tv The Civil War CSPAN December 20, 2015 11:15am-12:33pm EST
announcer: our cities tour staff recently traveled to worcester, massachusetts to learn about its rich history. you are watching "american history tv," all weekend, every weekend, on c-span3. >> during the civil war, an unprecedented number of american soldiers were killed in battle. and conventional practices of body recovery, identification, and burial were not able to keep up with the growing number of fallen soldiers. kirk savage gives an in-depth analysis of the practices adopted to identify fallen soldiers and the types of burials given to fallen civil war soldiers. the national gallery hosted this
90 minute talk. professor savage: everyone in this room has probably had the experience of wandering through an older u.s. city and stumbling into the beguiling section of a rural cemetery. with its vast collection of gravestones and tombs and miniature temples interspersed among rolling hills, woods, and vales. highly manipulated landscape is an outdoor museum in more ways than one. it was a striking difference. the objects that surround us here in this beautiful museum are lovingly and superbly conserved as if they were all made yesterday or teleported a -- miraculously from every age of the past into our present. but even in the greatest rural cemeteries like this one, the allegheny cemetery in pittsburgh, the passage and pressure of time are everywhere visible.
the residues of past eras coat the graves and factory smoke and -- in factory smoke and coal dust. the stone and metal erode. slabs tilt and sometimes fall into the ground. and, by the way, this is not what every grave in the allegheny cemetery looks like. but many of them do show this kind of where -- wear. images dissolve before our eyes and the names of the dead, the whole reason for this above ground apparatus has come to be, even these often disappear. as oliver wendell holmes wrote about his local graveyard in cambridge, massachusetts -- it slowly disappears. the mosses creep, the gravestones lean.
these decaying monuments have what he calls age value. allowing them to trigger metaphysical ruminations. yet in the cemetery, the age into conflict with a need to remember and preserve and keep the name alive as the ancient egyptians used to say. as he has taught us, this imperative to preserve the name is the foundation of mortuary culture. in the midst of this rural cemetery's picks rest -- picturesque decay, is a radically different landscape. a field occupied by nearly identical clean white headstones set up right at a uniform height in perfectly aligned rows. the cemetery around it seems haphazard and diverse, this particular lot down in the so-called flats, as they call them, is a much more regulated
and uniform landscape. the gleaming marble stones catch the surrounding light. which as it soon becomes apparent is the defining focus of this installation. in the center of the plot of 300 graves is an eroding sandstone war memorial from the 1870's. a monument to the union debt -- dead complete with standing , soldiers overseen by a female allegory, looking obsolete and decayed even though it post date s the layout of the plot and most of the graves within it. after the civil war, soldier monuments and cemetery sprung up for the first time in the united states and even in the euro american worlds. even though there was no shortage of earlier war dead from the always violent american past. as holmes wrote about his own church wrote in the 1830's --
the indian shaft, the britain ball, the sabres thirsting edge, the hot shell falling. here is scattered death. yet no trace can i see. and they needed not to leave their children free. despite that amazing image of the ground beneath him. -- him, bodies punctured and shattered by war, the traces of of that become invisible and even unwanted in the relatively brief time of peace in which he wrote. the true monument to the war dead, he thought, resided invisibly in that state of freedom that the war dead had supposedly secured. this anti-monumental sentiment fell on deaf ears after the
civil war when monuments spread across the land from battlefield -- battlefields to hometowns. when i rediscovered allegheny cemetery and its soldier plot, i was struck anew by the disparity between the monument and the graves. their design and arrangement appearing so much at odds with the antiquated memorial in the center and with the aging tombs from various eras scattered nearby. i learned that the monument was a homegrown undertaking sponsored by a local ladies memorial association. but the plot itself was a federally owned soldiers lots. -- lot. a federal cemetery within a municipal one. it is one of 22 such soldiers lots in the national cemetery system. and, of course, there are soldier cemeteries like antietam and so on. these particular soldier lots are smaller lots within a larger
cemetery and usually with any -- within municipal cemeteries. it is one of the -- it is one of 22 lots of the national cemetery system that was born in the civil war. the first instance in the modern world of a nation systematically assuming responsibility for its soldier dead. while there were presidents for this system in the ancient world, the best-known being the cemetery in athens where the cremated remains of soldiers who had died abroad were brought back for collective burial, the american system promised its war dead individual burial of intact bodies. a logistical goal of profound proportions that would have profound ripple effects throughout u.s. society. the federal soldier lot in allegheny cemetery is about 50 yards away from another soldier lot often confused with it. this second lot once belonged to
the most powerful civic association in the united states. the union veterans organization called the grand army of the republic. in his heyday, this burial ground here was larger and far more popular and prestigious than the government lot. , originally up right, have been pushed over into the ground. the stone turned gray. the names in most cases unreadable. the first plot looked almost magically untouched by time. the second, so degraded by time that it has lost even its age value and is now a near wreck, disappearing into the crowd with -- their ground with the bodies -- the ground with the bodies it is supposed to commemorate. these of striking disparities are symptomatic of a much larger problem, what i will call it a
metadata crisis of the war dead. meta-data in the broadest sense is about data. more specifically, metadata as it turned that librarians and catalogers used to refer to various categories of information such as name, title, and date. they describe and identify objects like books and artworks that are rich in information. metadata is the foundation of our history. without all the elaborate procedures devised to date artworks, art history would be impossible. metadata must be attached to its object in some way, typically in the form of a label or a barcode or a mark stamped or cast were -- or simply written directly on the object. anyone who has gone through a collection of old family photographs of long dead ancestors has probably had the experience of turning over an unknown image hoping to find some sort of metadata
