How did Schuylkill County Civil War soldiers feel about Confederate monuments? An example from 1903

As monuments to the Confederacy again dominate the news cycle, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at what Schuylkill County’s Civil War veterans thought of such monuments. In 1903, the local Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) post in Pottsville took a stand with thousands of other US Army veterans of the Civil War in taking a stand against a proposed monument to Confederate general Robert E. Lee on the Gettysburg battlefield.

The “shallow sentimentalism” about the Civil War decried by these Schuylkill County veterans in the pieces below unfortunately has taken root among many Americans today. Let it be showed by these primary sources, and others to be published in the future, that Civil War veterans from the Coal Region were almost universally against the construction of monuments to the Confederacy’s political and military leaders.

Context for this particular opposition to Confederate monument – in 1903, some in the Pennsylvania Legislature brought up a bill to appropriate $20,000 of state funds in a bid to help install an equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee. The following was written in opposition to such a bill.

From the Pottsville Republican, January 24, 1903

Gowen Post

Gowen Post No. 23, G.A.R., of town, has placed itself on record in a series of resolutions, published in “Republican” columns, as being unalterably opposed to the erection of an equestrian statue of Confederate Gen. Lee on the battlefield of Gettysburg.

The Post deems the passage of a bill by the State Legislature appropriating $20,000 for this purpose “a shallow sentimentalism” and calls upon our Representatives from this county and all loyal Pennsylvanians to assist in defeating the measure.

There has been much frothy sentimentalism indulged in by Northern sycophants since the close of the Civil War. It is well to bury the issues of the past and let by-gones be by-gones, but such a sentiment would not obtain in regard to placing a monument of Gen. Grant beside that of Gen. Lee in the grand Plaza of New Orleans or in the soldiers’ plat in that city, where the annual Confederate memorial services take place and which thousands of people from all over the South come to witness.

No other country shows the same leniency to its foes as does the United States…To forgive is Divine, but such radical extremes can never meet if the waters of oblivion are to close over the dead issues of the past.

Oppose Monument for Lee

Oppose Lee Monument

Gowen Post Adopts Resolutions Against Cooper’s Proposition

At a regular meeting of Gowen Post No. 23, G.A.R., held last evening the following resolutions were unanimously adopted:

Whereas, Thomas V. Cooper, representative from Delaware County, has introduced in the Legislature at Harrisburg, a bill appropriating $20,000 toward the erection of an equestrian statue of General Robert E. Lee, to be erected on the battlefield of Gettysburg, PA; therefore be it

Resolved, That Gowen Post No. 23, G.A.R. do most earnestly protest against such a desecration of the hallowed ground of our honored dead, who there gave up their lives that the cause that General Robert E. Lee so valiantly represented might be overthrown.

Resolved, That we condemn all such sentimental patriotism as unworthy of intelligent, loyal Pennsylvanians.

Resolved, That we call upon our Representatives from this county to use their utmost efforts to have the bill stricken from the calendar or to have it defeated if ever pressed to a vote, and that we call upon loyal Pennsylvanians throughout the State to help us save the honor of our Commonwealth by defeating such shallow sentimentalism as that expressed in the proposed bill.

I’ll say it here again: many Pennsylvania Civil War veterans felt it inappropriate and blasphemous to erect monuments to traitors who attempted to overthrow the United States government in a suicidal effort to protect their right to enslave human beings.

The bill was defeated. In 1917, a $50,000 statue of Robert E. Lee was dedicated on the Gettysburg battlefield. No Pennsylvania state funds went to its construction. And for many of the Pennsylvania soldiers who donned the blue uniforms of the US Army in the 1860s, they voiced their disdain for the Confederate cause until their dying days.

Featured Image: Officers of the 50th Pennsylvania, most of whom came from Schuylkill County. LOC. 

You can read more about the 1903 Lee statue controversy from the official blog of Gettysburg National Military Park

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