Civil War Memory: Essays from The Washington Post's "Made By History"

Since the end of the Civil War, Americans have grappled with the meaning and memorialization of the conflict. Recent public debate has focused on monuments to Confederate soldiers throughout the country and their purpose in memorializing both the war's participants, as well as the meaning behind the Civil War. From Reconstruction to the present, this collection highlights how Americans have discussed the Civil War, and how we continue to confront this chapter of our collective history.

Why We Need Confederate Monuments

They force us to remember the worst parts of our history.
Events surrounding the construction of a 1931 monument in Harper's Ferry, WV show how our current debates regarding Civil War memorials are nothing new.

How the Myth of Black Confederates Was Born

And how a handful of black Southerners helped perpetuate it after the Civil War.
The myth of Black Confederates has been a persistent aspect of the Lost Cause, helping perpetuate the false belief that the enslaved supported the Confederacy.
Protestor holds 'Dismantle White Supremacy' sign at Civil War statue

The Historical Preservation Law That Obscures History

At the South Carolina State House, the history of Reconstruction has been systemically erased from view.
South Carolina's Heritage Act makes it difficult to remove Confederate monuments from the grounds of the State Capitol, even when those currently on the grounds give a whitewashed story of Reconstruction in the state.

The North Tried Compromise. The South Chose War.

The South's insistence upon protecting and spreading slavery caused the Civil War.
In 2017, Former Trump White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly claimed that a "lack of compromise" led to the Civil War. This false claim continued the Lost Cause belief that Northern pressure on the South, not slavery, was the cause of the conflict. This piece highlights the great lengths the North went to in order to avoid war, even if that meant the continuation of slavery.

Robert E. Lee WAS a Man of Honor. That’s the Problem.

For white southerners, honor had little to do with justice.
During the same remarks, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly referred to Robert E. Lee as "an honorable man." This piece describes the "bloody honor culture" of the Antebellum South that was utilized by Southern planters to enlist non-slaveholding whites to fight for the continuation of slavery.

The Missing Statues That Expose the Truth About Confederate Monuments

Why Confederacy supporters erased the legacy of one its most accomplished soldiers.
Confederate General James Longstreet, known as "Lee's Old War Horse" during the Civil War, was quickly removed from Confederate lore after supporting Ulysses Grant for President in 1868 and refusing to accept the white supremacy tenets of the Reconstruction Era South. What can this tell us about the meaning behind Confederate monuments?

Charlottesville Was About Memory, Not Monuments

Why our history educations must be better.
For decades, children throughout the United States were taught a false message about the meanings behind the Civil War. The 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville serves as a stark example of what is possible when these false messages are challenged.

How the New Monument to Lynching Unravels a Historical Lie

Lies about history long protected lynching.
False and misleading accounts of the Civil War and Reconstruction were not only maintained by those in the South. In the 1920s, Northern politicians helped block federal anti-lynching legislation while pushing false claims of a Northern "reign of terror" during the post-war period.

The Largest Confederate Monument in America Can't Be Taken Down

It has to be renamed, state by state.
Monuments come in many different forms. The Jefferson Davis Highway, which begins in Virginia and continues through the Southern half of the United States, memorializes the leader of the Confederacy to this day.
engraving of Harriet Beecher Stowe

A Forgotten 19th-Century Story Can Help Us Navigate Today’s Political Fractures

Reconciliation is good — but not at any cost.
Confederate memory wasn't only expressed through monuments. 19th and 20th century American literature also preserved post-Civil War ideas of reconciliation between the North and South. One story, written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, shows the reality of Northern and Southern relationships after the Civil War.

The Latest Battle Over the Confederate Flag Isn’t Happening Where You’d Expect

How the forgotten fight for the West exposes the meaning of the Confederate flag.
The Confederate Territory of Arizona was created in 1861 in the hope of extending slavery into the American West. This lesser known episode of the Civil War continues to play a role in Arizona politics as groups choose to display the Confederate flag in public.

Why Some White Americans see Racial Equality as Oppression

White victimhood's roots in the Civil War.
After the Civil War, white Southerners believed that Black emancipation and freedom meant “subjugation and enslavement” for them.