Texas

By Alexander Dau ’22

Historical Context

Map courtesy of the Texas Historical Commission

The state of Texas had a long history of civil strife even before the secession crisis of the 1860s. In 1836, Texas won its independence from Mexico in an iconic revolution that has since achieved near-mythical status in the state. The issue of slavery and its future was one of the primary motivations behind the Texas Revolution, as Mexico had abolished slavery and the Texans did not want to free theirs, thus kindling the flames of support for a move towards Texan independence (Calvert et al. 2014, 75-76). Texas was admitted as the twenty-eighth U.S. state in 1845.

In 1860, the election of Abraham Lincoln sparked the state’s secession movement. Texas was divided, geographically, over the issue of secession. East Texas, where the largest slave-worked plantations were located, was strongly in favor of secession. But in North and Central Texas, there was less enthusiasm. (West Texas, which was largely considered the frontier, was sparsely settled at the time). Free-holding Texans living in the north-central region were not eager to assist the plantation owners with whom they competed, socially and economically, and believed that it would be better not only for business, but also for the state’s political future, to remain in the Union. They viewed the future of their state’s still unsettled western lands as a microcosm of the future of their country, with a slaveholding political economy directly pitted against the dreams of freeholders. The north-central regions were also home to German immigrants who had come to America to flee the overreach of European oligarchs. To these immigrants, the aristocratic slaveholders who dominated the socio-political scene in Texas resembled entirely too much those European oligarchs who had attempted to squash democracy abroad. Furthermore, the Germans feared the social anarchy that might occur should secession be allowed to take place (Buenger 1984, 131-137).

In January, 1861 the Texas Secession Convention met in Austin, where its delegates drafted the “Declaration of Causes which Impel the State of Texas to Secede from the Federal Union.” Therein, they stated that, in no uncertain terms, the Texans’ primary reason for supporting secession was because the federal government, “demand[s] the abolition of negro slavery” and “the recognition of political equality between the white and negro races.” The commissioners made frequent distinctions between the “slave holding and non-slave-holding states,” mentioning several times that the non-slaveholding states were constantly attacking the economic and property rights of the slaveholding states (Buenger 1984, 150-151). This ordinance clarified to the world that the state of Texas was seceding predominantly to protect the institution of slavery.

On February 23, Texas held its state-wide referendum to secede. The motion passed with seventy-five percent of the votes in favor. The counties that opposed secession were clustered in North and Central Texas (Buenger 1984, 174). Several days later, the Secession Convention declared that Texas was no longer part of the United States and would join the new Confederate States of America. The governor of Texas, Sam Houston, saw such actions as illegal and refused to take an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy. Because of his refusal, Houston, who had once been regarded as one of the great heroes of the Texas Revolution, was removed from office (Buenger 1984, 176).

During the Civil War, Texans enlisted in droves to fight for the Confederacy. They saw in their fellow southerners’ rebellion a mirror of their own revolution against Mexico, with calls for liberty and independence echoing throughout the 1830’s. Texas mainly served as a launching point for several Confederate attacks, including the 1862 New Mexico Campaign. Texan coastal cities were frequently attacked by the Union navy, with cities such as Galveston and Brownsville changing hands several times. Texas provided much of the food for the Confederacy and its coastline was rampant with blockade runners, making these port cities tempting targets for the Union. Few land battles took place in Texas, but among those that did was the Battle of Palmito Ranch on May 12-13, 1865, which was the last land battle of the entire war (Calvert et al. 2014, 133-135).

 During Reconstruction, Texas was occupied by the U.S. military between 1865 and 1870. The army was able to implement the Reconstruction Amendments that gave formerly enslaved people various freedoms, including the right to vote. During this period, several African Americans were elected to both state and national political positions (Richter 1987, 188-190). However, after the army left in 1870 when Texas was readmitted to the Union, African Americans were often subject to attacks by disgruntled members of Texas’s white population, including many former Confederate soldiers. Many of these attacks were committed by the Ku Klux Klan, which embarked on a campaign of terror in order to harm and intimidate African Americans from pursuing certain civil rights, such as the ability to vote. When these intimidation tactics failed to work, the Klan resorted to murder and other atrocities (Richter 1987, 143-145). Even after the Klan had been stamped out in the late 1870’s, racial violence was still rampant.