handwritten on the back. a mere surname or set of initials can not only identify a face, but unlock an entire life story. in this case, by turning over the back, my wife and i were able to discover that this photo was taken by one of the most famous postwar photographers in gettysburg. grave markers, headstones, headboards inscribed rocks are among the most ancient culturally significant forms of metadata. both the national cemetery system and the proliferation of war memorials were responses to a metadata crisis, not unlike the example of the forgotten family photograph, but intensified at a shocking scale. the vast crisis was quite simply the separation of names from bodies. repeated endlessly and everywhere. it was not merely a logistical
crisis, but an identity crisis that rippled through families and communities and polities alike. keeping the name alive or keeping the name in place, a slightly different formulation that i will explain a just a moment, was a cultural problem, a technological problem and an artistic problem all wrapped in one of enormous undertaking. art history i hope to show offers some unique insights into this multifaceted undertaking that reshaped the nation in ways we have not yet fully grasp. -- grasped. during the civil war itself, the names of the dead seemed ever present. carried by telegraph and news media, into homes everywhere. the test from their bodies and -- detached from their bodies and from the horrible realities of warfare, these names settled
into off the ties lists, arrayed in columns like the passenger manifest from ships in port or the dead letter list from the post office. quote, we see the list in the morning paper at breakfast but dismiss its recollection with a "new yorkented the times" after a horrific battle of antietam in 1862. i will go on to quote this at length. it really is an amazing paragraph. there is a confused mass of names, but they are all strangers. we forget the horrible significance that dwells amid the jumble of type. each of these little names of the printer has struck off so lightly last night whistling over his work and that we speak with a clip of the tongue represents a bleeding, mingled corpse. weight dead remorseless
that will fall upon some hard, -- heart straining it to , breaking. there is nothing very terrible to us in the list although our sensations might be different if the newspaper carrier left the names on the battlefield and the bodies at our door instead. we could spend the entire evening talking about this one paragraph, with its modernist recognition of the numbing effect of mass media and with this strange juxtaposition of the remorseless weight of debt with a lighthearted routine of the printer who strikes off the name of death's latest victim. his alienated labor so different from the elaborate ritual of a funeral or the arduous craft of carving the same letters into a tombstone. and then, and even more striking is this junction. , the detachment of names from bodies. our sensations might be different if this newspaper carrier left the names of the
bodies on the battlefield and the bodies at our doorstep instead. what a remarkable idea. they came to the writer because she or he had experienced for the first time the new technology of battlefield photography. particularly, an exhibition of grizzly corpses taken on the battlefield of antietam and displayed in matthew brady's gallery in new york. if we parse all that is implied by this short paragraph, the junctions multiply in a dizzying sequence. the names of these courses past -- passed through the names -- through the fingers of this typesetter. while miraculous visual transcriptions of the bodies traveled to matthew brady's gallery in new york city. meanwhile, the bodies themselves were dumped in a massive trench on a farm in maryland. names, images, and bodies all moved in different directions and mostly amongst strangers.
during the civil war, these new print and image technologies combined with concentrated mass warfare to exacerbate an already bewildering metadata crisis. life in the 19th century was not supposed to end this way. in a disrupted burial far from family and community. for slaves, poppers, and -- paupers and criminals, such , disruptions were commonplace. but white citizens and their families expected the privilege of a so-called good depth at -- death at home and a properly marked grave registered in a cemetery. and for these more privileged members of society, the civil war came as a profound shock. as scholars such as through -- through taught us. half -- drew have taught us. the christian doctrine of resurrection did offer real consolation by promising the bodies return no matter what
displacement it had indoor in endured inword -- life and death. this promise of return in the hereafter did not by any means of eliminating the overwhelming need of families, communities, and the nation itself to stay connected in the here and now to the bodies and names and identities of the dead. as one grieving woman wrote in early 1865, oh would -- what wrote in early 1865, oh would -- -- what could i say, from the bottom of my soul, and will be done but i fear i never can. she was talking about her beloved who had died and been buried by her. this precisely in this gap between god's perfect world and the future and the tragic world of the here and now that art and technology work. meeting the pressing needs of the wars survivors. -- the war's survivors. the problem posed by the warden
-- the war dead was a problem of displacement, of death out of waste. on a scale unprecedented in u.s. history, the civil war led to a massive physical displacement of bodies in life and death. a soldier off of a farm in the middle of the country might die on a battlefield in virginia or a prison camp in georgia or a hospital here in washington. as shattering as the circumstances were, they were often compounded by a second displacement. a metaphysical displacement of the body from its name. in literally hundreds of thousands of cases, soldiers became unknown or missing. the unknown were bodies that had lost their names. the missing were names that had lost their bodies. in both cases, the metadata, the name had become attached from its object, the body. these legions of the unknown and
the missing were two sides of the same coin. the metadata crisis created by protracted mass warfare between armies totally unprepared for human disaster on this scale. the signs of this crisis were almost everywhere and were dealt with in sermons, editorials, and graveyards. families, contractors, and philanthropic agencies all made unprecedented efforts to find bodies and reconnect them with names. in the weeks and months after gettysburg, for example, the battlefield was overrun with people searching through gravesites, sometimes opening up graves and rummaging through personal effects that had already been picked over by enemy soldiers or civilian scavengers. they were in search of any object that might yield identifying information, a letter, a small bible, or a family photograph tucked into a pocket. you have to remember this was long before there was a dog take
