Those that do understand history are the very first to repeat its mistakes.
And there is no clearer illustration of this principle than the efforts by Loudoun County Board of Supervisor Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D) and her efforts to remove the Confederate soldier monument in Leesburg.
Let’s look at some facts.
Nearly 1,000 Loudoun County residents fought for the Confederacy from 1861-1865, with around 200 dying for that cause.
My great-great grandfather was one of them.
Samuel Athey, from Loudoun County, was a poor farmer. He enlisted in the 5th Virginia Cavalry in 1861. Later he was captured at the Second Battle of Martinsburg, was shipped as a prisoner of war all the way to Vicksburg, Mississippi, and when exchanged, walked all the way back to Virginia to rejoin his unit. Later he had his horse shot out from under him at the Battle of Brandy Station. Samuel survived the war, but many of his friends -- and my ancestors -- did not.
These were real people, most of which were poor and fighting because the federal troops invaded their home. It is that simple.
The statue at the courthouse in Leesburg simply says it is for our Confederate war dead. It does not glorify anything, but rather commemorates their sacrifices.
Many people today now oppose President George W. Bush’s Iraq War, which led to the death of several hundred thousand Iraqi citizens. Does this mean, that years in the future, because of public opinion (and mine) that believes that the war was unconstitutional and wrong, we start ripping down memorials to the rank and file soldiers who perished in that conflict? Of course not.
Add to that the fact that ‘free men of color’ from Loudoun County, the period term for non-slave African Americans, fought for the Confederacy, and by removing the monument you are also removing a memorial to their sacrifices. You will start to see that history is not black and white.
In a rush to appease a movement for the political profit, politicians all around the republic and the commonwealth are rushing to remove memorials to individuals, long dead, who are not here to defend themselves.
And by doing so, they are sewing the seeds for more division in our nation, rather than, as the veterans of that terrible war fought to do, heal the wounds of a divided nation.
The facts are there for those that want to read them and not just score political points. Virginia did not secede from the Union when Lincoln was elected, but rather seceded when the federal government demanded Virginia provide troops to suppress those states that already had left the Union.
Viewing this as an armed invasion and the suppression of the rights of those states to secede, Virginians voted to secede. An interesting footnote in this is that the chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, Samuel Chase, agreed in 1865 that secession is constitutional. If, after the war, treason charges were leveled against ex-Confederates, it would “lay 600,000 dead on the steps of the White House”.
Therefore, no ex-Confederates were ever prosecuted for treason to the Constitution.
Another misrepresented fact is the claim that Confederate monuments were put up during the Jim Crow Era. Now, of course these immoral and horrible laws spanned quite a few decades, but the monuments were not erected because of the Jim Crow laws. The answer if simpler.
Immediately after the war the South was destitute and virtually destroyed, both physically and financially. As they attempted to rebuild their lives, local civic groups began to raise funds. The first use of these funds was to provide care for the hundreds of thousands of wounded and maimed soldiers. They had to take care of the living first. Next these funds were used to bring home the war dead, from far away places such as Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Unlike federal soldiers, whom the government paid to have reburied in national cemeteries, Confederate dead lay in mass graves, mostly unmarked and left for farm animals to root up their bodies. So the next step was to bring those brave men home to be buried in their native soil.
This was a massive effort that took decades.
Finally, after living veterans were cared for and the dead brought home, civic organizations, many made up of veterans and widows themselves, began to fundraise to build memorials to the dead. This is why it took decades to erect these monuments, such as the one in Leesburg. Not to glorify the cause for which they fought, but rather to honor the husbands, sons, fathers and brothers killed in that horrible war.
Another little-known fact is that hundreds of Loudoun County residents fought for the Union as well -- many also dying during the struggle.
If our goal is to heal the wounds of division, as all the veterans of the war agreed, then the right answer is to instead add a monument to those sacrifices as well.
Combine both monuments to all the war dead as a memorial to all who died for the cause they each held dear.
We should never sew the seeds of more division, for that will lead to more anger, hate and possibly violence.
If we learn nothing else from the horrible war from 1861-1865, I pray that we learn that politicians, for political gain, will gladly turn the people against each other, leading to strife and violence.
Just like those boys that the memorial in Leesburg honors.
S. Chris Anders