Today, the Press released Georgia’s Confederate Monuments and its author, Gould B. Hagler, Jr., has graced the blog with an interview.
1. Did you sense any sort of emotional pattern to the various monuments throughout the state?
There is a pattern that changes over time. The earlier monuments were expressions of grief. Every family was in mourning. These memorials evoke strong feelings a century and a half later. Take, for example, the cenotaph on Greene Street in Augusta. The names of Richmond County’s dead are so numerous that they spill over from the tablets on the sides to the steps of the base below. Or consider the small memorial built by the Linwood Sunday School, which lists the twenty-three young men from that one country church who lost their lives.
Soon the monuments took on another function, evoking a sense of pride. The Confederate soldier fought with bravery and determination against great odds. While the monuments continued to function as expressions of grief, they also praised the martial qualities of the Confederates living and dead.
The monuments also have things to say about the cause for which the Confederates fought. The obelisk in Decatur is the best example. A long inscription argues the legitimacy of the Confederate case and says emphatically that might does not make right, that the constitutional principles remain valid.
2. Well, you’ve seen them all now. What’s your favorite and why?
Many of the monuments have features that make them special. I could not pick one favorite, but I will mention three that are special in different ways.
The monument on Broad Street in Augusta, my home town, is one of several Georgia monuments built on a grand scale. It has a statue of the Confederate Everyman at the top, and statues of four generals at the base. It is covered with beautiful carvings and inspiring words. This monument is a beautiful and unique work of art.
The monument in Fayetteville is quite different. It is a very modest granite slab honoring the Confederate heroes of Fayette County. What makes this one special is its date: 1934. During the Great Depression, when people were struggling to put food on the table and keep a roof overhead, they still remembered.
The Brunswick statue is close to my heart because of what I had to do to get the picture. I took a decent picture but it did not have the qualities I wanted. Because of the monument’s orientation and the surrounding trees, in order to get a good shot I had to be there near the summer solstice and late in the afternoon. Plus the weather had to be exactly right. And there was a deadline to meet. One July day, I knew it was now or never. I drove five hours to Brunswick, spent an hour or so taking pictures—and then turned around drove home. So instead of having a rather pedestrian shot of this fine monument, I managed to get what I think is the best photograph in the book.
3. Had memorializing wars been significant in Georgia prior to the Civil War? What made this war unique in that sense?
There are some monuments and memorials related to the Revolution, I am sure, but I do not know whether any were built prior to the Civil War. Two Georgia towns have names related to the Mexican War—Ringgold and Buena Vista.
The Civil War was unlike anything before or since. The casualties were enormous, unique in American history. The battles were fought here, Georgia men dying on Georgia battlefields, buried by the thousands in cemeteries near these battlefields, near their homes. Georgia women nursed the wounded and dying. No family was untouched. This was not something they read about in the newspapers. They saw it. They lived it. They endured it.
4. We’ve had significant conflicts since the Civil War, but local memorializing of them does not seem nearly as common. Why do you think that is?
You are right; it is not as common. World War I was not nearly as costly as the Civil War, so that is a factor. I should say not nearly as costly to Americans. Go to Canada and everywhere you will see memorials to the men who died in the Great War.
It is interesting that four of our monuments honor Georgia’s Confederate veterans and Georgia men who served in the United States Army in World War I.
Few monuments were built after the Second World War, but now interest is increasing. There are now many “all-wars” monuments, and many of these new ones have elements honoring Georgia’s Confederates along with the veterans of other wars from the Revolution to Afghanistan.
5. Was there a sentiment you were surprised to find absent among the memorials?
No, quite the opposite. They cover the whole range. As I said before, they mourn the dead, honor the bravery of the living and the dead, and honor the Confederacy itself. But they do more than that. As time went on, the theme of reconciliation appeared. There is the famous Peace Monument in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park. The monument in Westview Cemetery quotes the verse from Isaiah about beating “swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks.” Two monuments in Atlanta honor the men who fought on both sides at Peachtree Creek. More recently, two monuments in the North Georgia mountains honor local men who fought for the Union as well as those who fought for the Confederacy.
Interest in this era is not waning. Almost all the monuments are well maintained. Many have been cleaned more than once since I started photographing them in the early 1990s. Some have been damaged over the years and have been carefully repaired.
Even more significant is the construction of new monuments. Not counting the “all-wars” monuments, there are thirty-one that have been built in the last twenty-five years, one of which was too recent for inclusion in the book. I know of one being planned, and there are probably others I don’t know about—yet.
Enter discount code MUPNEWS when you order at the Press’s website and receive a 20% discount plus free USPS Media Mail shipping on your entire order!