system in place that could guarantee the identity of the dead. after the war, the federal army set in motion a vast enterprise to scour the theater of war for bodies. while the legendary nurse, clara barton, established an office of correspondence with the friends of the missing men of the united states army, and received over 63,000 letters in wiring after -- inquiring after lost men. charitable organization such as the christian commission financed trips to makeshift cemeteries in prison camps and battlefields, where they copied metadata from wooden headboards and published it in long list of -- lists of names and books given in the order in which they live. all these people and agencies were racing against the destructive effects of time. when graves were marked, the fragile wooden headboards weekly -- quickly decayed and the marks
on them often in pencil faded away. in other cases, the headboards disappeared or were found somewhere else attached from -- detached from their graves and a label without an object. in the cemetery for union soldiers who died at richmond's prison, less than one in 20 were marked. the remaining headboards had been taken by poor people in the neighborhood and incinerated to heat their homes. headboards like the bodies which -- they marked decomposed and were lost. for this reason, samuel weaver, a contractor hired to identify and read barry bodies in the gettysburg area several months after the battle, made a point of mailing -- mailing -- nailing headboards at once as he
said to their new coffins so that headboard and body would never be separated again. this was not enough. he also wrote the name, regiment, and company of the soldier on the coffin itself and numbered the coffin. he recorded all of that data in a book that he kept with them. you can see him holding it in his hands. he later copied the names and numbers to a master register. there is very little imagery of this massive national campaign to synchronize the war dead with their names, understandably because the process was so abstract and so mundane, metaphysical in its reach and grizzly in its details, timothy o'sullivan's photo of disrupted -- for the graphs of disrupted confederate burial at gettysburg are some of the few images that open insight into this process. these are among a handful of photographs produced during the war that show the wooden headboards made by soldiers, sharply enough to read the lettering under magnification. in this case, the glass plate
negative, which survives enables , us to identify the soldier on on the -- on the far left by a mere five characters of metadata. t, w, s on the top line. and e 3 on the line below it. it is amazing first of all the dead soldiers' comrades took the time, on the second day of the battle before the battle had concluded, that they took the time during the deadliest battle of the civil war, while the outcome was still undecided to do their best to imitate tombstone carving by carefully in sizing and beveling the honorific fonts into the board. they did not have the time to carve the whole name, but they did not need to because the three initials and the military shorthand were just enough data
to point to an actual individual. thomas w sligh of the third south carolina infantry company e. and perhaps most remarkable of all, we have a memoir written by a fellow soldier where this individual body identified by five characters comes back to life in a flood of words. he resurfaces in the memoir is a -- as a bright, young college student who left a school and became a favorite with the troops. wiki -- witty and always kind. but rather girlish in appearance for physically, he was not strong. quote from the memoir. this reason, the memoir four explains, the officers took pity on him and assigned him to duties in the rear, away from combat. when he got to gettysburg, he burst into tears and that to be bagged -- begged to
be allowed to prove his manhood in battle. on july 2, 1863, this witty, kind, teary-eyed relish young -- girlish young man, marched through a peach orchard into a hail of bullets and i defending -- and died defending the confederate nation's cause. that cause being -- the right of property and negroes slaves. the metadata on the headboard survived several exclamations -- exhumations and removals and ended up in revised form on an elaborately carved gravestone in magnolia cemetery in charleston, south carolina. where his body was relocated in 1871 through the efforts of the ladies memorial association of charleston. the charleston group was one of the best-known among many elite white women associations organized to care for confederate graves and bring back the bodies of confederate soldiers to southern soil.
his body is in a collective grave of some nine bodies, no doubt because the remains of the men became intermingled during reburial by a farmer at gettysburg. on the magnolia tombstone, he becomes an officer, a sergeant which he never was in reality. , and ironically, due to a miss -- this transcription, his name acquires a t becoming slights. a relief sculpture by an unknown stone carver relies on a traditional pictorial of -- vocabulary of resurrection with a winged female figure standing in for the ladies association, crowning with loral reclining figure of a dying officer. his status identified why his -- by his sword. in this gender binary, it is the female figure and the ladies she represents who have the agency and the male figure who has lost it. but in this apparent reversal
lies the reestablishment of traditional hierarchy since the pose of the dying man unmistakably evokes the definition of christ and in turn the soldiers christian sacrifice and ultimate redemption for the cause of white supremacy. -- now, it is almost impossible to gaze on his gravestone without thinking about the emmanuel ame church massacre that took place in june, only five miles from this grave. to restore him to his native land in a place of honor, the ladies of charleston had to go beyond simply keeping his name alive, which they almost failed to do because of the misspelling, they had to put his name back in place, and the place of his body. in a cemetery, the metadata above ground stands on its own while belowground, the body that data described falls apart -- describes falls apart
silently and invisibly. the ladies tombstone took his its power and authority from the implied presence of his body belowground. at the same time, the stone a -- you raced his -- you raced -- erased his personal life story and very fit between -- beneath their own narrative. his name and his life were consumed either his death. and by the new place his death research for him in the confederate cemetery. art history offers us a way of describing and understanding this process of replacement. but it must do so in dialogue with a history that is quite literally from below. the distinctive life stories that are buried beneath the names so artfully represented above. if we ignore the stories below the names, we will never
understand the peculiar power of the soldiers cemetery that shape individual lives and remake the larger collective narrative. this should become clearer as we move away from the conventionalized gravestone imagery exemplified in this tombstone to the severe minimalist vocabulary of the federal soldiers cemetery where the highly uniform arrangements and stripped-down headstones create the appearance of an unsentimental egalitarian and functional metadata. even here, perhaps especially here, there is a powerful artistry at work which frames and ultimately obscures, which reframes and ultimately obscures the messy, human history below. the soldiers lot in allegheny cemetery looks like a miniature version of arlington national cemetery and does share certain distinctive design features.
