Resculpting the Civil War

by Bernard McCormick Wednesday, August 23, 2017 1 Comment(s)

Thanks to the tragic weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, the movement to rid America of the Civil War has been thus far nobly advanced. We seem poised to get rid of the streets named after Confederate generals in Hollywood, and now citizens have taken it upon themselves to pull down statues or deface Confederate memorials wherever they can find them.

Others ask, ‘Where will it end?’ ‘Will George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who owned slaves, both suffer the fate of Robert E. Lee, whose memorials are in danger?’ ‘Will respected academic institutions bearing their names be renamed to avoid controversy?’ We certainly hope so. We personally are starting a campaign to rename Jackson, Mississippi, because it bears the name of Confederate Gen. Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson. WAIT! You say it wasn’t named for Stonewall Jackson? Rather Andrew Jackson? What difference does it make? Most people don’t know that, especially those foaming to change historic names, and some people who can’t spell the word history might be offended by the name.

Same for Jacksonville, Florida. You can’t take a chance that people may not realize that Andrew Jackson and Stonewall Jackson are not the same man. And who can doubt that if he had been a general in the Civil War, instead of the War of 1812, Andrew Jackson, a southerner, would have been on the southern side? He would join almost every other general—north and south—who stayed with their native states. Besides, just calling it “Ville” (pronounced vil, not vil-lay) will save money in typesetting.

The charge is on, cannon to left of us, cannon to right, and we are desperately looking for a Civil War memorial to eliminate that nobody has thought of yet. It is almost impossible to do in the south, for statue historian wannabes have added to the narrative by noting that many statues were erected around 1900, coinciding with the rise of the Jim Crow movement. Thus, they must be deliberate efforts by racists to lend nobility to the lost cause to preserve slavery. Thus, they must go.

That appears to be a sound argument until you realize that Civil War memorials appeared in the north at the same time. The fact is that it took several decades for some reputations to be validated by historians and survivors of the war, and even longer to find funds to memorialize prominent figures. In Washington, most of the famous memorials came around 1900 or later. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s statue was dedicated in 1903, and Gen. Phil Sheridan rose in 1908. The Grand Army of the Republic Memorial was 1909. The massive Lincoln Memorial was not dedicated until 1922, the Dupont Circle Fountain in 1921 and the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial in 1924.

Elsewhere it was the same. Grant’s Tomb in New York was dedicated in 1897. In Boston, the famous tribute to Massachusetts’ valiant black soldiers—Robert Gould Shaw and 54th Regiment Memorial—across from the State House, came in 1897. Philadelphia’s elaborate Smith Memorial Arch was not completed until 1912. So much for the questionable timing argument.

That said, historical revisionists are claiming control over all the obvious southern memorials. We had to go north to find one whose disappearance we might be first to endorse. Begorrah, we found one! And it is no less conspicuous place than Gettysburg, the scene of the bloodiest three days of the war. There is a memorial there, hard by the Devil’s Den, honoring the famous Irish Brigade. That unit consisted of three New York regiments, including the legendary “Fighting 69th” and one each from Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. It suffered terrible casualties at the bloodbaths of Antietam and Fredericksburg late in 1862, and barely six months later, its thin remnants got shot up again at Gettysburg. It entered the battle only 500 strong and lost one-third of its men on the second day. By the end of the war, including replacements, it had lost more men than the 3,000 it mustered at the beginning.

It also had one of the most famous clergymen of the war, Father William Corby, whose 1910 statue blessing the Irish Brigade before battle is among the more conspicuous monuments on that monument-crazed battlefield. There is also a replica of the statue (1911) of Father Corby, arm raised in absolution, on the campus at Notre Dame, where he served as president after the war. At ND the statue is nicknamed “Fair Catch Corby.”

But we are not speaking here of that memorial. The one we want removed is the Irish Brigade memorial (above) that sits at the point where the brigade fought so heroically to slow the Confederate advance on the second day of that fight. It is one of the most striking monuments at Gettysburg—a Celtic cross almost 20 feet high, with an Irish Wolfhound (a virtually extinct breed) reposing at its base. Because it represents the valor of Irishmen, mostly immigrants from the famine era, who fought for the North (a good many fought with distinction for the South as well) we had to search the history books to come up with a reason to censor it.

One reason is that neither of our two Gallagher ancestors, our great grandmother’s brothers, John and James, who died in the Civil War, were members of that famous unit. In fact, we don’t even know what units they were with. There are 70 John Gallaghers and 35 James Gallaghers from Pennsylvania listed in the history of the Pennsylvania Volunteers. We think they both came from around Easton, Pennyslvania, but regiments from that area were mostly square heads. (That is a term of respect for Germans.) Anyway, our boys were not part of the Irish Brigade, so that’s one strike against it.

But our real reason for picking on this particular memorial is the fellow who designed it. His name is William R. O’Donovan. He was a self-taught sculptor who worked in New York and was famous for war memorials. Great Irish name, O’Donovan. So far, so good. But history has forgotten that before he became known in New York, he was born in Virginia. He was only 17 when the war began, and like Robert E. Lee, he fought for his native state. THE BLOODY MICK WAS A FREAKIN’ REB!

Obviously, this young fellow was a flaming racist. He went to war, not because everybody in his neighborhood did, and you were considered a traitor if you did not, but because he believed in slavery and was willing to die to preserve it. Forget that he lived most of his life in New York and sculpted a moving tribute to his fellow Irishmen who fought on the other side.

We modern historical revisionists have the ability to see only what we want to see, and we are in a desperate fight to be the first to find another monument to remove. So honor our claim to the Gettysburg Irish Brigade memorial. Just one word of caution: Before you try to pull it down, make bloody sure no Irishmen are watching.

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The Irish Reb

This Comment had been Posted by Anne McLaughlin

 

This is an enjoyable Column full of history and truth.  Thanks for the insight and for a few good chuckles.

 


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