Maryland Civil War Memory at Baltimore City’s Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument
Updated: Apr 1
BHW 5: March 4, 2023
On numerous occasions over the last decade, protesters marked Baltimore City’s Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument with paint. In 2015, they used yellow spray paint to write “Black Lives Matter” on the monument in response to the massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.  This was the first of a series of incidents of people mapping dissent on the monument. Each time the city removed the paint a new national tragedy brought another painted message. In 2017, a protester poured red paint on the statue in response to the Unite the Right white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. This time, nobody reported the incident to the police, a representation of the public’s solidarity with the painters.  Two days later, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh ordered the city’s four Confederate monuments removed in the middle of the night. She described the decision as, “in the best interest of my city,” citing the overnight removal as a way of mitigating civil unrest.  It speaks to the level of civil division that the mayor saw her action as both necessary and in need of being hidden from city residents. When the statues reached their temporary resting place in a caged enclosure on a discreet city-owned lot, the blood-like red paint remained on the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors statue.  Today, its pedestal remains at the original site. It recently received a paint job, this time protesters chose purple paint and wrote the messages “Down with white supremacy” and “Black Lives Matter.”  Removing the monument did not stop activist use of its site to send a message, and the visual created by the empty pedestal covered in paint is very powerful (Figure 1). Examining Baltimore City’s Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument as an object of Civil War memory as well as a site for contemporary social justice action will help illuminate the city’s contested public historical landscape.
Maryland never joined the Confederacy, but that did not stop the construction of Confederate monuments across the state after the Civil War. The state’s government officially but unenthusiastically supported the Union throughout the conflict, while Marylanders themselves held vastly divergent views. Baltimore City embodied these divisions, becoming a central gathering place for Maryland’s Confederate supporters while also having one of the proportionately largest Black, pro-Union populations of any city in the country.  Maryland’s border state status influenced its Civil War memory locally and nationally. Both the North and South sought to claim Civil War Maryland as their own memory asset. Monuments became a battleground for these competing claims.  A monument is typically a very local object, reflective of a community and its values, or at least the values of those with money and power in the community.  These local interests clashed with national ones hoping to use Maryland to bolster their Civil War narrative, putting the state’s monuments under an atypically national microscope. 
At the center of public conversations about Confederate monuments is the question of how America should reckon with its history of slavery. These monuments were never about actual history. They represent a mythologized glorified past that erases both defeat and the true causes of the war. Rather than honoring history, the monuments commemorate and advance white supremacist narratives.  These myths must be rectified with historical facts before an earnest national slavery conversation can take place. Starting this demythologization and the associated process of collective healing requires increasing awareness of where the myths and their appeal came from.  Complicating this task, myths evolved over generations to maintain their appeal.  As historian Ira Berlin points out, “For most of the twentieth century, slavery was excluded from public presentations of American history and played no visible role in American politics.”  This fits the myth conveyed by Confederate monuments, designed to portray glory and obscure slavery’s role in motivating the entire Confederate cause. Baltimore’s Soldiers and Sailors Monument was no exception, as is resoundingly clear from United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) Maryland Division President Mrs. D. Girard Wright’s description of the monument shortly before its dedication. She described it as “an idealization of the Confederacy in an allegorical representation of the glory of the South in her defeat.” Additionally, it commemorated “the heroism of that martyr band who for us and for love of country gave fortune and life itself for the cause we love.”  Slavery and history are both far from the monument’s intended message of glory, heroism, and honorable sacrifice.
The UDC facilitated the development of Baltimore’s Confederate Soldiers and Sailors monument, which makes sense given the organization’s nationwide prominence in advancing Confederate memory. The monument’s 1903 dedication places it amidst the peak period for UDC memorialization. Indeed, the organization built almost 200 monuments in the first decade of the twentieth century.  For the Baltimore UDC, the construction of the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors monument marked the culmination of a long memory-building process. Returning to Wright’s pre-dedication remarks, she claimed:
From year to year we have gone, a sorrowing but triumphant band, to lay memorial wreaths upon the graves of our sacred dead—sorrowing that all in vain was made the sacrifice of those precious lives, but triumphant in remembering the glory that sheds its pure light on the last resting place of our historic dead. 
The UDC, specifically its Baltimore Chapter No. 8, deemed the monument a permanent affirmation of their long-asserted views on the Confederate cause.