like arlington, the lot is so beautifully maintained that it seems to exist outside of time or in an eternal presence. -- present. when i first saw the shimmering marble gravestones, i was amazed at their state of preservation until i realized that they had been replaced, probably multiple times, in the same style so that their age would not show. across an stumbled example of an original federal gravestone. probably dating to around 1910 in a very old defunct cemetery, dripping with age value. it's gray cracked surface slowly being covered by algae and lichen. and the lettering of the name ja powell disappearing to erosion. one of the remarkable aspects of the national cemetery system is that it reached into obscure little graveyards like this one all across the united states.
the system was expanded to include not only the dead, but the survivors, the veterans who became eligible for standard issue federal headstone no matter when or where they were buried. in howells case, the decaying stone was the only federal headstone in this ancient, truly rural cemetery. it now finds itself on the edge of a rare old line -- railroad line. near one of u.s. steel's last working plants in pennsylvania. if powell's stone seems displaced by industrialization and abandonment, the graves in the soldier lot seem much more in their proper place even though, ironically, the men had much less connection to their place than powell had to his. the headstones in the soldier lot carry this kind of presence not only because they're in better condition, but because they belong to a collective of soldiers with a very strong, visible organization.
at first glance from a distance their collective layout might , appear to be a grid but soon becomes apparent that a different organizing principle is at work. a great is a network -- a grade is a network of inter-crossing lines that create squares. here the stones are aligned in one way, basically north and south. yet that one directional alignment takes the form of perfect rows just like in soldiers in classic 19th century military practice. handbooks of tactics from the civil war era made a fetish of alignment. they present incredibly minute instructions for how to discipline bodies so they can step into precise lines, elbow to elbow, without turning their heads or shifting their shoulders.
diagrams map out the complicated maneuvers by which various groups of man were supposed to pivot themselves into these long , exacting lines. it seems obvious that this are current -- ly into alignment was a platonic ideal imposed on the chaotic reality of bodies in combat. in the same way, the layout in the cemetery plot imposed order on the reality of decomposition. and that this claim extended to the -- that discipline extended to the ground and to the stone, who wereo the geese competing with me that morning as i was out photographing that morning. the earth, which in the cemetery was usually ground and uneven, had to be ground and leveled. to make a perfectly straight row required planarity. the headstones had to be reset
and clean periodically. -- and cleaned periodically. in recent years the stones have been set into gravel, as you see here, so they will settle evenly at the same height and grass will not stain them. if it took a keen architectural craftsmanship to align the stones, it's also taken work to keep them that way, to keep the unruly natural landscape surrounding the graves from interfering with their manmade discipline. the other organizing principle of the graves is uniformity and here the disciplining of stones becomes crucial. just as the nation needed a mass army of men, the government in charge of burying those men needed a mass production of gravestones. the old artisanal system of hand carving gravestones in small shops would not do when literally hundreds of thousands of gravestones were need across
the national cemetery system. in the 1870's, a new mass production system had to be invented out of whole cloth. standardization and minimalism were necessary to make the new system work. the more data included on the gravestone, the more time-consuming its production would be. as in the wooden headboards carved hastily on the battle field, only a minimal number of characters could be accommodated in the sandblasting process that was pioneered for the head stones. the sparse data was spelled out and glued to the surface of the stone. which was then sandblasted, leaving the letters in high relief. a simple shield motif indicating that the deceased was a defender of the nation.
individual's the name and regiment to situate him within the military structure that now claimed his body and death. that was all the process would allow. the process appeared to be egalitarian, literally blasting away distinctions of rank, it also blasted away much of history. in the allegheny soldiers' lot, about 2/3 of the graves are civil war soldiers, but there is nothing to distinguish them from soldiers of earlier wars who are also in the lot or to distinguish the wartime dead from survivors who died later. the grave of a soldier who fought in the war that ended slavery, vernon johnstone, as you see here on the left, lies next to the remains of a soldier, william blakely, who died in mexico in a war to expand the territory of slavery.
