Confederate Statue Removed in Virginia Sparks Questions of Legacy

Landmark statue of a Confederate soldier in alexandria, VA, removed ahead of schedule

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Alexandria’s landmark statue of a Confederate soldier was removed ahead of schedule on June 2, Washingtonian reported. Recent years of ongoing controversy regarding the Confederacy’s legacy in the United States indicate post-Civil War reconciliation remains a bumpy road.

Confederate statue removal
The iconic statue of a Confederate soldier located at the intersection of South Washington and Prince Streets in Alexandria since 1889 has been removed. Photo by Justin Wilson / Twitter

According to Washingtonian magazine, the removal of the statue called Appomattox, sculpted by M. Casper Buberl, is just the latest in a long line of decisions regarding Civil War-era history in Virginia. This time, it affects the city of Alexandria. “The city, which stopped flying Confederate flags five years ago, has since hoped to get rid of the monument to its Confederate past, a task complicated by a Virginia law that protected it,” the article said.

“Governor Ralph Northam signed a law this April that allows cities to remove Confederate monuments. It will go into effect July 1.”

Just before the dawn of the 20th century, a resurgence of Southern and Confederate pride led to the erection of many of the monuments now in question of removal.

The “Cult of the Lost Cause

“The years of reconciliation at the turn of the century saw the peak of the Cult of the Confederacy, the Cult of the Lost Cause,” said Dr. Edward Ayers, the Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities at the University of Richmond. “The movement had begun as a literal-minded and reactionary defense of the Confederate purpose in the late 1860s, then gradually lapsed in the 1880s into a nostalgic celebration of old soldiers and causes lost to the past.”

Dr. Ayers said that the Union’s veterans organization, the Grand Army of the Republic, inspired a southern counterpart, the United Confederate Veterans (UCV), to form in 1889. By 1896, nearly one-third of all Confederate veterans had joined the organization. But the men weren’t alone.

“By 1895, the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) had organized,” he said. “Towns across the South, often following the lead of the UCV or the UDC, raised funds for the erection of Civil War monuments. Early post-war monuments were were located in cemeteries, but the new monuments went up in the center of town; funeral urns and obelisks gave way to statues of solitary Confederate soldiers, vigilant forever as they faced to the north.”

A Question of Legacy

“The South erected impressive monuments ‘to the memory of men and deeds’ during the peak years between 1885 and 1912,” Dr. Ayers said. “Nine thousand white people of all ages, occupations, and genders dragged, by rope and hand, a new statue of Robert E. Lee, made in France, to its site in Richmond in 1890. Over 100,000 people attended the unveiling three weeks later, the largest ceremony attendance to any Confederate monument.”

However, the Lee statue was bittersweet, even to Southerners. At the time, Richmond was far smaller than it is today, and only a few houses surrounded the statue in what novelist Henry James called a “vague center of two or three crossways.” Dr. Ayers said that Lee seemed to stare off into the distance, ignoring his surroundings. The great monument appeared somewhat of an anticlimax. However, tributes to the Confederacy continued throughout the years.

“The celebration of Confederate veterans validated the racial and political order that had emerged since the Civil War, deemphasizing the fight to end slavery and replacing it with an emphasis on the shared experience of battle,” Dr. Ayers said. “The Civil War came to seem not unlike a ballgame, its importance placed on the sportsmanship and effort its participants displayed rather than on the questions of fundamental human importance for which they had fought.”

It’s little wonder that controversies about the Civil War remain today.

Dr. Edward L. Ayers contributed to this article. Dr. Ayers is the Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities at the University of Richmond. He received his undergraduate degree at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, summa cum laude, and his Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale University.