The intense UDC desire to preserve the Lost Cause story required constant assertions of truth despite evidence to the contrary.  UDC monuments cemented this message on the landscape, silencing the lack of historical basis to their claims with bold statements set in stone. To this day, the rear side of the monument’s pedestal contains the inscription, “GLORY STANDS BESIDE OUR GRIEF, ERECTED BY THE MARYLAND DAUGHTERS OF THE CONFEDERACY FEBRUARY 1903.” In August 2016, the City of Baltimore’s Special Commission to Review Baltimore’s Public Confederate Monuments continued the perpetuation of this messaging. In its official report, the commission remarked on the relationship between the monument and the UDC that, “This monument signifies their gentle word to the soldiers’ and sailors’ strong deeds.”  Evidently, even after the Charleston massacre and the demonstrations that ensued, Baltimore City continued to communicate a neutral stance on Lost Cause messaging. This speaks to the long-lasting strength of UDC thinking preserved through monuments.
Baltimore City’s role in the development of local and national movements against systemic racism and racial violence since the spring of 2015 provides further context for conversations about the city’s Confederate memorialization. On April 12, 2015, two months prior to the Charleston shooting, Black Baltimorean Freddie Gray died in police custody. Gray’s wrongful death, caused by violation of local police policy requiring officers to secure arrestees in moving vehicles, sparked the eruption of protests across the country that reached their greatest heights in Baltimore.  This came only eight months after the murder of unarmed Black man Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri caused national protests. These two incidents together provided immense momentum for the emergent Black Lives Matter movement.  The Baltimore unrest gained traction from a bystander video showing Gray being battered by police and then put into the back of their van, where he would die soon thereafter.  In response, the City of Baltimore implemented a curfew, the National Guard occupied the city, and the Baltimore Orioles baseball team played without fans in the stands due to fears of civil unrest.  The association between this empty baseball game and the decision to remove Confederate monuments overnight two years later is notable. In both cases, fears of unrest associated with public gatherings motivated the decision. In the Freddie Gray case, unlike the monument case, it was not narratives of history which generated these fears. It was worries about the inflammatory nature of current events. Yet, these events were inextricably tied to the violent racial history of the city and the country.
The movement behind the Freddie Gray demonstrations was in some ways a continuation of the battle between Baltimore’s UDC and its opponents since the nineteenth century. Political scientist Dewey M. Clayton argues that the Freddie Gray reckoning and related Black Lives Matter movement in many ways served as continuations of the civil rights movement. Clayton claims these movements also received very similar portrayals in mass media, fueling similar national and racial divides on headlining events.  The clear similarities between photographs of protest policing tactics in both eras adds a visual level of movement continuity.  It is important to extend the timeline even further back to Baltimore’s UDC and the Lost Cause movement. Both the civil rights movement and Black Lives Matter sought to combat the harmful racist intent providing the foundations for the Lost Cause. When protesters paint messages on Baltimore’s Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument or its pedestal, they continue a long history of resistance to the white status quo and its erasure of Black history.
The “Down with white supremacy” message recently spray painted on the pedestal of Baltimore’s former Confederate Soldiers and Sailors monument reflects the conflict at the core of the city’s identity and memory since the Civil War (Figure 1). With plenty of Unionists and plenty of Confederates in Civil War Baltimore, its postbellum collective memory became a cultural battleground between Black freedom and white supremacy. This battle placed Maryland’s postbellum identity in flux.  The UDC believed that by dotting Baltimore’s landscape with Confederate monuments they could gain an upper hand for their side. Resistance to these efforts, led by Baltimore’s historically and presently large Black population, has been swift. It also evolved over time to match strategic changes by the UDC and other Lost Cause advocates. For example, pro-equality Baltimoreans reshaped their efforts to reach national scales of resistance through the civil rights movement and twenty-first century responses to police brutality. Maryland’s contested allegiances on the edge of North and South have led national memory movements to see the state and Baltimore, its largest city, as evocative spaces for resounding statements about American race relations.  When President Donald J. Trump publicly called Baltimore a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” in 2019, this dog-whistle remark continued the white supremacist Lost Cause messaging long pushed upon the Black-majority city.  In the face of white supremacy, it is crucial to protect national and local public historical narratives that amplify Baltimore’s pro-Union, pro-civil rights, Black-led history and civic identity. Vigilance is vital to preventing further encroachments on historical truth.
 Eli Pousson, “Purple Spray Paint Reading ‘Down with White Supremacy’ on Sculpture Base, Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument, 1400 Block of W. Mount Royal Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21217,” photograph (Baltimore, March 7, 2022), Baltimore Heritage, public domain, https://www.flickr.com/photos/baltimoreheritage/52141018332/in/photostream/
 Kevin Rector, “National conversation on Confederate symbology lands in Baltimore, scrawled in yellow paint,” Baltimore Sun, June 22, 2015, https://www.baltimoresun.com/maryland/baltimore-city/bal-black-lives-matter-spray-painted-on-confederate-statue-in-baltimore-20150622-story.html.
 Tim Prudente, “Confederate monument in Baltimore drenched with red paint,” Baltimore Sun, August 14, 2017, https://www.baltimoresun.com/maryland/baltimore-city/bs-md-ci-monument-vandalized-20170814-story.html.