yet their headstones give no indication of this. a half dozen confederates who died in pittsburgh as prisoners of war were buried within the lot next to union soldiers. in the shadow of a union war memorial. not until 1907 did they get a headstone marked with the initials c.s.a., and this one for alfred alcorn. his story is particularly amazing because he was a prisoner of war who was en route from one prison in ohio to another one in maryland and he jumped the train in pittsburgh and died of head injuries. that's why he ended up here. in the soldier lot, causes do not register. neither the moral cause for which the men died, nor their physical causes of death. here they are all unified in one
organization and one cause. the cause of the nation. only in the 20th century when the lot was reaching capacity did the metadata begin to expand as death dates and names began to appear on the newer gravestones. it's as if the curators of a museum made the radical decision to remove the dates from their object labels to send a message about the universality of all -- art. we should think of the soldier lot then as a heavily curated installation, where many aspects of design and interpretation come together to erase personal and political history. the lot thrives on a strong collective organization of the dead across more than a century of wars, on systematic maintenance to keep the effects
of time at bay and on a near total absence of metadata. it is hardly surprising that intellectuals and artists would come to prefer this spare method compared to the hodgepodge that the world had become. born of necessity, the soldier cemetery did innovate a new kind of artistry, profoundly selective and seductive in its expression of order and common purpose. history from below, however, reveals an alternate reality that belies the seduction of the -- seductive impression of the system above. that history must start with the lot itself, which it turns out has its own complicated and checkered story. the soldier lot at allegheny cemetery seemingly began in 1862
with a simple mission to bury, free of expense, according to its board, such persons as have died or may die in defense of our country in the present war. the reality of the lot is far more complex, however, starting with the fact that very few men buried there actually fit that description. 10 years after the lot was established, only about 200 men had been buried in it, while hundreds of other civil war soldiers occupied the same cemetery in family plots or elsewhere. so we have about 200 soldiers in the soldier lot and up to 1,000 other civil war soldiers elsewhere in the cemetery. why did these 200 end up in this soldier lot? where did they come from? when i started the project, i
imagined them as western pennsylvanians who had died in the field in tennessee or virginia and had their remains brought home as thomas sligh's were to south carolina or the athenians' were to athens. in fact less than a 10th of the civil war dead in the soldier lot died in the field of battle injuries. the rest of them, like most of those lost throughout the war, died of disease, a result of poor sanitation, overexposure or simply contagion. these were not the relatively few, like sligh, who expired on the field of honor, but men who died in lonely suffering away from their family and friends, and regiment displaced even from , the redemptive narrative of male valor. most surprisingly of all, for a majority of these men, the cemetery was not a return home. they ended up in the lots
because they happened to die nearby. in fact, they died in one specific place, a building located less than two miles from the cemetery gates. during the war this was the u.s. military hospital in pittsburgh. a major collection point for men who came there were starting -- from starting points across the union. and many, in fact, were born in europe and ireland, germany and elsewhere. their burial in the soldier lot was a matter of simple logistics, not personal choice or connection. after the war, this hospital was converted to a rest home for veterans with tuberculosis and other diseases and for a number of years these were the men who filled the new graves in the soldier lot. almost all the men had endured multiple displacements in life and in death. what united them was not dying in defense of their country, but the happenstance of having died alone and penniless in one
particular spot. the original soldier lot in allegheny cemetery where these men were initially buried was in fact little more than a potter'' field. it was located up in the so-called strangers' ground, where those without money or kin were put. this, of course, is a very recent photograph of the strangers' ground. most of that field you see is actually occupied by unmarked graves. i have no photographic documentation of the strangers' ground in the 19th century, so i don't know where -- exactly where the soldiers were buried or how it looked, but this is not the original lot. the true origin story of the federal lot is a traumatic event that took place in a military camp just outside pittsburgh. a draft rendezvous, as they
called it, known as camp copeland. the men who died to their in the early weeks of 19's -- 1864 where draftees who got caught in thatble waves of disease spread through the camp because of terrible conditions and poor medical care. this is just the first page of a long death register from that camp from the first two months of that year. the men were hastily buried in a field outside the camp just as they would have been after a battle. four years later, the army, in response to its national mandate, retrieved the remains, identified them as they could, and reburied them in allegheny cemetery. not, however, in the original soldiers' lot up in the strangers' ground, but in a second brand-new lot down in the flats, the one we see today.
in 1874, the government decided to combine the two lots into one, digging up the graves that were scattered around the cemetery, like the mexican-american war graves, and reburying them all in a new area 2 arrangement with a new number system in the final lot. the final displacement of dead in what was for most of them a long history of those. yet this new lot was by no means what it looks today. and again, i have image here to 2 no image here to show you because the imagery doesn't have no image here to show you because the imagery doesn't survive. to begin with, the graves were unidentified when the second lot was first made. they were simply mounds of dirt and gravel, unmarked except for wooden headboards, bearing only a number, not a name. initially, the visiting public
assumed that the men buried there were unknown dead. imagine the surprise then, sometime perhaps in the early 1880's, when some 200 marble gravestones suddenly appeared, all but nine of them with names. in a single stroke, the gravestones gave almost 200 men individual identities as well as a collective identity because the gravestones created a highly visible organization for them. we don't know exactly what that looked like in its original form. we do know that the lot sometimes suffered from poor maintenance and that the headstones were not as uniform as they are today. as you can see from this 1934 photograph, the slight differences in size and shape of some headstones as this one here do change the overall effect significantly even as the men acquired nominal identities, however, we may well wonder what those individual names signified.
