Letter: A. J. Diehl, Hamilton

Editor: A few months ago, Gov. Northam signed a bill clearing the way for localities to discuss removing War Memorials and prominent County Supervisors have openly declared their intent to remove our Confederate Memorial.

I offer that, whatever is done should be the result of dialogue, an examination of available courses of action, and a desire to pull the community together.

What we should not do is follow the pattern already seen in Charlottesville and Richmond. In both of these cases, the move to remove statues was preceded by a flurry of unfounded assertions. I’ll list them here—so you can recognize the pattern—and perhaps learn a few new facts—as I did.

Assertion.  In the War Between the States, “Virginia fought for slavery.”  FACT.  Virginians actually voted twice in 1861 to remain with the Union—while seeking a peaceful way forward that would respect the rights of States within a federal framework.  The vote to withdraw Virginia’s ratification of the Constitution came only after Mr. Lincoln’s Secretary of War demanded that Virginia provide militia to invade South Carolina.  Not to say that slavery wasn’t a factor—but it was not the casus belli.

Assertion.  The statue was erected to celebrate white supremacy.  FACT.  It is IMPOSSIBLE for anyone to read the minds of dead people … but we can read the minutes of the 1901 meetings of the local Camp of the United Confederate Veterans—at which the effort for our Memorial was launched.  You’ll find that the ONLY motive was to desire to honor those who fought to protect their State.  Further: Anyone with access to Google will find that the Union Army waged war in Virginia aimed at the destruction of farms, barns, livestock, mills, private houses, etc., under Union generals David Hunter, Phil Sheridan, and Wesley Merritt.  (Union reports did not call it “looting”—they simply “carried away anything of value.”  In Loudoun County on one raid alone, they burned 230 barns8 mills, and countless private residences!  These were war crimes—even in those days.  (The laws of war were codified in 1625 and should certainly have been known by ANY West Point graduate—and these three Union army generals were all West Point graduates.)

Assertion.  These statues were mass produced in the 1920s and perpetuate the era of Jim Crow laws.  FACT.  Well, actually, there was a boom period in which statues were cast around 1910-1920s—for towns in the North and South–as these war veterans began to die off–but that’s not the case with Loudoun’s statue.  Our statue, commissioned in 1907, is a one-of-a-kind piece of art done by William Sievers, who had trained in classical arts in Rome and Paris.  In 1908, the Governor attended the unveiling. News accounts of the event record that he spoke about veterans and the statue was unveiled by Colonel Elijah V. White. Afterward, there was a prayer service at Union Cemetery, followed by a dinner near the Courthouse honoring local veterans, including those who had fought at the nearby Battle of Ball’s Bluff—today a local park.

Assertion.  These statues were a misuse of public funds.  FACT:  Our Loudoun Memorial was commissioned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC).  Only $500 was contributed by the County…the remainder was raised, largely from families, to honor their soldiers.  (Pretty much like all war memorials in this country.)  The UDC donated this art piece.   And when it (and the memorials to the veterans of the World Wars and Korea) needed refurbishment in 2006, the UDC again paid.


Can we agree to stay with facts and NOT simply repeat the unfounded and untrue assertions?

Our Confederate Veterans’ Memorial is a War Memorial—it doesn’t honor slavery or racial supremacy.  It honors the sons of Loudoun County fought heroically, if unsuccessfully, to defend their homes and this County.  Has valor gone out of style?  Like other veterans’ memorials, it serves a legitimate purpose and should be preserved to remind future generations of the burdens borne by previous generations.

The Loudoun County Heritage Commission has already studied this issue last year and proposed a number of actions which will result in a more inclusive experience for visitors, to include a “Path Toward Freedom”—an interpretive walk honoring Loudoun’s progress toward the goal of freedom and justice.

I know most of the members of the local Sons of Confederate Veterans and UDC groups.  Anyone who thinks that these are “racists” or “white supremacists” is mistaken.  Spread across ages, professions, and political persuasions, they share a common interest in history.  Not white history or black history:  History.  The Clinton Hatcher Camp (SCV) has happily assisted others with securing the listing of “Willisville” on the National Register of Historic Places.

Furthermore, Loudoun’s Clinton Hatcher Camp annually decorates the graves of about 4,000 American veterans—from every conflict in which Americans have fought!  There’s never a distinction about the race or ethnicity of the veteran being honored.  They are all American veterans!

Let’s spend some time together; talking cordially—hey, it could happen!  It might even set an example for other localities in the Commonwealth to follow!

LtCol A. J. Diehl, Hamilton

2 thoughts on “Letter: A. J. Diehl, Hamilton

  • 2020-06-19 at 5:09 am

    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.

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