof being off the ground symbolizes that the rider was wounded during the battle is nothing more than an urban myth.

      The lack of a pedestal may indicate the lies and propaganda promulgated by the Lost Cause after the war that unfairly made Longstreet a scapegoat for the loss of the Battle of Gettysburg. Although the Gary Casteel, the sculptor who created the Longstreet statue, states that he wanted the monument to be one in which he wanted “the general on the ground to be touched, loved and appreciated as one of us,”

      http://gettysburg150th.wordpress.com/2011/05/18/a-short-but-sweet-monument-to-longstreet/

  4. 4
    Walter N. Moreau says:

    I like the Maryland monument that is near the old Visiter's Center because it represents the reconciliation of North and South in a dramatic way.

  5. 5
    Mary Banahan says:

    In the June, 2011 issue, I loved the article about the best and worst of the Gettysburg monuments. While I heartily agree that the Irish Brigade monument is one of the best (I have a large, framed photograph of it in my home), for me the most poignant is the “Friend to Friend” monument located just off of the National Cemetery. It depicts Confederate General Lewis A. Armistead handing his watch to Captain Bingham, a union soldier on Hancock’s staff. Civil War aficionados know the story of the deep friendship between Armistead and Hancock prior to the war, and when looking upon this monument I try to envision how difficult it must have been for two friends to be in such close proximity to each other, but really worlds apart. This monument never fails to bring a tear to my eye and a little sadness to my heart. For me, it’s truly one of “Gettysburg’s Best”.

    Mary Banahan
    Farmingdale, NY

  6. 6
    Alan Humason says:

    My personal favorite is the 20th Maine, on the shoulder of Little Round Top. It is very simple and understated, and rather ironic given the incredible importance of their action on July 2, 1963. One is left to imagine the valor and heroics of both armies in those difficult woods, to ponder the events rather than the monument. To me, that is as it should be.

    • 6.1
      Mary Banahan says:

      So true and well said. We go to Gettysburg almost every year after our annual trip to Hershey Park and I think you can't help but be reflective when you stand on top of Little Round Top.

      • 6.1.1
        Mary Banahan says:

        BTW, anyone else think that it's despicable that the History Channel has no original programming tonight for the 150th anniversary of the start of the war? Instead they're showing "Larry the Cable Guy". They should change their name to Reality TV channel.

      • 6.1.2
        B says:

        The history channel has become quite sad… I remember thinking the same thing…they sold out to reality tv…

  7. 7
    David Burton says:

    Anyone else confused by the editorial and the article, both of which say to come online and vote for my favorite monuments. I've yet to find a survey about that topic online!

    I do know that when I saw the topic of the article, I told my wife, "the Longstreet monument better be number 1 on the worst list." She agreed. It is stuck out of site on bare ground. Hands down the worst and obviously an afterthought. I do think it is an oversight that Chamberlain doesn't have a monument as well, but that is just me.

    Enjoyed the article. Not everyone has to agree but it is a good topic/idea. I just wish there was a survey online to gather input!

  8. 8
    Benjamin Buford Williams, II says:

    I, too, am disappointed that this site does not appear to have a place to vote for my favorite Gettysburg monument. Ever since I learned that General John Buford is my first cousin (4 generations removed, of course), I have found myself gravitating to that monument. His swift action the morning before the troops of both sides first engaged allowed the Union army to "retreat" to the best defensive ground, and, to my mind, dictated the ultimate result of the battle. The fact that Gen. Buford would die of his wounds within six months of Gettysburg might have meant that his deeds that day would go unsung, but the veterans who survived his passiing worked hard to raise funds to erect the statute in his honor. I have a framed picture of his Gettysburg monument in my study, and it always makes me proud to be related to such an incredible individual. The men of both sides who fought and died there (one of my wife's great-great uncles died on the second day of the battle) are a sterling reminder of the importance of duty, honor, and sacrifice.

    • 8.1
      Mary Banahan says:

      There's no question that Buford's actions saved the day the fist day, especially after Reynolds gets killed. Buford never got the credit that he deserved.

  9. 9
    Lee McGinnis says:

    I noticed that when the author described the monument to the 21st PA Cavalry, she mentions something along the lines that becuase of the hack job of the horse's head, that another monument was dedicated a year late. The picture is of the newer monument and both of them include the same horse head. Slightly confused.

    Lee McGinnis

  10. 10
    Charles R. says:

    I guess beauty truly is in the eyes of the beholder! The truth of the matter is that it's much easier to be an art critic than it is to be an artist!
    Comparing the 7th New Jersey's Minie bullet monument to a nuclear warhead is "unfortunate?" I thought we studied history to prevent making the same mistakes, & we ought to at least make the attempt
    to see it through their eyes- the sense of the message they were trying to impart to future generations with their monuments.
    I've seen the same monument at Antietam & Vicksburg, & I'll go out of my way to photograph them again! However, I don't think I'd care for a .223 cartridge as a monument to the Army I served in- not quite as aesthetic as a Minie in my opinion!

  11. 11
    Jason Fulton says:

    Having taken my 8th grade students to Gettysburg for 11 years now, my favorite monument has always been the North Carolina Monument on Seminary Ridge. The faces of the men show the both the pain and determination of the battle itself. My students each year comment on this monument for that reason.

    I am also fond of the 20th Maine's simple stone, as mentioned earlier. Being that they were fishermen and outdoorsmen, for the most part, this fits them well, and the would have appreciated it.

  12. 12
    Matthew says:

    Chamberlain's fame has just as much to do with post war chest thumping on his part as it does battlefield acheivements. He does not need a statue there.

  13. 13
    Donna Jebb says:

    I was so disappointed when I did't see the beautiful Louisanna St. monument on your "best monument" list. I stand in awe everytime I have stood before it. It really tugs at your heartstrings. It was so beautifully done.

  14. 14
    tim says:

    I agree entirely and think its beautiful and fitting.

  15. 15
    Philip Warner says:

    I agree completely that Gen. Buford never received his due credit for preventing the Confederates gaining the high ground south of town. Surely there were other critical errors that let to the South's crushing defeat at Gettysburg, a defeat they would never fully recover from.

    Gen. Buford was an outstanding officer and leader of troops. I salute his memory and sacrifice. Well done, general. Rest in Peace.



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