In the decades after the Civil War, the population of Texas increased dramatically, from 600,000 in 1860 to over two million in 1890. Many of these new arrivals were white Southerners who had been devastated by the war and saw in the Texas frontier an opportunity to rebuild their fortunes. In order to better expand westward, the state constructed hundreds of miles of new railroads. With these migrations came new forms of racial violence. Lynchings and threats against African Americans who dared to attempt to exercise their voting rights continued in the east, while in the southern and western portions of the state, the white migrants attacked local Mexican populations (Calvert et al. 2014, 181-185). In the era after Reconstruction, conservative Democrats retook control of the Texas government, and fraternal organizations rooted in the preservation and promotion of Confederate memory, such as the United Confederate Veterans, emerged. Despite attacks from the Klan and other groups, African Americans maintained their right to vote and made up the majority of Republicans in the state (Calvert et al. 2014, 205-207). However, they were not powerful enough to overcome the election of Democratic officials, many of whom were former Confederates who oversaw the beginning of Confederate memorialization.  

Overview of Results

Of the eighty-one Confederate monuments in Texas, twenty-two of them (twenty-seven percent) were dedicated to a specific individual. Compared to other former Confederate states, this percentage of individual monuments comprises a relatively large proportion of the state’s collective monuments. Even more interesting is the geographic distribution of the monuments, with a clear concentration of monuments in the eastern parts of the state. This may in part be due to the fact that most of the state’s major cities are located in the eastern region. However, it is likely that the high concentration of monuments in the east is due to that region’s former slaveholding ties and strong support of secession, as opposed to Central and North Texas’s history as anti-secession hotbeds and West Texas’s status as a largely unsettled frontier during the Civil War. Almost all of the monuments dedicated to specific individuals are located in either major cities or county seats, while the non-specific monuments are located in cities and towns of varying populations. 

The first Confederate monument in Texas was erected in 1893 in a cemetery in Waco by Confederate veterans. The beginning of Confederate memorialization in Texas was relatively late compared to other South states, whose memorialization movements began in the 1870’s. This may have been due to the fact that in the decades immediately following the Civil War, Texans mainly focused on expanding to the western frontiers. It was not until they had steadily begun settling the lucrative, post-war frontier that they began to truly focus on Confederate memorialization. In the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth century, a total of sixteen Confederate monuments were erected, all in the eastern half of the state. All these monuments were erected by either veteran groups or the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The only one of these monuments dedicated to a specific individual was one to Richard Dowling, erected in Houston in 1905.

The peak of Confederate memorialization arose in the 1910’s. In this one decade alone, twenty-eight monuments were put up, which comprises thirty-five percent of all Texas monuments. Only four of these monuments were dedicated to specific individuals. Twenty monuments in the 1910’s were erected solely by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Once again, all of these monuments were located in the east.

Confederate memorialization continued steadily in the 1920’s and 1930’s, although not to the extent of the 1910’s. Eighteen monuments were erected within this twenty-year time frame, eight specific and ten non-specific. The UDC erected seven of these monuments with the rest being done by other organizations such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans. This period also saw the first monuments put up in the Texas Panhandle, as well as one at the southern tip of the state, in Brownsville, which was dedicated to Confederate president Jefferson Davis.

No new monuments were erected in the 1940’s, but memorialization picked up again in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Eleven monuments were erected in this period, five of which were put up in 1963, during the peak of the Civil War Centennial. The UDC only erected two of these monuments, both of which were installed in the 1950’s — the UDC’s last monuments in the state. The rest were erected by smaller, local organizations. Four of these monuments were dedicated to specific individuals, with the other seven being non-specific dedications. During this time, three Confederate monuments were also put up for the first time in western Texas, in El Paso and Alpine. All three of these monuments were dedicated to specific individuals.

Following the flurry of the 1950’s and 1960’s, it would be over thirty years before another Confederate monument was erected, in 1999, which was dedicated to “Stonewall” Jackson, in Holliday. Since then, four additional monuments have gone up, the two most recent of which were erected in 2015. Two of these monuments were specific and the other two were non-specific.

