Civil War Times

LEAVE THEM STANDING

Visiting Gettysburg National Military Park should be unsettling. The site exists, after all, because of a breathtaking failure of the nation’s electoral system in 1860. Powerful members of Southern society thought Republican victory menaced the long-term viability of slavery and refused to accept the verdict of the ballot box. They dismembered the republic and opened the way for a war whose memory grappled with massive human loss, emancipation’s vast political and social consequences, and anger that lingered for years. As the nation continues to struggle with that memory, a sound understanding of the war and its legacies demands a level of discomfort. The presence of Confederate monuments at Gettysburg will upset some visitors, but that is a price worth paying to protect a valuable and instructive memorial landscape.

The need to accept discomfort merits attention because heated debates regarding the Civil War’s memorial landscape have included calls to remove Confederate monuments at Gettysburg. These debates on social media, in the U.S. House of Representatives, and elsewhere raise the question of how best to handle the conflict’s deeply, and sometimes violently, contested memory. No other era

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