Is it is surreal that I wrote a story about a Confederate soldier released from Columbus, Ohio’s Camp Chase prison camp given current events. I learned just now on Facebook that the cemetery I visited back in June, with mixed feelings I might add, had its soldier statue toppled.
What’s ironic about the Camp Chase cemetery and the existence of this statue at all is that it was raised by Union officer William H. Knauss, who led the first memorial and later wrote a book about the prison. His intent was to honor these Confederate prison fatalities as Americans, not Confederates, as labeled on the arch. Since Columbus has the largest Confederate cemetery outside of the former Confederate States of America, one might take a cynical view to Knauss’s efforts.
Was he just trying to make money? Did he want the fame and glory of a book tour? It doesn’t seem like it… he raised money to renovate the cemetery, to put walls around it, and to invite those with Union and Confederate leanings to remember that which made the United States a singular rather than plural noun.
That said, glorifying a piece of the past is quite dangerous. If there are statues depicting Confederate officers, then there should also be statues depicting the slavery they fought to protect. And not the minstrel song and dance slaves, but those which depict liberation. If the point is to “remember our history,” then let’s remember history holistically.
It’s a semantic quibble to argue whether the American Civil War was about slavery or states’ rights. The Confederate government went to war with the Federal government for their right to determine whether slavery was legal or not, which does, in essence, make the war about slavery.
Lest we forget, a number of the statues toppled so far were built during the heydey of Jim Crow laws and the anti-Civil Rights era to act as reminders that people died to keep slavery around, and that there are generations of families who might, if pushed, do so again.
It is time we reevaluate how we pay homage and how we hope future generations interpret such symbols of homage.