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 barns, 8 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