what use is a name on a gravestone when no one coming to the cemetery recognizes it? it may as well be unknown. in some cases we know families were looking for the men. but the names on the headstones were simply wrong. incorrectly transcribed from previous headboards or death registers as thomas sligh's name had been. e.z. hall, for instance, was e.z. hale on grave number 154. until a descendant, three or four years ago, discovered the missed transcription and restored his family name. you see with the newer issue headstone here. hall's story is one of the strangest in the soldier lot and one of the very few who died in
combat. he was a volunteer from michigan who died in 1864. his remains were sent home by train from a military hospital in washington, d.c. the train in those days to michigan made a stop in pittsburgh and there the passengers demanded that his decomposing body be removed from the car. the railroad company delivered the corpse and what little information it had to the allegheny cemetery where e.z. hall in effect died a second death from the misplacement of his body and of his name. this meant nobody knew where these names were. they were mere placeholders in a military organization with no other information, simply generic conscripts in an army of the dead.
some of them escaped that fate, however. in about a dozen cases, when there were kinfolk who knew the men, they pulled them out of the soldier lot and had them reburied in their own local cemeteries. the grand army of the republic, as we have seen, created its own separate soldier lot with its own corporate identity. it followed exactly the same design principles of the federal lot but shifted the orientation of its rows to make the distinction visible. these rows aren't used-west, whereas in the federal lot, they are north-south. for many years while the organization was in its heyday, the lot was more tightly organized and maintained than the government lot. the men in the g.a.r. lot chose to be there, and their makeup
was more representative of the union army in one key respect almost 20% of them came from the , u.s. colored troops, whereas in the government lot, to the best of my knowledge, not a single civil war soldier was african-american. i still don't know exactly why that is the case, but i suspect that there is segregation at work. there was only one way to know this, though, to know the identities of these men or to come to know anything significant about the names in the federal soldier lot and that was through the metadata left off the gravestones and buried in the archives of the cemetery in its registers. i have spent a long time, as you probably can tell, in these interment registers. it's all on microfilm. the history from below i've been trying to reconstruct is also a history from the back office. clerks in that back office, working from daily reports by the foremen, entered each body
into a huge register book as the bodies came into the cemetery and assigned each entry a unique number in one long sequence starting with number one for the very first body buried in the cemetery in 1845. it took me a while to realize that this interment register was exactly like a museum accession list where the objects accessioned were people's bodies. ironically, no such accession lists exist for the valuable objects above the ground, the gravestones. they simply aren't documented. the bodies, by contrast, are documented to an extraordinary degree. the cemetery is very protective, for some understandable reasons, about the information in the
interment register so they did very kindly give me this little slice of one of the entries. actually the very first civil war soldier buried in the soldier lot, the original one that was up in the strangers' ground. the interment number given to each body was keyed to a whole series of metadata fields about the identity and history of the person, including, for example, place of birth, cause of death and beginning in the nineteen-tens, a field for the color. through these fields the outlines of a biography can begin to appear. it was this unique identifying number, the interment number, or in database lingo, the primary key, that was put on the original wooden headboards that first marked the graves in the soldier lot. when the headboards were
replaced years later by the headstones, the federal authorities put names on the stones, but also got rid of the cemetery's interment numbers and put their own numbers on the stones, thereby reinforcing the separate status of the lot within the larger cemetery. here again, the metadata we choose to display and the metadata we choose to conceal tell their own story. for the name to stay alive, the metadata is not enough. when the personal recollections of the people who knew that person are gone, the recorded metadata take the place of memory. in the g.a.r. lot, the individual names have died
because the organizational superstructure defining them has died. the names in the federal lot live not because we know anything about them but because they're attached to a huge, visually compelling structure of interpretation which has become in effect their new metadata. this superstructure, as i have been arguing, defines each of them as one of a national collective willing to fight and die in any war or cause the nation decides much the actual texture of their lives and deaths, motivations and hopes, has no place in this overarching structure of metadata. my talk has been about one response to the war's crisis and the campaign to attach names to bodies. i will conclude this evening by talking very briefly about the other side of the story, the deliberate detachment of names from bodies and their
reattachment to public memorials that became in effect monumental archives of names. this process worked to transform the confused mass of names referred to in the "new york times" originally seen by the public in wartime newspapers into well-ordered, elegant lists in bronze and stone on memorials in town greens, courthouse squares, and historic battlefields, while the bodies themselves were scattered and even lost. the names were concentrated in one place, one focal point for the community that recognized those names. initially those were local communities grieving over their sons, fathers, husbands, of lying in unmarked graves far from home. the monuments in the 1860's, 1870's and even into the 1880's, were often simply shafts and obelisks, a standardized form
just enough to collect the names and give them a civic presence. over time, as veterans' groups became more organized and powerful, they began to take over this project and expand and systematize it. veterans posts or their women's affiliates began to sponsor monuments and do the work of compiling and vetting the names. the lists swelled to include not only war dead but survivors as well, as the war generation veterans began to die off, this process became more urgent and ambitious, especially in my home state of pennsylvania where ever-larger groups of names drove ever-larger building projects. in the early 20th century, 20,000 names on a county monument in pittsburgh, just a few blocks from my office.
