One Man’s Opinion

Dick Nicholas

Volume 7, Number 10
October 1999

On Sunday afternoon September 26 the restored statues of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and the Confederate Dead were rededicated in a ceremony held at Lee Park in Charlottesville. For those of you who missed the ceremony and may not know, our own Barbara Wright [of the Charlottesville Civil War Roundtable] organized a major effort to raise the funds to restore the three statues, which were in serious condition after many years of natural aging and exposure to the elements. The City also contributed to the event by restoring the Lewis and Clark statue, which was also badly in need of repairs. Thanks to everyone’s contributions and efforts, these historical monuments have been preserved for future generations.

Charlottesville is unique in many ways. But it is especially fortunate for a community of its size to be blessed with so many historical monuments and statues. For that distinction it is indebted to a native son who was born here at about the time that the Civil War began. Like most Southerners of his generation and later, Paul Goodloe McIntire had to leave his home and the South to make a living. After stints in Chicago and New York and numerous successful ventures in the stock market, he ended up as a financially well-off man. He never forgot his roots, however, and in 1919 he became part of a City Beautification movement that was sweeping America at that time.

McIntire, like other philanthropists of his era, believed that figurative sculptures of great men and events would advance education and culture as well as perform a valuable function of teaching history and serving as an inspiration for future charity and patriotism. So it was that in 1919 he donated the Lewis and Clark statue to the City of Charlottesville, followed by the Jackson and George Rogers Clark statue in 1921, and the Lee statue in 1924. In addition to the statues, McIntire’s other donations included schools, libraries, parks, and scholarships. Without these legacies, Charlottesville and the University would be a much poorer community in terms of historical assets and culture.

There are other Civil War monuments in and around Charlottesville such as the Monument to Confederate Dead in the University of Virginia Cemetery, the Court Square Monument, and the Rotunda Tablets. All these memorials were erected prior to McIntire’s gifts—the oldest being the cemetery monument, unveiled in 1893. Collectively, when these earlier monuments are combined with McIntire’s donations, it is easy to see that Charlottesville for its population is, indeed, richly endowed with a surfeit of historical sculpture.

The history of the erection and unveiling of statues reveals much about the history of the community. For example, contemporary newspaper accounts of the Lee statue unveiling on May 21, 1924, show that a throng of about 25,000 people attended. A parade prior to the ceremony in Lee Park began on West Main near the University and wound its way downtown. Participants included the V.M.I. Corps of Cadets, National Guard units from all over the state, local and state high school and city bands, the Governor, senators, congressmen, and other dignitaries. Schools were suspended, and businesses closed for the event. There were lunches, banquets, balls, concerts, receptions, and auto trips to Monticello for various Civil War groups and organizations. The most honored of all the guests were the dwindling numbers of aging Confederate veterans who received special recognition and consideration. While most of the parade participants marched behind the music of the many bands, the old veterans were accorded the privilege of riding in automobiles that local citizens had loaned for the event, and given front-row seats at the Lee monument for the unveiling.

The unveiling was preceded by an afternoon of speeches, the principal orator being the Rev. M. Ashby Jones of Atlanta, the son of Dr. J. William Jones who was a chaplain in the Army of Northern Virginia. He was followed by the President of Washington and Lee University who presented the statue to the City, and finally, Edwin A. Alderman, President of the University of Virginia made the speech of acceptance. Then in an emotional finale, Miss Mary Walker Lee, the three-year-old great granddaughter of Lee unveiled the statue to the cheers and tears of the crowd.

It must have been a grand affair in 1924. The re-dedication last month was a slightly more modest affair, even though we were fortunate to have Mary Walker Lee Bowman and her brother Robert E. Lee IV as honored guests. It was a glorious day, and I am sorry that many of you missed it. But thanks to Barbara and those who contributed funds and the many others who worked long and hard on the project, our community can continue to point with pride to its historical treasures.

There are those today who question the propriety of Confederate monuments that grace our boulevards, courthouse lawns, and parks. These critics frequently stir up great controversies in the media by suggesting that the monuments represent an era best ignored, if not expunged from our history books. But, how can we wipe out a period of history and pretend that it didn’t exist? That which is politically incorrect today, may be quite fashionable and acceptable tomorrow. The people and events represented by the Civil War statues are an undeniable part of Charlottesville’s past, and that of Virginia and the nation. Like the battlefields which we are striving so hard to preserve, these hallowed statues and monuments are part of our heritage and culture, and have immense value as teaching tools to explore the complexity of our nation’s most critical era, and to honor those who sacrificed so much for their beliefs.

And as for Robert E. Lee, perhaps President Henry Louis Smith of Washington and Lee said it best in 1924 when he presented the Lee statue to the community on behalf of Paul Goodloe McIntire: To the efforts of Robert E. Lee, more than any other leader, North or South, the country owes the obliteration in a single generation of sectional bitterness after the close of the War Between the States.