Taneytown Councilman Bradley Wantz firmly denounced on Wednesday night the proposed National Civil War Memorial in the city, moments after Mayor James McCarron announced plans to assemble a committee to delve into the details.
“I am wholly opposed to this memorial in Taneytown,” Wantz announced at the Mayor and Council workshop meeting Feb. 6, breaking from his colleagues who have all raved about the idea. “I just want to make it clear that it may seem like the council is standing together on this and, right now, we’re not because I’m opposed.”
Wantz cited reservations he’s had about the project since Gettysburg sculptor Gary Casteel first presented his idea to the elected officials in October, concerns he developed during Mayor and Council’s visit to Casteel’s studio later in the fall and an email sent to most of the lawmakers from a concerned citizen Feb. 6.
Casteel, a historical sculptor, is also the “commander" of the Gettysburg “camp” of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “preserving the history and legacy of these heroes so that future generations can understand the motives that animated the Southern Cause,” according to the national website.
Casteel told the Carroll County Times on Thursday that he was elected to the position and said the organization exists exclusively “to honor their ancestors, period.” The sculptor said he’s also a member of the Sons of Union Veterans organization.
The email to Council Feb. 6, from resident Dave Buie, questioned whether Taneytown needed such a memorial and whether Casteel’s proposition was as unique as it had been made out to be.
Buie pointed to the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania as being “nearly identical to the presentation that Mr. Casteel provided to City Council.”
The museum, according to its website, features red bricks bearing the names of Civil War veterans “honored by their surviving descendants,” a statute of a Confederate soldier sharing his water canteen with a dying Union soldier at the center of its entrance, among myriad other historical exhibits.
Casteel has promoted his idea of a one-of-a-kind National Civil War Memorial as an educational tool. His proposed memorial would be a 90-feet in diameter circle, 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.
The National Civil War Memorial would highlight 16 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; a total of 16 military leaders (nine Union, seven Confederate); and 20 major events.
And at the center Casteel’s project would feature a sculpture of a Confederate and Union Civil War veteran “in their reunion uniforms sitting on a bench, speaking to children,” the sculptor proposed.
Casteel on Thursday said there’s no reason there couldn’t or shouldn’t be a Civil War museum and a memorial.
“There is a World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. There is a World War II Museum in New Orleans,” Casteel added. “What causes one to remove the other?”
John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln, is one of the 16 civilian portraits Casteel proposed. Wantz said he’s opposed to a portrait of Booth being included, adding that he thinks the proposed memorial lacks context.
“When we went to visit the studio to see what was involved, what he was planning, the one thing that stuck out to me is a portrait of John Wilkes Booth being included, without context or anything,” Wantz told the Times after the Feb. 6 workshop meeting. “Essentially to me, you’re memorializing a presidential assassin.”
Wantz added that he was under the impression there was no room for flexibility for what was to be included in the memorial.
Casteel rebutted Wantz’s point Thursday, explaining that 30 top historians assembled the list of historical figures for the proposed memorial. He also said flexibility remains, as the project is still in the nascent stages.
McCarron has repeatedly cited the memorial as an avenue push for the State of Maryland to complete a traffic bypass. Wantz said planting the memorial downtown would “essentially destroy the traffic of downtown.”
“We’re going to inconvenience 7,000 residents in hopes that one day we’re finally going to convince the state to put in a bypass,” Wantz said. “That’s extremely unreasonable to do. And I think it’s unfair to the citizens that that’s even being considered as a push play to make this happen.”