Tools of Commemoration & Interpretation
Erecting monuments, markers and memorials on a battlefield to honor those who fought and died there is an age-old impulse, practiced from the days of ancient Greece. Battlefield monuments are also useful tools for interpretation of the battlefield, marking precise locations of troops and events — a phenomenon especially true when those markers were placed by veterans of that engagement.
The very first monument authorized for an American battlefield was endorsed by the Continental Congress in October 1781, calling for the erection of an in inscribed marble column at Yorktown, where the British surrender just a few weeks earlier signaled that hostilities were likely to soon end. The cornerstone for a monument at Bunker Hill was laid in 1825, the battle’s 50th anniversary. A number of sites include memorialization for both American and British forces.
There are more than 6,000 monuments, markers, memorials and tablets located on Civil War battlefields across the nation — 1,300 at Gettysburg alone. The first ones were erected while the conflicts still raged or by veterans as they traveled home at the war’s conclusion. The vast majority were placed over about three decades, beginning in the mid-1880s, although major anniversaries thereafter were sometimes marked with further dedications.
Thousands of memorials, monuments and markers dot America’s Battlefields. Each one is unique and the reasons for its placement — in terms of subject matter, location and other context — are nuanced.
Statements & Resources
War has a terrible human cost that must not be forgotten, and many survivors later took comfort and found healing in erecting monuments to their comrades and leaders who did not return home at war’s end. A unit’s monument on a battlefield, standing where they stood, is little different than a headstone for its fallen, the location of earthly remains perhaps unknown. These, we believe, must remain, no matter how other markers and memorials might be debated, judged or removed.