Sculptor wants a National Civil War Memorial in Taneytown but promises, 'This is not a Confederate monument'

Gary Casteel, a renowned sculptor and self-proclaimed history lover, has been searching some 15 years for a place to erect his masterpiece-in-the-works: the National Civil War Memorial.

During a time when many places are taking down monuments related to the Confederacy, Casteel may have just found a home in Taneytown for his project, which would honor all parties involved in and affected by the Civil War.


The 72-year-old sculptor, who lives and works in Gettysburg, recently approached the Taneytown Mayor and City Council proposing a 90-foot monument featuring historical figures from both Union and Confederate states as well as scenes from key moments in the war.

“We learned that there is no national Civil War memorial,” Casteel told the council at its monthly meeting Tuesday, Oct. 9. “Every other war the United States has been involved in has a national memorial.


“My goal, loving the history, placing monuments around the country, is to correct that shortcoming ... to erect a National Civil War memorial.”

And that could align perfectly with the interests of the Maryland city of about 10,000 residents.

Taneytown Mayor James McCarron has been involved with the city’s government for 35 years, he told the Times. And throughout the three-and-a-half decades “we’ve tried to figure out ways that we can attract people from Gettysburg to Taneytown because of our Civil War heritage and because of our proximity.

“We’ve never really been able to come up with a good plan, or one that produced results.”


Casteel’s already walked away from several municipalities because they lacked historical significance, space to accommodate what will be a monument of considerable size, and proximity to the famous battleground and the Mason-Dixon Line, he said.

Re-enactors flooded Carroll County in droves Saturday, July 21, to recreate and honor moments from the most divisive time in American history. But the Civil War Encampment & Living History event at the ancient Union Mills Homestead was anything but alienating, despite the harsh weather conditions.

Taneytown might check all the boxes for Casteel’s masterpiece.

The city is about 15 miles south of Gettysburg and where Union Gen. George Gordon Meade set up headquarters before the Battle of Gettysburg. If Meade had his way more than a century-and-a-half ago, the Battle of Gettysburg may have been known as the Battle of Taneytown, a historian from Gettysburg College told The Baltimore Sun in 2013.

“Taneytown, with a lot of the Union troops coming through that town, plus Meade had his headquarters there, and being located near Route 15, a major highway,” Casteel said, “it makes perfect sense.”

Councilwoman Diane Foster, who was unable to attend the meeting but has since been briefed on the project, agreed.

“In theory it sounds like something, I think, that fits right into the fabric of Taneytown,” Foster told the Times. “I just think it would be a great destination stop on the way to Gettysburg. It’d fit right in.”

It’s a monumental prospect for the city and the lifelong sculptor.

Individuals, corporations, states and municipalities across the country have sought Casteel’s services — from Gettysburg to Biloxi, Mississippi.

The National Civil War Memorial, while similar to his previous works that are displayed across the country, is a project of a different caliber — in size and significance — for the 72-year-old.

“It’s similar in the fact that it’s history, it’s Civil War, it has all the uniforms and that sort of thing,” Casteel told the Times. “But it’s just larger and more compelling to get it done, simply because of what it can do in the future.”

‘Chosen by historians’

Casteel’s proposed monument is circular and would measure 90-feet in diameter. It would feature 10-foot-tall granite walls; north, east, south and west entrances; a symbolic representation of the Mason-Dixon Line and the American Flag flying above Union and Confederate flags, Casteel explained to council.

Each entrance is to be flanked by two life-sized bronze figures of infantry, artillery, cavalry and naval — the units and branches of the military at the time, he said. Casteel plans to surround the complex with the flags of all the states and territories of 1865.

Columns on the outside of the facility would feature one of 16 bronze portraits, about 24 inches in diameter, of civilians who helped to inform future generations about the war and its effect on those who did not fight by leaving behind accounts of what happened, he said.

Inside the facility, similar portraits are planned of 16 military leaders, Casteel said. And in between the military leaders will be 20 event panels illustrating some of the key moments of the war, he added.

Casteel sought input from 30 top American historians, tasking them with selecting the 16 most influential military leaders and civilians.

They chose Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and Union Gen. Meade, among other military leaders; President Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States, among other political figures; while Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass, Mary Chestnut and Harriet Tubman headline the 16 influential civilians.

“These were the individuals chosen by the historians,” he told council, “not Gary the sculptor.”

As part of a tradition started last year, the Taneytown branch library celebrated Johnny Appleseed’s birthday on Wednesday.

And that’s key because the memorial Casteel created seeks to correct the shortcomings he’s seen in most memorials: the absence of a good storyline. The National Civil War Memorial will tell the story of the war from 1861 to 1865 — not a day before or a day after — serving as an educational tool for generations to come, he said.

