My Take on Confederate Monuments

As a lover of history in general and American history in particular, I’ve long had a great interest in the Civil War and have read many a book about the conflict and the men most intimately involved in fighting it. In fact, I’m even now in the middle of reading The Civil War 100: The Stories Behind the Most Influential Battles, People and Events in the War Between the States, by Michael Lee Lanning.

My mother’s maiden name was Grant. She was born and raised in Yonkers, New York, to an American Protestant and an English Catholic. Her father’s name was Ulysses S. Grant. I’m told that her grandfather fought under General Grant during the war and named his son “Ulysses Simpson” in admiration for the general. My father’s family is from Ireland and only arrived after the war, first in New York (where else?) and finally settling in northern Virginia. Even though I’m a native Virginian, given my mother’s family history and the reasons for the war, when it came to the great conflict, I proudly sided with the Yankees.

Growing up in Virginia, I was steeped in Civil War history from my earliest school days and have enjoyed visiting numerous battlefields and other Civil War-related sites over the years. I’ve visited Lincoln’s birthplace in Kentucky and his residence and museum in Springfield, Ford’s Theatre, Antietam, Gettysburg, Harper’s Ferry, Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Vicksburg, Shiloh, Chickamauga, Lookout Mountain, and Appomattox Court House. At the Smithsonian Institute, I saw the ink well Abraham Lincoln used to write the Emancipation Proclamation, the two life masks made of his face, and the hoods Booth’s accomplices wore on the gallows.

I’ve no sympathy for the cause of the Confederacy. It’s a fool’s game trying to make the Civil War merely about states rights. Yes, of course, it was about states rights. But, anyone who wants to argue that the rights for which those states were fighting was only incidentally related to the institution of slavery and the way of life that rested on slavery has laid waste to any reasonable reading of history. Yes, it’s true that men such as Robert E. Lee fought first for their respective states. But, Lee’s state of Virginia and all the other Confederate states were fighting for a way of life that relied inextricably on the bondage of human beings. Lee knew that when he resigned his commission in the United States Army and took up arms against his country. They all knew it. Any misapplied heroism, gallantry, chivalry, or patriotism to the states they loved cannot be washed clean of that truth. They fought for states rights, but the right for which those states fought was the right of one man to own another, as a man would own a horse or a dog, and to exploit that other’s labor as he would his horse or dog, or even to dispose of that other as he would a used-up horse or rabid dog.

As far as the battlefields go, the statues need to stay. It only makes sense, from a historic perspective, to leave in place those statues that assist in making history more clear and easily learned and remembered. Pemberton lost Vicksburg, and it would make no sense to set Vicksburg aside as a National Military Park without his statue standing there. He was no hero. He wasn’t even a gifted general. So, his statue is no monument to his heroism or leadership. It is a testament to his role in the conflict, and that is all. The same is true for all the statues of Confederate and Union generals and others who fought the various battles across the country.

But, those statues that serve as monuments to honor the men of the Confederacy in the hundreds of places that dot the country, from Florida to Montana, have no place. They memorialize men as heroes for a despicable cause: secession and slavery. Take them all down. If New Orleans wants to put up a statue of P. G. T. Beauregard in honor of his postbellum efforts as a member of the Reform Party to garner civil rights and the franchise for blacks, or if Gainesville, GA wants to put up a statue of James Longstreet for his service to the United States as ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, that’s fine with me. But, to honor them for their part in creating and attempting to sustain the Confederacy? No. To honor a monster like Nathan Bedford Forrest with a building at Middle Tennessee State University, to honor a lunatic like “Stonewall” Jackson at Stone Mountain, to honor Jefferson Davis with a park in Memphis, or to honor Lee with a statue in New Orleans, though he had no association with the city at all other than as a leader of the Confederacy, was a bad idea when it was conceived and accomplished, and it’s a bad idea now.

Take them all down.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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