I have no doubt that there was an intimidation factor with at least some of the statues, but there’s several factors involved too. Steve McGrath covered one of those factors very well. Always remember that most situations and peoples reaction to them are not binary.
One of the other factors is how poorly the South was treated after the war, and there are echoes of this mistreatment even today. Lincoln wanted a quick reintegration of the South back into the union. So did Andrew Jackson, the vice president and Lincolns successor after the assassination.
But the Radicals wanted reconstruction to be more punitive. After the congressional election of 1866, the Radicals gained enough power to make Johnson little more than a figurehead, and so-called reconstruction began. And it was very punitive indeed. The South didn’t just lose the war, so-called Reconstruction ensured that they were conquered.
The carpetbaggers remained for more than 12 years. When the carpetbaggers finally left is when the monuments in the south started to go up. So, part of the reason for the monuments was to give the carpetbagging North a middle finger.
So, why was it so punitive? I don’t think it was because of the war or slavery. I think it was due to bigotry. Now, immigrants for all sorts of countries went all over the states, but most of the ones from England stayed up North.
England had bitter hatred towards the Irish, Scots, and Scots Irish for hundreds of years. When immigrants from those places moved to the US, they had a hard time catching a break, so they moved down south and into the Appalachians. I think this bigotry was at play during the war. The North didn’t just want to win, many of the Northerners wanted to put “them” in their place.
And we see echoes of that bigotry and hatred even today. Slurs like “redneck”, “hick”, “hillbilly” and many others are still used all over this country, and for the same reasons, to dehumanize the disadvantaged. The South was never properly reconstructed and it was done on purpose. And just like the war, very little of this is really about slavery.
The “redneck pride” of people flying Rebel flags and even the march last week is all part of this. Like it or not, the South was oppressed in varying degrees for at least the last 120 years after the war. Of course their oppression doesn’t compare to what they did and continue to do to Black folks, but if they were treated with even half the decency that the Allies gave to the Axis, there’s a pretty good chance the “crabs in the bucket” racism that still exists down South would not have existed.