 Colin Campbell and Luke Broadwater, “Citing ‘safety and security,’ Pugh has Baltimore Confederate monuments taken down,” Baltimore Sun, August 16, 2017, https://www.baltimoresun.com/maryland/baltimore-city/bs-md-ci-monuments-removed-20170816-story.html; Nicholas Fandos, Russell Goldman, and Jess Bidgood, “Baltimore Mayor Had Statues Removed in ‘Best Interest of My City,’” New York Times, August 16, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/16/us/baltimore-confederate-statues.html.
 Colin Campbell, “Baltimore’s Confederate statues were removed in the dead of night. Two years later, they languish on a city lot,” Washington Post, October 5, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/baltimores-confederate-statues-were-removed-in-the-dead-of-night-two-years-later-they-languish-on-a-city-lot/2019/10/05/8f0394ba-e075-11e9-b199-f638bf2c340f_story.html; Lilly Price, “Five years after their removal, Baltimore’s Confederate monuments are expected to appear in art exhibit in Los Angeles,” Baltimore Sun, August 18, 2022, https://www.baltimoresun.com/maryland/baltimore-city/bs-md-ci-baltimore-confederate-monuments-art-museum-20220817-t4dk35n6ofcwnkf447n6ugyyia-story.html.
 Pousson, “Purple Spray Paint Reading ‘Down with White Supremacy’ on Sculpture Base,” photograph.
 David K. Graham, Loyalty on the Line: Civil War Maryland in American Memory (Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press, 2018), 1, Kindle edition.
 Graham, Loyalty on the Line, 52-58.
 Karen L. Cox, No Common Ground: Confederate Monuments and the Ongoing Fight for Racial Justice (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2021), 4, Kindle edition.
 Graham, Loyalty on the Line, 3.
 Cox, No Common Ground, 3.
 Kevin M. Levin, Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2019), 11, Kindle edition.
 David W. Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2001), 258, https://archive.org/details/racereunion00davi.
 Ira Berlin, “American Slavery in History and Memory and the Search for Social Justice,” The Journal of American History 90, no. 4 (March 2004): 1257, https://www.jstor.org/stable/3660347.
 “The Defeated South Idealized in the Maryland Confederate Monument, Baltimore,” Confederate Veteran 10, no. 1 (October 1902): 1, https://archive.org/details/confederateveter10conf.
 Cox, No Common Ground, 51.
 “The Defeated South Idealized in the Maryland Confederate Monument,” 1.
 Blight, Race and Reunion, 291-292.
 Special Commission to Review Baltimore’s Public Confederate Monuments, “Report to Mayor Rawlings-Blake,” August 16, 2016, 19, http://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/ce643a_dec453d9aee640848c62dd23a3fb8764.pdf.
 See Oliver Laughland, “Freddie Gray was not in seatbelt during fatal arrest, police confirm,” The Guardian, April 23, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/apr/23/protesters-march-baltimore-freddie-gray; “Baltimore Police Seat Belt Policy at the Center of Freddie Gray Case,” CBS News Baltimore, December 4, 2015, https://www.cbsnews.com/baltimore/news/baltimore-police-seat-belt-policy-examined-amid-freddie-gray-trials/.
 Jennifer E. Cobbina, Hands Up, Don’t Shoot: Why the Protests in Ferguson and Baltimore Matter, and How They Changed America (New York: New York University Press, 2019), 72-73, Kindle edition.
 Yohuru Williams, “You’re Nobody ‘Till Somebody Kills You: Baltimore, Freddie Gray and the Problem of History,” Huffington Post, April 29, 2015, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/youre-nobody-till-somebod_b_7167028.
 Justin A. Joyce, Dwight A. McBride, and Douglas Field, “Baltimore is Still Burning: the Rising Relevance of James Baldwin,” James Baldwin Review 1, (2015): 1, https://www.jstor.org/stable/48664471.
 Dewey M. Clayton, “Black Lives Matter and the Civil Rights Movement: A Comparative Analysis of Two Social Movements in the United States,” Journal of Black Studies 49, no. 5 (July 2018): 451, https://www.jstor.org/stable/26574572.
 Cobbina, Hands Up, Don’t Shoot, 15.
 Graham, Loyalty on the Line, 3.
 P. Nicole King, Joshua Clark Davis, and Kate Drabinski, "Introduction: Why Revisit Baltimore Now?," in Baltimore Revisited: Stories of Inequality and Resistance in a U.S. City, eds. P. Nicole King, Kate Drabinski, and Joshua Clark Davis (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2019), 1, Kindle edition.
 Osita Nwanevu, “Baltimore Responds to President Trump,” The New Yorker, August 3, 2019, https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/baltimore-responds-to-president-trump.