An analysis of Confederate Memorial Dedications Documented in Virginia Newspapers from 1900-1910.

On June 14th, 2018, the Southern Poverty Law Center published an updated version of their 2016 study of Confederate monuments and memorials; Whose Heritage?1 This study gathered data of not only monuments, but designated holidays, place names, and flag designs commemorating the Confederacy and the historical actors representing it. The updated report counted 1,728 of these memorials in the former Confederate states and across the country. This report does not count in its total any historical memorials, tributes or markers on historic sites such as battlefields or cemeteries, or anything contained in a museum.2 They made each of the datasets they used in the report, differing on the types of memorials counted and the regions they were counted in, available for download.3 Contained in the report is a timeline visualization, spanning from 1861-2017, made from a dataset of all of the memorials, monuments, and place names dedicated throughout country per year, with significant events of the Civil Rights movement and relevant historical events overlaying the data.4 This visualization is meant to show correlation between the major spikes in the amount of memorials dedicated per year and these major events. What was interesting was that the biggest spike happened in the 1900’s and early 1910’s. What happened in those years and the years preceding them that could possibly explain the spike?

I decided to use one particular dataset from the study, specifically the one documenting the amount of dedications per year per state. I wanted further investigate the claim by proponents that these memorials served a higher historical purpose, so I only used the states that made up the former Confederate States of America during the first three years of the Civil War; Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia (which became a state separate from Virginia in 1863, but was included in the territory of the Confederate States until it became an independent state)5. These results showed the same major spikes in the same years as SPLC’s timeline of the whole country.

In order to find the state that has the 1900-1910 spike most representative of the national results, I chose the one that had the highest amount of dedications in that decade. This state was Virginia.6There were no dedications in West Virginia before it was separated from Virginia in 18637, so this decision is based on the state of Virginia alone. This dataset does include memorials that have been removed since their dedication,8 but the data I am focusing on for the sake of this research will not be effected by this considering the fact that no memorials were removed in Virginia until 2015. In the span of 1900 to 1910, there were 41 total memorials dedicated in Virginia. In order to discern the nature of these dedications, I wanted to conduct an analysis of language and the content of the newspaper articles documenting and announcing them. I created a text file dataset of articles from Library of Congress’s Chronicling America newspaper database9, searching for articles containing the terms “confederate” or “memorial” or “dedication” in the state of Virginia in the span of 1900-1910. To avoid skewing my results with memorial celebrations or parades, I did not include celebrations or parades honoring the Confederacy in which no memorials or monuments were dedicated. This resulted in a total of 47 total articles from 9 different Virginia Newspapers; The Times, The Richmond Dispatch, The Alexandria Gazette, The Shenandoah Herald, The Matthews Journal, The Staunton Spectator and Vindicator, The Virginia-Pilot, The Daily Press, and The Free Lance. I transcribed these articles into a text file10 and compared the text with the original PDF image of each page to root out and correct any discrepancies or spelling errors.

Of the 47 articles, 35 were concerning memorial dedications in the state of Virginia.11 The single actor sponsoring or organizing the most of these memorials is “Daughters of the Confederacy” group, with their direct involvement and sponsorship of 17 of the 47 memorials documented. The organization’s stated purpose is to “tell of the glorious fight against the greatest odds a nation ever faced, that their hallowed memory should never die,”12 by building, sponsoring, and dedicating Confederate memorials. Since the creation of the group in 1894, the group has dedicated more than 80 memorials across the country.13 With their stated intentions being the preservation and idealization of Confederate culture, the group is not recognized as a historical preservation group by most historians.14

  1. Southern Poverty Law Center. “Whose heritage? Public symbols of the confederacy.” SPLC, 2016.

2. Ibid.

3. Link to downloadable dataset: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/17ps4aqRyaIfpu7KdGsy2HRZaaQiXUfLrpUbaR9yS51E/edit#gid=222998983

4. Link to visualization below: https://www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/com_whose_heritage_timeline_print.pdf

5. Ambler, Charles Henry. A History of West Virginia. Prentice-Hall, 1933.

6.  Southern Poverty Law Center. “Whose heritage? Public symbols of the confederacy.” SPLC, 2016.

7.  Ibid.

8. Ibid

9.  America, Chronicling. “Historic American Newspapers.” In Library of Congress. 2014.

10.  Text file dataset

11. Ibid.

12. Cox, Karen L. Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation ofConfederate Culture. University Press of Florida, 2003.

13. Widener, Ralph W. Jr., Confederate Monuments: Enduring Symbols of the South and the War Between the States, AndromedaAssociates and Ralph W. Widener, Jr., Ph.D., Washington, D.C., 1982.

14. Mills, Cynthia; Simpson, Pamela Hemenway, eds. Monuments to the Lost Cause: Women, Art, and the Landscapes of Southern Memory. University of Tennessee Press, 2003.