The History of Confederate Memorials in Public Space in the United States

Copyright 2017. Dee Britton. All rights reserved. This paper is for the reader’s personal use only.

On February 17, 2017, President Trump tweeted that our nation was witnessing “the history and culture of our great nation is being ripped apart” due to the demand for removal of Confederate memorials. Maine Governor LePage equated removal of confederate statues to the elimination of the 9/11 Memorial. Not so, Mr. President and Governor. Let’s look at the construction of those confederate memorials that you claim to so admire.

At the end of the Civil War, the Union’s established national cemeteries excluded burial of Confederate soldiers. Ladies’ Memorial Associations (LMA) were created to gather the remains of Confederate soldiers and create Confederate cemeteries. Given the lack of funds, many of the Confederate cemeteries were limited to simple obelisks and/or cornerstones for future monuments. Indeed, the president of the Raleigh LMA noted in 1870 that “money was inadequate to the erection of a monument, yet, not to its commencement which in my humble opinion would be judicious, as it would have a tendency to stimulate and arouse persons to action” (Mills, 10).

In addition to burying and consecrating their war dead, the Ladies Memorial Association also served another purpose. Membership in LMAs became a marker of class status. “The Ladies” were wives of doctors, lawyers and business owners. Because these were the elite women of their community, they were also allegedly interested only in domestic matters and assumed to be apolitical. (Janney. 54)

This assumption was not correct. After burying their war dead, the LMAs began to establish the “Lost Cause” narrative of the Civil War. This interpretation of the war minimized the role of slavery as the cause of the Civil War and claimed that the primary cause was a Constitutional disagreement between the powers of federal and state powers. It also incorporated a narrative of white antebellum Southern culture. The 1890s represented a decade of monumental construction. The LMAs held ‘lawn parties’ that included Confederate memorabilia, music, and re-enactments. The officers of the LMA demonstrated great political and social acumen as they secured state and individual funding for hundreds of Confederate memorials that were constructed in public spaces in the 1890s. The now infamous Lee statue at the University of Virginia was one of these, erected in 1924 with funding from Paul Goodloe McIntire, a local commodity trader. McIntire also sponsored a nearby statue of “Stonewall” Jackson.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) was established in 1894 and became the umbrella organization for the LMAs. The UDCS knew that fundraising and implementation of Confederate monuments was essential because “…monuments would speak more quickly, impressively, and lastingly to the eye than the written or printed word…(and) attract more attention.” (Mills.209).  There were two periods that embedded the majority of Confederate memorials in the public memorial landscape: 1890-1920s and the 1950s.  The first period included the implementation of Jim Crow laws and the resurgence of the KKK and lynchings of Southern blacks. The 1950s saw a resurgence of memorial construction during the Civil Rights era.

These memorials were not created to honor the Confederate leaders or honor the Southern war dead. They are the white antebellum Southern narrative carved in stone. No wonder that it is offensive to so many. Perhaps those monuments can be repurposed in their removal from public space to Confederate cemeteries or museums that provide context and information. But to pretend that these are consecrated memorials is simply incorrect.


Janney, Carolyn. E. 2012. Burying the Dead But Not the Past: Ladies’ Memorial Associations and the Lost Cause.

Mills, Cynthia and Simpson, Pamela, editors. 2003. Monuments to the Lost Cause: Women, Art, and the Landscapes of Southern Memory. (Knowville: University of Tennessee Press).