Analysis of Results

Although there are many controversies surrounding all Confederate monuments, some of the most heated debates tend to revolve around monuments dedicated to a specific individual. As Texas has a high proportion of these monuments, it is important to look at them in detail. One of the most controversial of these figures is Robert E. Lee. Texas has two monuments dedicated to the Confederate general, one in Austin and the other in Dallas. George Littlefield, a former Confederate soldier, funded four monuments for the University of Texas at Austin’s campus, including one of Lee, erected in 1932. The Southern Women’s Memorial Association put up the Lee monument in Dallas in 1936. Unlike many other Southern states, Lee had a strong connection to Texas prior to the Civil War. He served as a colonel in the Second U.S. Cavalry, which, in the years immediately before the Civil War, was tasked with defending the Texas frontier (Rister 1952). However, it is clear that the state’s monuments to Lee have nothing to do with his pre-war service, as they both refer to him as General Lee and depict him with a beard, which he did not grow until joining the Confederate army. Even though he did not serve in Texas during the Civil War, Lee became an almost mythical symbol of the entire Confederate army and the model of an exemplary soldier and Christian “warrior” to whom Texans wished to link their own military lineage, even decades after the conflict ended. Additionally, John Bell Hood’s famed Texas Brigade fought proudly—and died in droves—under Lee’s command in the Eastern Theater, thus permanently granting them a place within Lee’s far-reaching spotlight.

The Texans’ emulation of and identification with Lee can be seen in the monument to Lee in Dallas, which includes two equestrian statues of Lee and a young soldier. The iconography was meant to illustrate both how Lee served as an inspiration to the young men of the South and how, despite their geographical separation, Texans fought nobly and bravely under the heroic Lee, thus entitling them to share in the glory of his memory.

“General Robert E. Lee and Confederate Soldier” monument in Dallas, Texas (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Texas also has two monuments dedicated solely to Jefferson Davis, both of which were erected in 1926. The Davis monument in Austin was another one funded by Littlefield at University of Texas – Austin, while the United Daughters of the Confederacy erected the second one in Brownsville. Unlike Lee, Davis had no connection to Texas, except through his service as the Confederate president. However, he did become a symbol of the Confederacy writ large, and in a similar manner to Lee, Texans from an often overlooked theater of the war wished to associate their war service with such an important figure. In addition to the two Davis monuments, there is also a statue of the Confederate president on the Austin Confederate Soldiers Monument. Not included in the maps above are several markers along the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway that were erected by the UDC.

With the exception of two others, the state’s remaining Confederate monuments were dedicated either to men who hailed from the state, or men who played a significant role in Texas’s state and Confederate history. These monuments include one to John Bell Hood, commander of the famed Texas Brigade, which was erected in Austin in 1910 by soldiers who had fought under him. Before the war, Hood had served under Lee in the Second U.S. Cavalry and when his native Kentucky announced its neutrality at the beginning of the Civil War, Hood declared himself a Texan (Cutrer 1976). As the most prominent Texas commander in the Eastern Theater of the war, Hood and his brigade provided a necessary and proud link between the state and Robert E. Lee’s celebrated army.

Albert Sidney Johnston also has two monuments in Texas, including another one of Littlefield’s University of Texas – Austin monuments and one erected by the UDC near his Texas home in China Grove. Although not a native Texan, Johnston served during the Texas Revolution and as Secretary of War during Texas’s brief stint as an independent republic, thus raising his profile within the future state. Johnston later enlisted in the Confederate army, where he was promoted to general before being killed at the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862 (Flachmeier 1976). Despite his short tenure in Confederate service, many Texans still chose to remember him, both for his service prior to the war, and for his heroic death in battle, which made him one of the Confederacy’s first martyrs.

There are also two monuments dedicated to Lawrence “Sul” Ross, who served in the Texas Rangers before becoming a Confederate general and later governor of Texas after the Civil War. Following his tenure as governor, Ross served as president of Texas A&M University, where the UDC erected one of his monuments in 1918. After his death, the state of Texas created Sul Ross University, which is the site of his second monument, erected in 1963 (Benner 1976). Interestingly, while the A&M monument mentioned that Ross served as a Confederate general, the Sul Ross University statue merely states that Ross fought during the Civil War, without explicitly mentioning which side. This imprecision may have been an attempt by the university to distance their namesake from the Confederacy during the controversies of the Civil Rights era in which it was erected, or (alternately) they may have simply felt that Ross’s service to the Confederacy was implied by stating that he fought during the Civil War.

 John Henninger Reagan, a leader of the Texas secession movement who later served as the Postmaster General of the Confederacy and, ultimately, as a U.S. Senator for Texas after the war, also had two statues erected in his memory. One was the fourth Littlefield/University of Texas – Austin monument, while the UDC put up the other in Reagan’s hometown of Palestine in 1911 (Procter 1952). The latter monument is undoubtedly meant to specifically evoke Reagan’s service to the Confederacy, as it includes a statue of a soldier with a Roman helmet, sitting and holding a Confederate flag.    

