By now, most citizens are aware of the recent removal of the Alexandria Confederate Statue at Washington and Prince Streets. The removal was a result of recent acts by our elected representatives on the city council and state legislature. This is important to remember: the removal was as a result of democratic processes not due to mob action. For this we must all be thankful.
There are over 1,700 Confederate memorials in public spaces within the United States. These memorials can be divided into two categories.
The first were those monuments that were erected by living Confederate veterans as memorials to their war dead. These would have been erected mostly before 1900 while there were significant veterans living to sponsor them. A vast majority of Civil War units on both sides were town, city, or county units. A recruit mustered in the place of his birth with kin, friends, and neighbors, were formed together as a unit, and fought as a unit. Monuments of this vintage were simple memorials to the town’s dead. They were not statements in support of slavery, secession, or the subjugation of the African-American community.
The latter category of monuments, those erected in the 20th century, were in most cases meant to be reminders of the authority of Jim Crow and specifically commissioned in order to be symbols of white supremacy.
Our statue here in Alexandria was unique. It was well within the former category of monuments discussed earlier having been dedicated by Alexandria Confederate veterans on May 24, 1889. The statue’s subject was an unarmed Confederate Soldier depicted after the grounding (giving up) of arms ceremony after the surrender at Appomattox. It was thought to be the only martial statue in the world where the subject had no weapon. The monument was placed on the spot where the nascent Alexandria Confederate Army unit (17th Virginia Infantry) fled Alexandria. Therefore the statue was a poignant symbol of a defeated Confederacy.
In any event, Alexandrians were left with a binary choice. (No statue of any sort can be “kind of pregnant.”) Leave the monument in place as a reminder of the most impactful period in American history or remove it as many contemporaries saw it as hurtful. Even as an historian, it pains me to say the latter choice was appropriate. The public art pieces in our city ought to have a wide consensus in their maintenance and must not be symbols of what divide us.
Tom Schultz, President, DC Military Tours, Alexandria, VA