Costello: The Confederate War Memorial—Let It Be

By Dan Costello, Leesburg

I was disappointed to learn in your issue of Jan. 16 that the Democratic-controlled  Board of Supervisors, supported by Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large), had decided to urge the General Assembly to pass bills giving localities the authority to move war monuments on county-owned land. I applaud the previous Board of Supervisors who had the wisdom to ask the county’s Heritage Commission to develop a compromise where the Confederate soldier statue would remain but additional memorials and context would be added on the courthouse grounds. But now, as reported in your issue of Jan. 30, the Supervisors only want to move ahead with the project with the understanding that things could change on the Confederate statue depending on what the General Assembly will do. And Chairwoman Randall says if the General Assembly authorizes removal of war monuments, which it is likely to do, there will be a vote on whether or not the Confederate statue remains, and it seems that the Democratic-controlled Board of Supervisors has already decided on how they would vote.   

We have already  had numerous debates on this subject in Loudoun County. We have signs that welcome people to the  Mosby Heritage Area.  Colonel John Mosby and his Rangers fought the invading Union Army. There are many descendants of Mosby’s Rangers who still live in Loudoun County. If for no other reason, the Confederate soldier statue must remain to remind us of the Burning Raid in Nov. 1864 in Loudoun County and adjacent areas. Generals Grant and Sheridan had ordered that Union soldiers lay waste to the citizens of the county. This was decided after the policy of hanging captured Rangers failed when Mosby retaliated in kind to stop the war crimes committed by the Union. For 4 days, fires were lit to burn all mills, all barns, destroy all forage and subsistence, and to drive off all live stock. When told the people would starve with winter coming on, the answer was so be it. The Union command was so frustrated that they could not stop Mosby in his raids that they decided to wage war on the people, and the people be damned. When the Union soldiers departed, the region was left a desert, and the accumulation of lifetimes had disappeared in the flames.

In my visits to Northern cities, I have seen many statues to Union soldiers in the town squares or in front of their courthouses honoring those soldiers who fought to 

“preserve the union.” At the same time, in the South, I have seen many statues to Confederate soldiers who fought for “independence.” Both sides were Americans; they both fought for their beliefs; and they should all be honored. After the war, there were reunions which honored both sides who fought. We have now come to the point where it is socially acceptable to demonize one side over the other. We need to stop this madness.

I am especially appalled at the lack of historical knowledge on the part of Supervisor Juli E. Briskman when she said (as quoted in your issue of Jan. 16), “…we can remember history without honoring the racists, the tyrannists (sic), the oppressors from our past.” Is she referring to the Confederate soldier statue? If so, for her to state such libel against the Loudoun County soldiers who fought to defend their homes and families is unconscionable, and  her use of the “race” card against them is patently offensive. Vice Chairman Koran T. Saines is also quoted in the Jan. 16 issue as stating that “No other country that I can think of has monuments to their traitors that are trying to overthrow the government….” History also proves him wrong. The South had no desire to overthrow the government of the United States. As stated by Jefferson Davis, the only desire of the Confederacy was to be an independent country separate from the United States. The Confederacy had no desire to conquer any part of those states that had remained with the Union. As far as any of the soldiers who fought for the South being traitors, let’s put that canard to rest once and for all. After the South was defeated, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton wanted nothing more than to try Jefferson Davis and other Confederate leaders for treason. As delineated by Shelby Foote in his magnum opus, The Civil War: A Narrative, Secretary Stanton had no choice but to relent when Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase advised him and other cabinet members that “If you bring these leaders to trial it will condemn the North, for by the Constitution secession is not rebellion. We cannot convict him (Jefferson Davis) of treason. Secession is settled. Let it stay settled.”  Hence, not one Confederate leader or soldier was ever tried or convicted of having committed treason. 

I support Mike Tuttle in his letter of Jan. 30, in which he pointed out the ridiculousness of removing all images of history that remind someone of something uncomfortable. I would like to add one more to his list. Do we want to remove the statue of General George C. Marshall, which stands in front of his home, Dodona Manor, in Leesburg? He was a devoted admirer of Robert E. Lee, and in fact, stated that the “two greatest Americans who ever lived were George Washington and Robert E. Lee.” That statement comes from a Pennsylvanian who was a 5-star general, Chief of Staff of the Army, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and a Recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. 

I thus urge the members of the Board of Supervisors to let it be, regardless of what the General Assembly authorizes with respect to moving war monuments. We previously reached an understanding on how to deal with the Confederate soldier statue by adding more monuments and context, and we should not re-open the discussion by calling each other names and denigrating and belittling the opinions of others and especially the valiant service of our Loudoun County ancestors who fought to defend their homes and families. I would think the Loudoun County Supervisors would want to be a better governing group than subjecting its citizens to such a highly divisive and controversial process again and that they would want to set the example for other jurisdictions to follow.

One thought on “Costello: The Confederate War Memorial—Let It Be

  • 2020-02-17 at 2:36 pm

    Well written and supported. No one was charged with treason after the war. There were two executions, one involving Henry Wirtz, commander of Andersonville Prison Camp who had a difficult task due to lack of resources as did other camps north and south. The other was a person, Champ Ferguson, was a Confederate guerrilla.

    Soldiers fought for their state at a time when the state was considered equal to or greater than the Federal government. Soldiers of Loudoun should be remembered for their service and sacrifice. Balls Bluff park near Leesburg has a marker to Clinton Hatcher, 21 years old, 8th Virginia Regiment, noting that “he fell bravely defending his native state.”

    If necessary add a marker to those who served the Union (likely from Lovettsville or Waterford) but do not erase, remove or minimize the sacrifices of others who were asked to defend their state, community, and family. After the war, there were reunions involving both union and confederate soldiers. There were gatherings in Gettysburg, Richmond and New Market among other locations in the area. They sought reconciliation. Why can’t this Board and Democratic legislators honor all concerned?

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