 “John H. Reagan Memorial” in Palestine (photo courtesy of Gerald Massey)

Two other monuments were dedicated to Richard “Dick” Dowling. An Irishman by birth, Dowling emigrated to America in 1838 and made his way to Texas. At the beginning of the Civil War, Dowling enlisted in the Confederate army and gained fame for his command of Fort Griffin during the Second Battle of Sabine Pass in 1863. In this battle, which took place on the Texas coast near the Texas-Louisiana border, Dowling defended the entrance of the Sabine River from a flotilla of twenty-two Union gunships with only forty-seven men under his command, without taking any casualties. This battle was key in preventing a Union invasion of Texas (Ward 1952). The United Confederate Veterans erected one of Dowling’s monuments in 1905 in Houston, where he lived, while the UDC erected the other on the Sabine Pass Battlefield State Historic Site in 1937. This latter monument features some notable iconography (reinforced by reverent text), with a statue of a bare-chested Dowling holding a torch, as if preparing to light a cannon fuse to begin a battle—a celebratory statement about both Dowling’s masculine strength and prowess, and the “heroic example” of martial valor which he—and the men who fought under him–will forever embody for all Texans.

“Richard Dowling Memorial” at Sabine Pass, near Houston, Texas (photo courtesy of Texas State Historical Association)

The two monuments to individuals who did not hail from the state and/or did not play a significant role in Texas’s state and Confederate history are those dedicated to “Stonewall” Jackson and Patrick Cleburne. These are also some of the more recent Texas Confederate monuments. The Jackson monument was erected by the Sons of Confederate Veterans in 1999, at the site of a United Confederate Veterans camp named for the general in Holliday, Texas. The camp, which served as a site for reunions, may have been named for Jackson in an attempt to connect Texas with the more famous Eastern Theater of the war. The Cleburne monument is located in a town named for Confederate General Patrick Cleburne. It was erected in 2015 by a local organization called the Buffalo Creek Association. However, as a native of Ireland, Cleburne had no apparent connection to the state of Texas itself. During the Civil War, the future site of Cleburne served as a layover location for Texas soldiers marching off to war. After the war, the site became permanently settled by former Confederate soldiers, many of whom had served under Cleburne, and thus named the town for him (Elam and Padon, 1952).

The remaining honoree-specific monuments were dedicated to soldiers who, while they may not have been known nationally, hold important positions in the local histories of towns and counties. These monuments to local heroes are some of the most recent ones, with their installations beginning in 1963 during the Civil War Centennial. They also tend to be less elaborate than those dedicated to more famous figures, partially due to the fact that they were paid for by the counties and other local groups. One example of this type of monument is the Colonel Henry P. Brewster Monument in Alpine. Brewster had served with Sam Houston during the Texas Revolution and was on the staff of fellow Texas Confederate generals, Johnston and Hood during the Civil War. His monument was one of the first erected in West Texas, in 1963. Brewster had no personal connection to the area when he was alive, but the monument’s location is due to the fact that Alpine is the seat of Brewster County, named for the Confederate colonel after his death (Cutrer 1976). (In addition to monuments, Texas also boasts twenty-six counties and many towns, roads, schools, etc. named for Confederate soldiers and politicians (Blanchard 2017)).

“Colonel Henry P. Brewster Monument” in Alpine, Texas (Photo courtesy of Texas State Historical Association)

One possible explanation as to why so many of Texas’s Confederate monuments are dedicated to specific individuals is the state’s unique cultural conception of Texas war heroes. During the Texas Revolution, battles such as the Alamo led to a passionate admiration of a uniquely western brand of martial masculinity and sacrifice on behalf of the state’s independence among Texans. It created a long-enduring mindset in which any Texas men who took up arms in defense of their state’s prized (and already heavily fought for) liberty and honor were viewed as some of the most heroic and honorable individuals in history, whose rugged, martial valor and moral character necessitated eternal memorialization in stone. This distinct cultural mindset is showcased in Texas’s Confederate Heroes Day, which is a public holiday celebrated on Robert E. Lee’s birthday. Created in 1973, when previous holidays celebrating both Lee’s and Jefferson Davis’s birthdays were combined into one, Confederate Heroes Day was meant to commemorate the sacrifices and bravery of all Confederate soldiers, whom Texans had come to embrace as extensions of their own state heroes with whom they had fought collectively for the prized ideals of independence and state honor (McCullar 2020). Texas is not unique in boasting a holiday that celebrates the Confederacy, as every former Confederate state (except Arkansas) has or used to have a similar holiday. But in most of these other states, the holiday is called Confederate Memorial Day. Only Texas and Florida call theirs Confederate Heroes Day. This distinction in terminology highlights Texas’s preference for emphasizing the celebration of rugged martial valor over merely mourning or remembering the loss and sacrifice of Texans who either gave their lives or dedicated their careers to the lifeblood of the Lone Star State.