“The artwork is going to say a lot, especially the scenes,” he said. “That’s what they’re there for.”

But it doesn’t stop there.

“We’re hoping that when we erect this, we would have a visitor center located next to it,” Casteel said. “And that visitor’s center could have guides that would actually take groups of school children around that memorial and explain what these are so they can touch, feel, see and hear what that history is.”

A brick plaza will be in the middle of the memorial, with four allegorical figures of war, hope and deprivation, “that sort of thing,” Casteel told council. “And in the very center is the most important: Two old veterans in their reunion uniforms sitting on a bench, speaking to the children. That says it all.”

The message of togetherness and unity resonated with Taneytown Councilman Joe Vigliotti.

“To have a monument that not only honors and memorializes our American history, but compels us to look beyond a time when our country was divided, is absolutely needed for this day and age,” Vigliotti wrote in an email to the Times. “We’ll always have disagreements. And of course we'll sometimes be unkind to one another. But we cannot let that separate us from each other, or force us beyond a point of forgiveness. We have too much in common to lose.

“This memorial, in my mind, would help us to remember that.”

‘Not a Confederate monument’

In recent years, specifically after a July 2015 church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina that was racially motivated and the August 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, numerous Confederate monuments and memorials were controversially removed from public property across the country.


In Maryland, Baltimore officials ordered the overnight removal of three memorials to the Confederacy and a statue of Roger B. Taney, the Supreme Court justice who wrote the Dred Scott decision (and is often confused as Taneytown’s namesake) in August 2017. A bronze statue of Taney was also taken down under the cover of night from its 145-year perch in front of the State House in Annapolis that month. Confederate monuments in Ellicott City and Rockville were also removed that month. There are no public monuments of Confederate figures in Carroll.


Those in favor of their removal argue the monuments many of which were built during the era of Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement, were done so as a means of intimidating blacks and reaffirming white supremacy; those who object to their removal have argued they are part of the country’s history.

The statue of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney was removed from the grounds of the Maryland State House in Annapolis.

While some controversial figures like Lee and Davis would be depicted in the memorial, Casteel was clear: “This is not a Confederate monument.

“It is a monument to all Americans and I feel that anyone who would go against this proposal certainly is not looking at the whole picture, simply because this was us,” Casteel said. “This was America. This is our history.”

The sculptor, in his presentation to council, said he always expects backlash.

“I could plant a rose bush in my backyard,” he said. “Someone’s not going to like it.”

Casteel’s project aims to highlight a pivotal point in U.S. history, he said. “This project is to honor the individuals both north, south, east or west, of a period of our history that needs to be remembered.”

And that’s just how Foster interpreted the proposed memorial.

“I don’t think it’s a Confederate monument,” Foster told the Times. “I think it’s going to be all encompassing of the Civil War and, probably, what [role] this particular part of the state played in that.”

Project’s appeal to Taneytown

Casteel’s project is especially appealing to the city because it will be funded by the nonprofit organization, the National Civil War Memorial Commission, which will collect individual donations, seek grants and pursue other fundraising avenues to pay for the project.

Bricks that make up the plaza would be sold to people who want to recognize their veteran ancestors’ involvement in the war by having their names carved into the building blocks.

And while Casteel has been hard at work creating some of the statues and portraits that are planned to be featured — he sculpts in clay, makes molds and then does a long bronze casting process — no on-site construction or fundraising would occur until the city accepts his proposal and finds, at the very least, a 5-acre parcel for the memorial.

Casteel said that if he had all the funds and a home for the project, he could complete it in about 2 1/2 years. But he sees three to four years as a more realistic time frame.

McCarron acknowledged that much work remains, but highlighted council’s positive reception of the proposal and raved about the potential economic boon that could result from such a memorial.

“It would be an absolute answer to a dream,” said McCarron, a self-proclaimed history buff.

Foster echoed McCarron’s enthusiasm.

“I just think it would be a great destination stop on the way to Gettysburg,” she said. “It’d fit right in.”

The mayor thinks the city could accommodate the conditions Casteel laid out for the memorial.

“There’s a whole lot of details that need to be worked out yet,” McCarron said. “We don’t have all the I’s dotted and T’s crossed, but certainly it’s something we want to explore.”

Casteel put it in simpler terms.

“Vietnam, they dug a hole in the middle of [Washington] D.C. and they put in their wall; World War I they put up a 13- or 14-foot statue of General [John J.] Pershing; World War II they built a huge coliseum … where is the national Civil War memorial?” Casteel asked.

The answer, as it turns out, could be Taneytown.