34,000 names on a state-level monument in gettysburg, the pennsylvania memorial. at the time these were the largest monumental lists of names anywhere in the world. they involved the conspicuous front end work of building and decorating the monument but equally important, the much more hidden back end work of compiling the right names, filtering out the deserters and dishonorably discharged, sorting those left into their regiments and alphabetized lists. it was painstaking work that the veterans either did themselves or were helped with because the record keeping were still decentralized. the names had once again been put back into place, not typically the place of burial or death or even residence in life. it was a civic place, as much
abstract as real, where the names settled into alphabetical order in their old military units which would now define the men for all time by the few weeks, months, or years they spent as soldiers. the vietnam veterans' memorial here in washington is the supreme example in the u.s. of a name-driven memorial where small bits of text on stone have acquired a near mystical presence that not even the soldiers' graves have. in many ways, mya lin's format for the metadata reversed that for the public memorial. unlike the raised letters on the marble tombstones in allegheny or bronze plaques in pennsylvania, these names are cut below the surface of the granite, inviting a qualitatively different sensory engagement. the panels are also sunk below
ground, as if guiding down into a metaphorical grave. the ordering is not by unit but on the date the person was wounded. where more than one fell on the same date, the names are alphabetized. thereby creating a history over time. the memorial endows it with a dual reality. they are immediate to us here and now but at the same time situated in a history of loss that unfolds day by day across the surface of the wall. recently i was struck anew by this strange temporality when i
came across a story of one particular photograph that appeared in my book, "monument wars." it caught the eye of one of the men in the picture when it was recently republished in a calendar. he wrote a letter saying he had taken a friend to see the wall and, as he put it, to visit a friend of the friend had been right next to him when he died on may 20, 1969, and had never gotten over what he call the unbearable weight of survivors' guilt. the photographer captures the precise moment of their encounter, the reunion. he couldn't speaker the all right recounts, he simply put his hand on jim's name engraved in the black granite and wept, and i put my hand over his to acknowledge that he was not alone in his grief.
in this simple, potent image of one hand over another over letters carved in stone, it becomes clear that the name ceases to be mere metadata and has transformed into something else, not the dead man himself or his ghost but what one writer called the technology of enchantment. the carved names read like text on top of the page but are literally dug beneath the surface. it is this oscillation back and forth between worlds that creates the wall's magic, the feeling of a presence summoned from the past and entangled with us in the present. the latest turn in memorial practice is to supplement the monument's list of names with a whole museum of objects and texts to personalize the game.
>> "washington journal" continues. oklahoma city has pioneered this approach and it's continued through the september 11 and schnecksville memorials and even reached the vietnam memorial with the plans to build a huge underground education center nearby. underlying all these projects is the fear that names alone will lose their potency, especially when the generation that knows them dies away. in the memorial museum paradigm, the names become metadata for virtual reliquaries of memorabilia. we have come a long way from the early days of the soldiers'
cemetery the in the immediate aftermath of the civil war there was a desperate need to anchor names to bodies, to hold metadata together just to secure the identity of the dead. but once accomplished and made visible, every grave, every name posed a question. was this one death worth the cause that demanded it? by a combination of necessity and design, regimes emerged to organize the bodies and their data and to give an answer to that question. even though the nation made enormous efforts to get each
body into an individual grave, the cemetery's artistic presence and creation effectively erased the individual. the many complex cause of their deaths merged into a single, all-important national cause. the new memorial museum complexes seem as first glance to offer ever-expanding fields of information about the dead, yet their own meta-narratives flatten the dead and their complex lives just as the soldier lot in allegheny flattened the ground on which the lot was built. in the end, they repeat the story of sacrifice and redemption, or as the vietnam veterans memorial fund explains on its web site, the timeless story of patriotism from bunker hill to baghdad. lin's wall does not attack this narrative, as her critics once claimed, but does in fact resist it. the genius of her design was to take mere metadata, the names of the dead, and use it to open up an enchanted space for reflection, however tenuous that is.
as her memorial acknowledges, we all have our own versions be patriotism. we hear them every day all around us. it is easy to impose them on the dead because they can't talk back. it is harder to open up the spaces of the dead to reckon honestly with their lives and aspirations. to honor the dead is to try to tell their story, not ours, as hard as that may be the at the deserve it. thanks. [applause] so i'm happy to take questions and i've been told to stay at the podium so my voice doesn't go in and out. i would love to walk around and
interact with you a bit more but i'm going to stay here and i'm happy to field questions. >> yes? i believe we have a microphone coming. >> thank you for your presentation. i was interested in another kind of image detached from a body or name in many cases, like the hundreds of tintypes that were made of soldiers prior to death and then circulated widely and sent. what would the role of something like that be in your system of metadata? >> well, that's a great question because of course this is a time period when those fairly inexpensive technologies of portraiture were first becoming really commercially viable so
that almost any soldier could get one, you know, who got his soldier pay. so we do in fact -- that's one reason i used the example of a photograph as an object, objects that often lose they are metadata and the people in the photograph become unknown. i had been thinking about that because you see so many. all you have to do is get on the library of congress web site and you will see hundreds of photographs go by and have no idea who these people are and so they are both stripped of their identities, but also typically buried away in archives. now we can see them, because of the internet, we can see -- we now have a visibility for them that we didn't have before and that we only had in places like soldier cemeteries where we had,
you know, highly visible, either unknown graves or known graves. so i think it's an important question and one which i should think about. you should think, i think about the circulation. partly it has to did with the circulation of the photographs in that particular time. we're dealing with a time when those freely circulate. i would be interested in being able to really learn more about the circulation of these images at the time that these cemeteries were being developed, the century, and what overlap, if any, there was between them. >> you discuss the value of remembering, and i'm struck by how much you want to recover and remember the lives of these soldiers. but what's the value, as
aristotle would say, of forgetting? what -- he said there was virtue in forgetting. >> right. and we all have to forget, right? i mean -- so take the example of kenneth copeland. this was a terrible thing that happened there. it's been largely forgotten. it's not -- it's not known to local people in pittsburgh, not taught. it's something that i knew nothing about and stumbled across and we could say, well, maybe it's better to just let that be and not remember it. but the problem with that as i see it is that there is no true forgetting because if we don't remember these individuals, then another kind of memory takes over for them.