Those opposed to Confederate memorialization have argued that these monuments were erected predominantly, if not solely, to push a racist agenda. They point to the fact that many monuments were erected just before and into the first three decades of the twentieth century, which saw the peak of Jim Crow laws in the South. Texas was no exception. For example, in 1924 the state legislature redefined political parties as “private organizations,” a change which made them exempt from federal voting laws, thus allowing the state to ban African Americans from voting in primaries. Segregation laws dictated almost every aspect of the interactions between whites and blacks, the latter of which always received the brunt of it. Racial violence was also frequent. Between 1880 and 1930, three hundred African Americans were lynched in Texas. One of the most barbaric lynchings occurred in 1916, in Waco, when a crowd of nearly 10,000 gathered to watch the lynching, mutilation, and burning of 17-year old Jesse Washington, who had been accused of raping and murdering a white woman. Race riots were also common and routinely targeted African American men, women, and children. Even black U.S soldiers were not spared from this racial hatred and were frequent victims of attacks. The most destructive of these occurred in 1917 when black soldiers of the 24th U.S. Infantry regiment, stationed in Houston, clashed with the local white population. During the riot, five black soldiers, eleven white civilians, and five white policemen were killed, with thirteen soldiers executed afterwards following a court-martial (Calvert et al. 2014, 249-250). It was in this era of racial divisiveness and violence that the peak of Confederate memorialization occurred, thus leading to the belief that the former influenced the latter. The most influential group in early Confederate memorialization throughout the South was the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Forty-one of Texas’s Confederate monuments, half of the state’s total, were erected by the UDC. The UDC was formed in 1894 and their initial mission was to assist widows and orphans of Confederate soldiers. But they very quickly took on a new mission by rolling out prescriptive educational literature for school children about the righteousness of the Confederate cause, campaigning for Confederate memorialization, and raising money for monuments across the South. They assisted in the erection of many of the non-specific monuments located in small towns dedicated to soldiers from the area. The UDC are known as some of the fiercest supporters of the myth of the Lost Cause. The essence of the Lost Cause insists that the Confederacy did not fight for slavery, but instead they fought honorably to secure states’ rights. The Lost Cause depicts the Federal government as a tyrannical aggressor, which sought to unleash racial chaos in the South by the empowerment of the black population. It was only through their superior manpower and resources that the North won the war (Breed 2018). Such claims about the cause of the war are directly contrary to the clear statements of southern secession ordinances such as that earlier referenced by Texas. However, despite their ahistorical messaging, the romantic allure of the Lost Cause, combined with national calls for reconciliation, caused the narrative to spread throughout the South (and even some parts of the North), and it became a kind of rallying cry for promoting the sacredness of Confederate memory.  

“Hunt County Confederate Memorial” in Greenville, erected by the UDC in 1926 (Photo courtesy of Tim Lacy)
“Confederate Soldier Monument” in Austin, Texas (photo courtesy of Kelsey Jukam)

The influence of the Lost Cause in Confederate memorialization is clearly evident in Austin’s “Confederate Soldier Monument,” located on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol, which was erected in 1903 by the UDC (Jukam et al. 2015).  The plaque on the front of the monument states:

          CONFEDERATE DEAD

DIED

FOR STATES RIGHTS

GUARANTEED UNDER THE CONSTITUTION

THE PEOPLE OF THE SOUTH, ANIMATED BY THE SPIRIT OF 1776, TO PRESERVE THEIR RIGHTS,

WITHDREW FROM THE FEDERAL COMPACT IN 1861. THE NORTH RESORTED TO COERCION.

THE SOUTH, AGAINST OVERWHELMING NUMBERS AND RESOURCES,

FOUGHT UNTIL EXHAUSTED,

DURING THE WAR THERE WERE TWENTY TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY SEVEN ENGAGEMENTS;

IN EIGHTEEN HUNDRED AND EIGHTY TWO OF THESE, AT LEAST ONE REGIMENT TOOK PART.

