White House chief of staff John Kelly was referring only to the impossibility of whitewashing American history when he made controversial comments about the Civil War on Monday, press secretary Sarah Sanders said on Tuesday.

"Gen. Kelly was simply making the point that just because history isn't perfect, that doesn't mean it's not our history," Sanders told reporters at the White House on Tuesday.

Kelly told Fox News' Laura Ingraham on Monday that a "lack of compromise" caused the Civil War. Kelly said it was "dangerous" to vilify erstwhile American heroes just because they did things that are offensive by modern standards.

"Men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had to make their stand," Kelly said of those who fought in the Civil War.

Critics accused Kelly of minimizing the role slavery played in driving the Civil War and of papering over the evils of slavery and racism in his description of the conflict.

"Because you don't like history, [that] doesn't mean you can erase it and pretend that it didn't happen," Sanders said.

"To try to create something and push a narrative that simply doesn't exist is just frankly dangerous and absurd," she added. "The media continues to want to make this and push that this is some sort of a racially charged and divided White House."

Trump has previously called for the preservation of some historical statues while arguing that the issue of when to destroy or keep monuments should be left to state and local governments, an argument Sanders repeated Tuesday at the White House.