I loved Kim O’Connell’s June 2011 article about the best and worst Gettysburg monuments. While I heartily agree that the Irish Brigade monument is one of the best, for me the most poignant is the “Friend to Friend” monument located in the National Cemetery Annex. It depicts Confederate General Lewis A. Armistead handing his watch to Captain Henry Bingham, a Union soldier on Winfield Scott 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.”
I was disappointed in Kim O’Connell’s “Gettysburg’s Best and Worst Monuments” article, and believe it should not have been published. Publishing this piece sends the wrong message to Civil War Times readers. She made arbitrary judgments based on no identifiable standard, assigning “best” and “worst” rankings that suggest battlefield visitors ought to enjoy monuments based on criteria other than historical value.
The stories behind these monuments are more important than what the monuments look like or where the monuments are located along the driving tour path. For instance, O’Connell places the 20th Massachusetts monument in the “worst” category. This monument was chosen by veterans who survived the battle to commemorate their comrades’ sacrifice. It’s a rock—but it’s a rock from the hometown of the 20th Massachusetts veterans. It stresses the unity and comradeship of the community that raised the regiment; that is the story the veterans wanted us to remember. Likewise, O’Connell argues that the Mississippi State Monument ranks among the “best” and is “stunning in its ferocity.”
The Mississippi State Monument was sculpted in the 20th century. We might ask ourselves: Why did 20thcentury Americans feel the need to convey the ferocity of war while Civil War veterans who erected monuments at the end of the 19th century did not?
We must avoid making Civil War monumentation a fashion show based on appearance and location. We must strive to understand the deeper meanings behind these monuments and what they tell us about the Battle of Gettysburg and Civil War memory.
Laura Lawfer Orr
Special Events Coordinator/Educator
Hampton Roads Naval Museum
I think all the monuments were put there for all the men who fought at Gettysburg, especially the brave men who sacrificed their lives. When these monuments were erected, I don’t think they thought that 147 years later people would say this one is good, this one is bad. I just think it is in poor taste to classify the monuments as either the best or the worst.
I especially take offense to the comments about the New Jersey monument. Back in 1888 no one knew what a nuclear warhead would look like. This monument represents the Minié ball. I never thought that the New Jersey monument looked like a nuclear warhead.
Each monument must have had thought put into it for the regiment that it represents. Each of the monuments is significant to that particular regiment.
David C. Rogers
As soon as I 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.
However, on the topic of the worst, the monument to James 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 his horse was purposely made four-fifths its size, due to the fact that Longstreet and his mount were going to be put on a pedestal?
Also, Hero’s hoof is lifted off the ground, usually signifying the rider was wounded—and of course we all know Longstreet was not wounded at Gettysburg. The fact that Longstreet is pulling back Hero’s head might also symbolize his holding steadfast to the Lost Cause, in that Longstreet purposely slowed his advance on that battle’s fateful third day.
Worst for the contradictions, best because of all the controversy. What monument has ever created more controversy than Longstreet’s?
Editor’s note: As I wrote in my June editorial, we knew this article would cause disagreement among our readership. Evaluating the monuments based on their artistic quality is a very legitimate way of looking at them, however—no different than the commentary of critics who negatively review the World War II Monument in Washington, D.C., or Holocaust memorials.
Yes, the article was subjective; any critical review will be, whether it’s about a movie, architecture, a painting or a statue. We’ve all had negative thoughts about an item other people hold dear, haven’t we? And we certainly didn’t expect everyone to agree with Kim O’Connell’s opinions. Heck, I myself am a big fan of the 90th Pennsylvania tree and that big Minié ball! And let’s be honest. I’ve been with many groups on the Gettysburg battlefield and heard offhand comments about monuments that visitors like or dislike for any number of reasons. It’s natural to feel that way about art. Kim O’Connell simply set her thoughts down for all to see.
Stephanie McCurry’s “Bread or Blood” article in the June 2011 issue clearly illustrates the determination of Southern women to act in spite of the odds against their success in a time of war and crisis. They were fortunate that those who were punished suffered comparatively mild consequences, compared to others who’ve been involved in food riots. Rick Atkinson’s book The Day of Battle points out that the women of Italy fought starvation in 1944. He says: “The daily bread ration dwindled to the equivalent of two slices per person, from loaves made with ground chickpeas, maize flour, elm pith and mulberry leaves. As spring arrived, so did bread riots; after one bakery was ransacked, SS troops dragged ten Italian women to a nearby bridge and shot them as they faced the Tiber.”
Overland Park, Kan.