NUMBER OF MEN ENLISTED:

CONFEDERATE ARMIES 600,000; FEDERAL ARMIES 2,859,132

LOSSES FROM ALL CAUSES

CONFEDERATE, 437,000; FEDERAL, 485,216

This entire plaque is textbook Lost Cause rhetoric. Not explicitly stated is the belief that Confederate soldiers were both morally and martially superior to Northern soldiers. This belief is subtly referred to at the bottom of the plaque where it notes that, despite having over four times the number of soldiers, the North suffered nearly fifty thousand more casualties than the South did. It is also important to note that this monument was dedicated to all Confederate soldiers, not just those from Texas. This fact, in addition to the monument’s inclusion of a statue of Jefferson Davis, again demonstrates how Texas seeks to connect its soldiers’ service during the Civil War to the entire Confederacy as a whole, from its army to its politics to its ideology.

            However, other factors did play a role in the popularity of Confederate memorialization from the 1890’s through the 1910’s and 1920’s. By the 1890s, the state had become significantly more populated, with the more heavily settled frontier and intricate railways producing a much more lucrative state economy in which overdue mourning and memorialization of the state’s Confederate soldiers was now financially possible. Additionally, much of that original wartime generation of soldiers was now aging, creating anxieties about how best to ensure that their wartime heroism and sacrifices would not be lost to time as the veterans eventually died off.

The 1910’s also saw the fiftieth anniversary of the war, and the fact that there were still Confederate veterans alive meant that many felt nostalgia for the Confederacy, or at least the memory of it. As these veterans continued to die off at increased rates, organizations such as the UDC pushed to create monuments that would preserve their legacy. The First World War also influenced Confederate memorialization. The sights of young Texas men marching off to war evoked ideas of the same rugged, martial manhood and patriotism that Confederate soldiers represented, and many Texans linked the two wars together. This linkage is clearly evident in the “World War I and Confederate Soldier Monument” in Memphis, Texas, erected by the UDC in 1924.

“World War I and Confederate Soldier Monument” in Memphis (photo courtesy of Hall County)

The monument depicts two statues: One is of a Confederate soldier and the other, a WWI soldier. Underneath each statue are the names of the soldiers from Memphis who served in their respective wars. This monument demonstrates how Texans connected the heroics of WWI back to their Confederate ancestors. This ideology persisted throughout the 1930’s and monuments continued to be put up even during the Great Depression. However, the 1940’s saw a sudden pause in monumentation within the state. It is likely that at the beginning of decade, Texans, along with the rest of the nation, were too busy dealing with the manpower, financial, and material needs of World War II to erect monuments. However, quite surprisingly, after WWII, there was no linkage between the martial spirit of the recent war and the Confederacy. This was likely due, in part, to the fact that unlike WWI, there was almost no one still alive in the 1940’s who had witnessed the war first-hand, thus further distancing the state’s Confederate past from its present and future. Additionally, the economic fallout from the 1930’s Dust Bowl may also have stalled further monumentation efforts during this time as Texans sought, first and foremost, to rebuild their once lucrative agricultural economy and look more toward the material cultivation of the state’s future rather than the reverent celebration of its Confederate past.

As the state moved into the more financially stable 1950’s, it saw a resurgence in the Lost Cause rhetoric and monumentation that characterized much of its early twentieth-century efforts. In 1959, on the eve of the Civil Rights movement, the Texas Division of the Children of the Confederacy erected a plaque inside the Texas Capitol building which stated the group’s creed. This creed included the language that one of their missions is to, “STUDY AND TEACH THE TRUTH OF HISTORY (ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT OF WHICH IS THAT THE WAR BETWEEN THE STATES WAS NOT A REBELLION NOR WAS ITS UNDERLYING CAUSE TO SUSTAIN SLAVERY)” (Jukam et al. 2015). This continued emphasis on states’ rights reflected the political atmosphere of the time: In response to the Federal government beginning to pass and propose civil rights bills after World War II, Texas governor Beauford Jester accused the federal government of violating states’ rights—an accusation that immediately drew parallels between pre-secession Texas and the present, and fostered alarm amongst many Texans (Calvert et al. 2014, 337). Such Lost Cause rhetoric was also heavily deployed throughout this general time period to help instill deep feelings of American patriotism and foster a nation-wide commitment to the stalwart defense of American principles of democratic government, self-rule, and freedom (which, according to Lost Cause proponents, Confederate soldiers most championed and died to protect) in the face of the growing threat of communism’s spread during the Cold War era. Southerners routinely pointed to their own Confederate war heritage as an exemplary and inspirational model for modern-day Americans to look to in the face of such political crises, thus attempting, yet again, both to justify the Confederacy’s legitimacy and to connect the Confederacy to the great principles of modern American government.

