Book Review–Recalling Deeds Immortal: Florida Monuments to the Civil War

Lees, William B. and Frederick P. Gaske. Recalling Deeds Immortal: Florida Monuments to the Civil War. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. 2014. 370 pages, 305 pages text. Index, bibliography, end notes, b/w photos. ISBN 9780813049960, $44.95.

With the recent controversies over monuments and memorials, and not just those with some attachment to the Civil War as a whole or the Confederacy specifically, it can be easy to lose sight where monuments are, who or what the were erected to or for, who erected them, or in some unfortunate cases, what they even looked like. Authors William B. Lees and Frederick P. Gaske have done a fine job in rounding up and researching Civil War monuments located in the Sunshine State.

Lees and Gaske are well qualified to write such a book. Lees serves as Director of Florida Public Archaeology Network at the University of West Florida and Gaske has served as the state of Florida’s Historic Preservation Officer in addition to having coauthored the Florida Civil War Heritage Trail Guide, a free publication produced by the state.

The authors argue that to truly understand these monuments we must place them in the context of the time they were erected. Different monuments mean different things. It is also important that we understand that sacrifice meant different things to Union and Confederate soldiers.

The book is broken down chronologically which while it has its benefits, particularly in backing the author’s argument of understanding monuments and their place in time, also can become difficult for the reader if they are only looking to know about particular monuments. For those readers a straight alphabetical system would be a better choice. Readers searching for information on a favorite monument have to refer to the index to find where to turn.

The book is broken into five chapters: Reconstruction and Beyond, Remembering Confederate Sacrifice and Valor After Reconstruction, Remembering the Union Soldier and Sailor, Remembering Hallowed Ground, and Monuments Erected After the Civil War Centennial. The authors take each monument and work to tell its story through the use of contemporary sources, whether they be newspapers, archives, government records, and more. A look at the notes and bibliography of this book will show the research efforts that were expended.

While the Reconstruction period saw only a small handful of monuments erected, the ending of federal occupation was a boom period for remembering and honoring the dead. With the creation of the Daughters of the Confederacy and their later incarnation as United Daughters of the Confederacy at least 34 monuments were erected in the state. The subject matter and location of monuments varied from outright Lost Cause to monuments such as that in a Deland cemetery which contained a list of Confederate soldiers buried there. While the majority of these monuments are still in place some, such as the Daytona Beach monument, have been damaged or altered, and some, such as Orlando, have been removed since publication of this book.

What is fascinating is the continued creation and placing of memorials and monuments. In the post 1968 period Lees and Gaske account for 33 new monuments with more being erected today. This growth is provided by organizations such as Sons of Confederate Veterans who have this as one of their stated goals. The trend on these new monuments is toward smaller and less elaborate design which is probably due to design trends but more likely cost and budget concerns. While these new monuments are often meant to commemorate hallowed ground or to honor specific soldiers the fact that the Confederate flag has been used by many other groups, often with negative consequences, the claim of “heritage not hate” is a message that is often considered to be false.

This is a valuable book and should be on the shelves of those interested in Civil War history, Florida history, and even Civil Rights history. The story is an important one and one that will not be going away. It is our responsibility to understand those of the past did not live by our standards of today. To argue that the war was not based upon the issue of slavery would fly in the face of the Articles of Secession; to erase reminders of the war will not erase the war and to me is not the correct way to deal with the issue. We should not be standing in judgement of those who came before us for erecting these memorials and monuments, but rather, we should convey that history and work to tell a new full sided and complete story. To those putting up new monuments, you have a responsibility to be honest and not hide what we now understand to be true.

To see other posts dealing with the University Press of Florida click here.

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