Author and award-winning photographer Douglas J. Butler of Crumpler has published “North Carolina Civil War Monuments: An Illustrated History,” a new book exploring the south’s coming to terms with defeat in the years following the surrender at Appomatox through monuments honoring Confederate dead.
“Amidst the chaos and devastation, it would have seemed nonsensical to imagine a future filled with grand celebrations of the now-defeated Confederacy,” Butler writes in the book’s introduction. “Yet less than twelve months after Appomatox, despite military occupation, grass-roots efforts arose across the South to care for — and honor — the region’s dead.”
From McFarland Publishing, the 272-page soft-cover book is part history, part travel log. The work of two years, it presents carefully researched histories of dozens of N.C. Civil War monuments, with 137 photos by the author, who drove an estimated 15,000 miles through the state photographing 109 monuments.
Butler’s focus on the century after the war’s end in 1865 was not arbitrary. Civil War monuments have been dedicated since 1965, he said, but their context shifted away from honoring the dead after the Civil War centennial and the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
With many more than 109 Civil War monuments in N.C., Butler had to work with a rubric for what to consider a “monument.”
“I focused on monuments that honored all Confederate dead, or all the dead from a particular unit,” he said. “I specifically excluded monuments honoring individuals or (commemorating) battlefields.”
Between 30,000-40,000 North Carolinians lost their lives during the war. “It was devastating to the state. People had to come to terms with the death, the defeat and the change in their way of life,” he said.
Many were buried in crude, hastily dug mass graves which were later relocated to monument sites in cemeteries, requiring considerable labor. A monument in Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington marks the final resting place of 367 Confederate dead, while one in Goldsboro sits atop a mass grave of 800.
The number and scope of monuments in the years after the war was, itself, monumental, Butler said. Communities short on money, manpower and resources spent huge sums on marble and metal installations that were, in effect, large public works projects, with thousands coming out for their dedication ceremonies.
“We were the poorest state during that time,” he said.
An Ashe County resident for 32 years, Butler is an independent scholar and a practicing physician. He has worked with Native American populations on reservations throughout the American west.
“N.C. Civil War Monuments,” is his second book. His first, “A Walk Atop America,” documents his journey to reach the highest points in all 50 states.
“N.C. Civil War Monuments” is available locally at the Ashe County Arts Center, and can be purchased online at www.northcarolinacivilwarmonuments.com.