It is clear that the staying power of the Lost Cause was still strong during the late 1950’s and 1960’s, which saw a slight uptick in Confederate memorialization. But while Lost Cause rhetoric about the importance of states’ rights was still being used to oppose the unfolding Civil Rights movement, it is important to remember that the 1960’s also coincided with the centennial of the Civil War. Of the eight monuments erected during the 60’s, six of them were dedicated to individuals. Five of these six were dedicated to local heroes, with the one exception being one to Sul Ross. This trend may be explained by the fervor-filled commemorations of the war during this time, which re-stoked southerners’ pride in their Confederate “patriotism,” especially with regards to the celebration and honoring of their heroes who had fought and died in the conflict. This increased appreciation of Confederate heroes had to have been especially powerful, as it was during this period that the only three Confederate monuments in West Texas were erected.

Although this pocket of Texas had been settled in large part by Confederate-sympathizing southerners who had relocated after the war to various parts of the state—and many, to West Texas specifically—to try to recoup some of the losses they had suffered elsewhere in the South during the war, the migrants who settled in West Texas appear to have been more focused on the future development of their personal fortunes rather than on preserving a nostalgia for their Confederate past (the latter of which was evident in other parts of Texas which also received ex-Confederate migrants but were more heavily settled during the war and contributed more actively to the Confederate war effort).

All three of the new monuments in West Texas were erected to specific individuals. Two of these individuals were local heroes of Alpine and El Paso, while the third was Sul Ross at his namesake university. This sudden flurry of brand new monuments in a previously untouched region of Texas illustrates how the fervor that surrounded the Civil War centennial was able to infiltrate parts of Texas that had previously had no interest in Confederate memorialization (and were sparsely populated during the war itself). Suddenly, the proud Confederate heritage of eastern and southern Texas had become much more of a state-wide identity. That being said, it is likely that a blend of motivations were at play during this period of memorialization, which close unpacking of individual monuments’ sponsors, dedication speeches, and dedication attendees would lend further insight into.

The notion that this and successive periods of Confederate memorialization were a direct backlash to the advancements of the Civil Rights era gains some support in the instance of the establishment of the aforementioned Confederate Heroes Day. As stated earlier, the holiday was established in 1974 by combining previous holidays commemorating the birthdays of Lee and Davis. Admittedly, this consolidation was done in order to save money by having fewer paid days off for state employees. But at the same time that the bill creating this holiday was making its way through the Texas legislature, a similar bill was also doing so that would make Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday an honorary state holiday. As soon as this latter bill appeared on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives, it was attacked. Opponents of the bill said that such a holiday would be “divisive” and that it would be an inappropriate holiday as King was not a Texan, conveniently ignoring the previous holidays commemorating non-Texans, Lee and Davis. The bill creating Confederate Heroes Day faced no such opposition and easily passed while the MLK Day bill failed to even get a vote in the Texas Senate (McCullar 2020). It is clear that, in the still unsettled aftermath of the core Civil Rights movement, Confederate memorialization was welcomed (and even encouraged) with open arms, while Civil Rights commemoration was not.

As the period of the Civil Rights movement and the Civil War centennial ended, Confederate memorialization also came to a halt. There were no new Confederate memorials erected in Texas during the 1970’s, 1980’s, and most of the 1990’s. The “Stonewall” Jackson monument erected in 1999 ended this drought. Since then, four additional monuments have been put up. The first was erected in 2001, in Stephenville, by the Sons and Daughters of the Confederate veterans and was dedicated to Major George B. Erath. The next three were put up during the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Like the 50th and 100th anniversaries, the 150th created another push for new Confederate memorialization, although to a much lesser extent. These monuments include one small non-specific monument erected in 2010 in Bellmead, the aforementioned Cleburne monument in Cleburne, and the “Confederate Memorial of the Wind” in Orange, erected in 2015. This latter monument has, by far, been the most controversial. Sponsored by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the monument features thirty-two flags of various types that represent the Civil War regiments from Texas, and thirteen columns arranged in a circle to represent the eleven Confederate states, plus the border states of Kentucky and Missouri. This monument is located on private land bought by the SCV. From the monument’s inception, many Texans have voiced their opposition to the memorial, calling the entire project racist and an attempt at memorializing a false history. It certainly did not help matters that the monument is located on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, which the SCV claimed was only due to the cheapness of the land. The leader of the Texas SCV defended the monument by restating stereotypical Lost Cause arguments such as state’s rights (Lomax 2015). In response to the memorial, a Black Lives Matter billboard was put up nearby by a group known as Repurpose Memorial, which was created for this specific purpose (Bianchi 2020). The controversy over the “Confederate Memorial of the Wind” demonstrates how the Lost Cause narrative still influences key aspects of Confederate memorialization in Texas today.

