Academic journal article South Carolina Historical Magazine

No Holier Spot of Ground: Confederate Monuments and Cemeteries of South Carolina

Academic journal article South Carolina Historical Magazine

No Holier Spot of Ground: Confederate Monuments and Cemeteries of South Carolina

Article excerpt

No Holier Spot of Ground: Confederate Monuments and Cemeteries of South Carolina. By Kristina Dunn Johnson. (Charleston, S.C.: History Press, 2009. Pp. 160; $19.99, paper.)

Given that South Carolina's secession from the United States in December 1860 helped give birth to the Confederate States of America, and that the Confederate bombardment of Union-held Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor in April 1861 marked the start of the Civil War, it is appropriate that Kristina Dunn Johnson should choose South Carolina as her focus for examining the history of memorializing the Confederacy through monuments and cemeteries.

Using six cemeteries as her primary case studies, but including other ceremonial venues as well, Johnson separates the nearly 150-year history of Confederate monumentalizing in South Carolina into four distinct phases: Reconstruction (1865-1877), post- Reconstruction and southern vindication (1878-1903), nationalization and the Lost Cause (1904-1922), and finally, modern remembrances (1923-present). Johnson, who is curator of history with the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum, argues that what began as South Carolinians' quiet communal efforts to mourn their dead with monuments in private cemeteries during the war and Reconstruction eventually became a clear "political statement of resistance toward the North" and an attempt to educate future generations as to the nobility of the Confederate cause by erecting memorials in prominent public spaces (p. 13). With the trend toward sectional reconciliation at the turn of the century, however, monuments in the Palmetto State started to veer away from combating northern interpretations of the war and ref ocused "on the common experience shared by white Southerners and Northerners during the war" (p. 13). This trend towards reunion sentiment continued in the twentieth century, as war memorials in South Carolina came to include later conflicts in which the North and the South fought together against a common enemy abroad (such as World War I). These designs incorporated fewer representative soldiers placed on monuments with inscriptions glorifying the Confederate cause, instead favoring more generic slabs, arches, and fountains without "an overt message" (p. 99).

Johnson's evidence largely supports her overall argument, especially with regards to the defiant stand South Carolinians took through their monuments once the state was "redeemed" by native Democrats in 1876 and how feelings of reunion with the North were reflected in statuary. Particularly interesting is her explanation that Confederate monuments featuring soldiers in a battle-ready stance during South Carolina's defiant years later gave way to monuments topped with soldiers in parade-rest positions during the period when sectional reconciliation took hold. To reinforce the idea of sectional goodwill, Johnson mentions that when residents of Kingstree discovered that the marble soldier delivered in 1910 for their "Confederate" monument was actually a Yankee, they decided to display him anyway and in 1958 actually fought to save him from being dismantled. …

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