Until a war has ended and the victors have written their story, there is no clear hero or villain. On both sides of the war, there is violence, destruction, terror, tragedy, miracles and blurred lines between right and wrong. Most importantly, however, there is humanity. As we advance into the future and organize memories of the past, one thing is crucial to remember: There is humanity on both sides of every conflict.
In front of the Loudoun County Courthouse in Leesburg stands a bronze Confederate soldier, standing guard from atop a stone pillar since May 28, 1908. His blind, bronze eyes gaze solemnly forward, revealing little emotion, but suggesting no threat. His face is bluntly average, lacking uniqueness in such a way that his could be the face of any American from any time in history: He could be camping in the trenches of World War I, protesting the Vietnam War, returning from the war in Iraq, walking down our modern busy streets while holding hands with his children.
And yet, the soldier’s mere presence on courthouse grounds has sparked controversy throughout the Town of Leesburg. He has been surrounded by groups standing in his defense and arguing for his removal, based upon claims that Confederate monuments seek to recall a dark time in American history, that they threaten national unity and defend the advocates of racism. Phillip Thompson, president of the local branch of the NAACP, claims that the statue’s dedication in 1908 was deliberate. “The Confederacy is still here, this is how we feel about it,” he told The Washington Post. In other words, the statue is less for remembrance and more for the purpose of rebelling against what has come of Union victory. In 1908, Jim Crow was still in effect, and the South was unyielding in its stance. Perhaps, the Confederate statue was erected to embody this.
But the statue does not incite rebellion; the statue is not meant to threaten racial equality. At the time of the Civil War, the Confederate soldiers did not believe they were fighting for oppression: slavery was hardly the focus of the war until later on. The Southern people felt that they themselves were being oppressed by the North, and were pressed until they felt the need to form their own nation in favor of democratic principles. Confederate soldiers were just as human as the Union soldiers: they had families at home who prayed for their safety, hometowns that feared for the future, an inner confidence that their cause was just and imperative. Union and Confederate soldiers were brothers and compatriots, all freedom-fighters that were divided by different views and political tensions.
Although the story of the Civil War is told differently in every state, the human condition of every soldier is utterly undeniable. Likewise, the Civil War is undeniably, inextricably intertwined in present Leesburg, from the names of the streets to the historic downtown whose facade has hardly changed. Despite the modern transience of the population, there continue to be families who have lived in Leesburg for decades: perhaps descendants of the very Confederate soldiers that the statue honors. The Confederate soldier statue is a part of Leesburg, a part of history and a part of humanity. To remove the statue would be to deny the truth and dishonor thousands of brave souls.
According to Thompson, the NAACP merely requests a more balanced remembrance of the past, one that includes honors for Union soldiers, slaves and the heroes of the Underground Railroad, according to The Washington Post. Each of these groups deserves modern recognition, and their impacts on today’s society should be cherished by all people. The Civil War is in the past, and it is time for all Americans to pledge allegiance to one nation, letting go of the 19th-century bitterness. Confederate flags should not be flown, as they are symbols of tensions and divisions.
The Confederate soldier, however, is no flag and does not carry the same meaning. The statue appears as a human being, for the purpose of honoring human beings who gave their lives for what they believed in. Surrendering Confederate ties will not create national unity unless the one-sidedness of the Reconstruction is also left to the past. Unity requires an honorable remembrance of every brave American, regardless of their views or the uniforms that they wore.
Heritage High School Senior