- Civil War Monuments and the Militarization of America by Thomas J. Brown
On July 9, 1776, a crowd of enraged New Yorkers toppled an equestrian statue of King George III. Rebelling against imperial and militant authority, Americans wanted to be seen as a peaceful and democratic people; a statue of King George leading troops into battle had no place in the new republic. Nearly one-hundred-and-fifty-years later, in October 1927, the nation dedicated a monument to General George Gordon Meade. Located mere steps from the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the imposing figure of Meade, in full military dress, was considered the beau ideal of American manhood and progressive nationhood. The venerated yeoman farmer had been replaced by an armed soldier and a nation once skeptical of the military now idealized it above all else. What caused this seismic [End Page 86] shift? Thomas J. Brown's Civil War Monuments and the Militarization of America explores "the metamorphosis of the country from an iconoclastic republic to a militarized nation" (2). Civil War monuments, he argues, were crucial to this transformation.
Thoroughly researched and vividly written, Brown traces the evolution of Civil War memorialization from the 1860s until the 1930s. Conceived in broad terms, granite and marble statuary is considered in tandem with other (more often forgotten) forms of commemoration—bronze reliefs, small obelisks, veteran halls, and grand memorial buildings. No memorial—no matter how large or how small—escapes Brown's careful notice and critical eye. He uncovers the creation stories of iconic national monuments, such as the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and Stone Mountain outside of Atlanta, Georgia, as well as lesser known memorials in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, and Davenport, Iowa. Individually, these small-town memorials hardly appear worthy of mention, but Brown skillfully places each within a national context, and these narratives are among the strongest and most compelling sections of the monograph. Rather than confine himself to constructed monuments, Brown considers artists' sketches as well as the conceived (but uncompleted) visons behind the granite and marble facades. In short, the process behind each monument's creation is equally as significant as the final project, according to Brown. Artists may have longed to showcase the best of humanity, but the deep-pocketed political and military leaders funding these large, expensive projects had different aims. This clash complicates Brown's narrative and reveals the gradual militarization of Civil War monuments and American society.
Brown divides Civil War monuments into three overarching categories: "common soldier monuments," "leadership monuments," and "victory monuments." Before the guns of war were silent, Americans sought a method to cope with the massive scale of battlefield death. Recognizing "the full humanity of each individual," these early monuments listed the names of deceased soldiers, sometimes alongside their unit designations or hometowns or places of death (17). [End Page 87] In the late 1860s and early 1870s, statuary centered on the figure of the soldier, often a lone sentinel or a picket. His figure was neither aggressive nor alert; he was posed as a contemplative mourner. For Brown, these early statues underscored the citizen-soldier, with an emphasis on civic duty and civilian life. While less common, early memorial halls and libraries followed a similar pattern and "situated the soldiers' experiences and sacrifices within a broader field of civic action" (35). Early statues of commanders, meanwhile, functioned as meditations on democratic leadership.
Civil War monument building entered a new phase in the 1880s. Rather than remaining focused on the dead, monuments from the Gilded Age commemorated all who served. The statuary soldier assumed a more aggressive stance, and he was frequently depicted bearing a flag or rifle. During this era, the soldier emerged as the premier personification of American citizenship. "Soldier monuments helped to inform a new ideal of manhood, in which the experience of war served as the preeminent school of citizenship," claims Brown (87). In this increasingly martial culture, grand equestrian statues stressed command and...