and they become co-opted by collective memories that, as i say, kind of conscript them into a new narrative. so there's really -- really, the days of the kind of really abandonment of these is really before the civil war when these bodies were lost and buried by the side of the road somewhere and nobody found them and, you know, there we have a much -- really a much clearer case of oblivion happening. now, you talk to the family members and so on, i'm sure they were unhappy about that, or, you know, this happened, this was the case routinely for slaves and paupers and so on. and so now there is a huge effort to try to recover some trace of those populations that
never were remembered who who so dishonored that they were thought to be seen just outside the sphere of memory. so it's hard because i don't think we can really get away from it. in our personal lives there are always things we need to forget. i'm not sure the analogy extends to the nation. >> thank you for a really wonderful talk. and i guess my question is also somewhat about forgetting. i was curious about whether or not you came across examples or groups, organizations, trying to rethink the question of decay, both of institutional decay, the fact that institutions disappear but also the fact that materials also as well decay.
so if they were thinking about technologies of mass production of headstones, were they thinking about materials besides stone that wouldn't decay as well? >> yeah, that's a great question. so it's interesting that they worked initially with marble. let's just take the example of the material first and then we'll go to the institutional decay as well because both of these were issues that people certainly were aware of and saw coming. so with materials, you know, gravestones were carved on marble because the tools that were available for them, they -- for granite, they really didn't exist at that point, the pneumatic type tools that would become available later in the 19th century. you had an inherently very fragile medium and they were very much aware of that and were concerned about the sandblasting
process, and for good reason because the names did actually erode away. they didn't last that long. so the federal government has the resources, i mean they were aware of this problem early on and have adjusted by, you know, allowing for these, enabling replacement of these stones so that they are kept in some kind of sort of new condition all the time. and whereas what's so interesting is that the other organizations like, you know, the grand army of the republic or even the counties at the level of the local governments, which sometimes supplied gravestones for soldiers, this happened a lot, grand army of the republic actually went on this major campaign in the late 19th century to get local governments to pay for gravestones for its veterans.
so that was great. but the problem was that local government is never going to replace the gravestone. and you see what happened in the lot. they're just pushed down into the ground because this requires, the maintenance of memory shall it's a real maintenance, physical, logistical, financial process, economic process. so the g.a.r., you know, i'm not a specialist in the history of the g.a.r. but i can tell you that as the posts began to age, some of them began to think about ways to make their memories permanent in some way. we have an example of that. the grand army of the republic posts were actually designed to outlive members of the posts.
i hate to harp on pittsburg all the time, but pittsburgh is an incredible place for stuff like this. there is an intact grand army of the republic post in pittsburgh with relics in it. it's unbelievable. any of you who go to pittsburgh, you've got to go to this place. but that's the exception. it's the same issue you face if you are getting old and thinking about dying. what are you going to leave your children? are you going to write your memories down? these are the kinds of issues, and most people just didn't get around to it and the stuff disappeared. >> maybe one more? mary? >> could there have been a considerable difference between what happened with the -- well, the situation of the g.a.r. and the confederacy and how they were buried? what's the responsibility, if any, that even the state governments or the federal governments take with them? >> there was a massive campaign on the confederate side.
i didn't talk good as much because i'm really focused on the national, federal system, but the case of thomas sligh is the tip of the iceberg here. there were massive repatriations going on. charleston, the cemetery and in richmond the and other places where the bodies were collected. this was an effort that was done largely outside of the state structures, you know, largely done by these associations and largely by the ladies' memorial associations, but they were actively in the field trying to do a good job of it. then as the lost cause became more and more powerful and as the reconstruction governments
in the south were overturned and white supremacy re-established itself, then they had a platform from which to actually -- they had a platform from which to actually lobby the federal government. and toward the end of the 19th century, right around the turn of the century, it was decided that confederate soldiers could get federal headstones as well. i think it was 1906 when that legislation was passed and 1907 is when we see those c.s.a. gravestones appearing in the union lot for that reason. and that was of course very, very controversial, especially among the g.a.r. the g.a.r. hated this idea. >> i feel we would keep you here for a very long time. we should perhaps allow the
questions to continue outside the lecture hall, but thank you so much. [applause] >> and i want to remind up all that you are very welcome to join us for a reception in the garden court just to the right. people will show you the way if you don't know it. on holidaygress recess, the c-span network features a whole lineup of primetime programming. 9:00 eastern on c-span, our new landmark case of," this week, it is the case of roe versus wade. tuesday, cultural divide in america. the site of the mass shooting this past