“Confederate Memorial of the Wind” in Orange, Texas with Black Lives Matter billboard in background (photo courtesy of Do Bianchi)

Following the 2015 Charleston church shooting, calls rang out across the South for the removal of Confederate monuments, which only increased in the aftermath of the 2017 Charlottesville riot and the murder of George Floyd in 2020. Since 2015, fifteen Confederate monuments have been removed in Texas, which were still included in the maps above. Most of these removals have occurred in large cities such as Houston and San Antonio, which tend to have a more diverse and liberal population. One of the most contentious of these removals occurred at the University of Texas at Austin campus. Between 2016 and 2017, four monuments that memorialized Lee, Davis, Albert Sidney Johnston, and John H. Reagan were removed by the college. These monuments had been sponsored by George Littlefield, a former Confederate soldier and regent of the college, although they would not be erected until nearly a decade after his death (McCann 2015). The monument to Davis was removed in 2016, while the other three were taken down on the night of August 20, 2017 by the college without prior announcement. The statues were then placed in storage. The removal was met by backlash from supporters of Confederate memorialization. The Sons of Confederate Veterans filed a lawsuit against the college, claiming the removal of the statues was a violation of the First Amendment by restricting political speech. In 2020 a Federal Appeals Court dismissed the lawsuit, citing the fact that the SCV failed to provide sufficient evidence to prove that the First Amendment had been violated by the college (Lindell 2020). Similar lawsuits have also proved fruitless, as Confederate monuments continue to be removed in Texas and across the country.

Removal of the University of Texas at Austin’s Robert E. Lee statue in 2017 (photo courtesy of Stephen Spillman)

Conclusions

The Texans’ approach to Confederate memorialization involved many of the same techniques as in other states, such as their stalwart promotion of the Lost Cause, particularly in monumentation erected by southern heritage groups; their concentration of monuments specifically within areas containing formerly strong secessionists and pro-slavery sentiments; and fairly common trends in their timeline of the flurries and pauses in monumentation. However, the Texans also had their own unique motivations. These motivations included their strong desire to connect themselves and their state’s service in the war with the famous Eastern Theater, with monuments to individuals such as Lee, Davis, and Jackson who had very little direct tie to the state of Texas itself, but under whom thousands of Texans served and died during the Civil War. Texans also have tended to emphasize individual heroes, many with somewhat more unique service backgrounds and more local renowned than seen in other southern states, in their monuments, as they saw the Civil War as one of liberation that followed in the same vein as their own state’s revolution of the 1830s that inspired and heralded notions of a uniquely western, rugged, martial manhood. The state is also somewhat unique in that, due to its location on the western frontier, the more arid conditions in central and western Texas, and the delayed settlement some its western tier (mostly by less-vocal former Confederates and other southerners), monumentation was even more strictly curbed to only the eastern third of the state until the 1950s and 1960s, without exception, than was evident in any other southern state. Additionally, the eventual arrival of monuments in West Texas over the 1950s and 1960s showcases a rather unique geographical and temporal trend in Texas in which the popularity and staying power of the Civil War Centennial, combined with likely backlash to the Civil Rights movement, fueled the expansion of Confederate monumentation into completely untouched regions of Texans.  Finally, Texas is also relatively unique in the size of its more contemporary surges in monumentation from 1999 to the present.

This is by no means a complete analysis of Texas Confederate memorialization. Each monument had its own unique history and purpose that needs to be examined individually. There are also many other types of Confederate memorials beyond stone monuments that deserve examination and unpacking. Nonetheless, this analysis provides important, initial context for the eras of Confederate memorialization in Texas and some of the background for why those monuments have become such a hotbed for controversy.

Table 1: Data Sources

NameCreatorDate Valid ForDescriptionLink
Texas CountiesT.I.G.E.R2021Shapefile representing Texas’s countieslink
Whose Heritage Master SheetSouthern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)2019Google Sheets dataset containing name, location, date of dedication, and other available information of all Confederate monuments across the United Stateslink

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