Weighing in on the ‘War Horse’
My June 2011 Civil War Times arrived today, and as always it is another cannot-put-down edition; well done as always! I was very impressed with Gary W. Gallagher’s well-researched story on James Longstreet (“Blue & Gray”). Besides enjoying the article’s detailed chronology of Longstreet’s life and the fine listing of references for further reading and research, what caught my interest was the photo on P. 21 of the portrait commissioned by James Longstreet’s second wife, Helen Dortch, and the caption pointing out that “Helen, who was much younger than her husband, lived until 1962.” That made me want to know more.
I quickly discovered that when Helen married James, she was 34 and he was 76. Helen, who was born on April 20, 1863, died on May 3, 1962, at 99. James was born on January 8, 1821, and died on January 2, 1904, less than a week before he would have turned 83.
They were married just six years and had no children. Helen remained a staunch supporter of her husband’s military career throughout her life in spite of tormentors and many vocal critics of his achievements.
East Boothbay, Maine
I could not disagree more with the comment in Gary Gallagher’s June 2011 article that James Longstreet’s “operational and strategic imagination was far inferior to Lee’s in every way.” I am in complete agreement with English military historian and theorist J.F.C. Fuller, who said that Lee was probably one of the worst generals in history at the strategic level of war. He was so Virginia-myopic, I’m not sure he even had a strategic vision for the South too far outside Richmond, even when working as Davis’ adviser during the early part of the war.
At the operational level of war, one of the best examples of this deficiency occurred when Lee sent Jubal Early from the Petersburg lines with a force to attack Washington in 1864. At that point Lee and Grant both operated as theater commanders (and the only time they truly opposed one another directly), using the advanced communication and transportation systems of the time to communicate with their separated commands. Grant outclassed Lee, and the main portion of Lee’s army was left behind Petersburg’s trenches until the fateful Appomattox Campaign.
Tactically Lee was good, as long as he faced timid commanders who took the tactical defensive (which gave him time for maneuvering without worry about his smaller elements being attacked) and as long as he had the “home field” advantage in Virginia. Numbers don’t mean everything in war; there are huge advantages to having knowledge of the terrain, popular support and shorter and safer logistical lines that comes from being in friendly territory. Lee failed both times he tried an offensive into the North (as Ed Bonekemper eloquently pointed out in his April 2011 article, “The Butcher’s Bill”). It’s no wonder that General George S. Patton never seemed to have a positive comment to make about Lee.
Longstreet, on the other hand, understood the need for a strategic defensive, taking advantage of the interior lines, popular support, shorter logistical lines, even recommending relieving Vicksburg to keep the defensive advantage. Longstreet finally parted ways with Lee due to their strategic differences in Lee’s northward movement, which ended with the bloody three-day Battle of Gettysburg. That battle, combined with the 1862 engagement at Antietam, cost the South manpower that could possibly have made the Confederacy unconquerable.
Lt. Col. Doug Davids
Hunt for the ‘Snapping Turtle’
In response to Tom Huntington’s article in your June issue, “Where Is Meade?” the answer is always going to involve his post-Gettysburg failure to attack Lee’s defeated army at Williamsport, Md., where a surging Potomac River trapped the Army of Northern Virginia with nowhere to go. Maybe Lee’s strong defenses were impregnable, but Meade had the best chance of any general in the East, Grant included, to completely defeat Lee, walk into Richmond and end the war early.
Fortune favors the bold. Lee’s army was exhausted, suffering from its decisive defeat at Gettysburg, and Lee himself was perhaps not in the best of health. Meade should have made the effort, win or lose. And his failure to do so is what condemns him to relative obscurity.
Lee’s Railroad Car
In his February article “Lee’s Armored Car,” David Schneider correctly points out that the cannon on the rail car is a banded 32-pounder. Several details from the photographs in that article allow tentative identification of the make and model. It appears that the muzzle had a face and an echinus. Just behind the muzzle swell is the faint trace of a chase ring. From the breech end, the gun had a “knob” cascabel. The muzzle echinus, chase ring and plain round knob are features found on 32-pounder cannons produced for the Army after 1840.
Further review of the breech reveals a “dimple” on its knob. These dimples correspond to scars from metal sampling conducted in the 1840s by Louis A. DeBarth Walbach to determine the strength of iron castings. Walbach’s tests involved drilling or sawing round holes into the guns at the trunnions, knobs and muzzle faces.
I would therefore tentatively identify this piece as a 32-pounder of 1840 or later pattern, produced before the war and captured by Confederates. If I am correct, the gun could be properly identified as a 32-pounder Seacoast Gun, Model 1840 or 1845, banded and rifled.
Originally published in the August 2011 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.