One Man’s Opinion

Dick Nicholas

Volume 12, Number 3
March 2004

A lamented the absence of an appropriate marker for the cemetery, but the aging and dwindling ranks of the poverty-stricken old soldiers had no resources to honor their deceased comrades. Fortunately, the newly organized local chapter of the U.D.C. cams a hopelessly benighted disciple of the so-called “Lost Cause,” so faddishly under assault these days with the current crop of neo-revisionist historians, I much enjoy touring the back roads of the old Confederacy and visiting the local courthouse in the various counties in search of the inevitable Confederate monument. I’ll admit that you have to be a real aficionado of the Civil War, perhaps even slightly deranged, to find this an exciting venture. But being a Virginian by birth, the sight of these memorials and their inscriptions always evokes an emotional reaction in me when I think of the courage and devotion to duty of the people honored by these historical markers. The bronze and stone structures are reminders of that great tragic conflict between the states, and are found on virtually every courthouse lawn throughout the South.

I have seen many Civil War monuments in many towns and places in the North as well, but they don’t seem to be nearly as numerous as they are in the South, and I doubt if their presence ever generated the emotive fidelity equivalent to that found south of the Mason-Dixon Line. I suspect that when you win, the tendency among succeeding generations is to move on to other things. On the other hand, the losers seem to have the more enduring and visceral memories. Sociologists and psychologists probably have good explanations for this behavior, but my simplistic reasoning tells me that in addition to vast cultural differences, the people of the South just had a deeper and much more passionate, affectionate, and personal attachment to the men honored, and a camaraderie that is difficult for non-Southerners to appreciate.

Unlike their Northern counterparts, most of the Confederate monuments in front of the courthouses and in city parks in the South that we see today were not erected until many years following the war for the simple reason that there was no money. The war’s devastation left the South and its inhabitants in desperate economic conditions, cash was almost nonexistent, and every coin was needed just to provide the essential commodities of life. It took years of scrimping and saving by the people to raise the funds. And it was not until the United Daughters of the Confederacy came into existence in the 1890s that the movement to memorialize the deeds of the men of the Confederacy really gained the momentum and sufficient funding to be successful. The dedication and perseverance of these ladies was rooted in their motto: “Love Makes Memory Eternal.”

A good example of role of the U.D.C. can be seen locally in the Scottsville Confederate Cemetery. Although a small Confederate Cemetery had been in existence there since the war, it was not until 1914 when the local chapter of the U.D.C. became involved, that the burial site of some 40 Confederate soldiers was memorialized with an appropriate granite obelisk. Years earlier the local camp of Confederate veterans had come to the rescue. Through numerous fund-raising events such as bake-sales, raffles, dances, box lunches, and other charitable events, they raised enough money to not only erect a monument in the cemetery, but to also enclose the cemetery with an iron fence.

The Confederate statue in front of the Albemarle County Courthouse in Charlottesville is a splendid example of the typical Civil War monument that silhouettes so many Southern skylines. Flanked by two authentic 12-pounder Napoleons, the Court Square monument consists of a bronze, fully equipped Confederate soldier in a realistic pose atop a granite block. The monument was unveiled in 1909 and carries the following inscription: Warriors: Your Valour; Your Devotion to Duty; Your Fortitude Under Privations: Teach us how to Suffer and Grow Strong. Lest We Forget. Although a plaque states that the Daughters of the Confederacy, Albemarle County, and the City of Charlottesville were responsible for placing the marker, another source suggests that the Widows’ Sons’ Lodge No. 60 A.F. and A.M. may also have contributed to the funding.

A similar classic Civil War monument is located in the University of Virginia Cemetery. In this case, a handsome bareheaded, and again, fully equipped soldier in bronze stands upon a granite square that is inscribed to the Confederate Dead. Bronze tablets on the sides contain the names under state headings of more than 1,200 Confederate dead who are buried in the surrounding cemetery. The legend on the monument is one of my favorites: Fate denied them victory but clothed them with glorious immortality.

The University Cemetery Statue, unveiled in 1893, was one of the earliest monuments dedicated in the State, and like most others that followed, was probably funded by the local Ladies Confederate Memorial Association of Albemarle County. In 1906 the same organization also placed two bronze tablets on the south wall of the University’s Rotunda listing the names of the students and alumni who lost their lives in the service of the Confederacy. The tablets contain over 500 names.

Charlottesville is also blessed with two magnificent equestrian statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson that were given to the community by its great benefactor Paul Goodloe McIntire. The Jackson statue was dedicated in 1921, and Lee’s monument was unveiled in 1924. Thanks to Barbara Wright’s Herculean efforts, the latter two statues were restored and rededicated in 1999 with two of General Lee’s great-grandchildren in attendance. Indeed, Mary Walker Lee Bowman had the honor of unveiling her great-grandfather’s statue at the original ceremony in 1924 when she was only three years old. Her brother Robert E. Lee IV was also present for the 1999 ceremony; as a young boy he had helped dedicate the epic Stone Mountain, Georgia, memorial to General Lee in 1928.

The dedications of the major monuments were grand affairs attended by thousands of people with parades and marching bands, school holidays, reunions and banquets for the old veterans, and religious services. The events sometimes took place over several days, and unlike the atmosphere of free speech suppression enforced today by our politically correct culture, politicians and university presidents of that era begged to be invited. The dedicatory speeches were often made by those same senators, governors, or other prominent officials, but in many cases the old veterans themselves also participated in the oratory.

Almost all the courthouses in the neighboring counties of Albemarle have Civil War monuments on their grounds. Some examples, with the year of dedication, are: Orange, 1900; Culpeper, 1911; Fluvanna, 1901; Goochland, 1918; Madison, 1901; and one of my favorites, Buckingham, 1908. The latter, located in the middle of today’s Highway 60 and directly in front of the courthouse was dedicated June 30, 1908, as the Civil War Memorial to Buckingham war dead. The inscription reads: To commemorate the devotion and heroism of the Confederate soldiers of Buckingham County who valued principle more than life and fought for a cause they knew to be just.

There are, of course, numerous other Civil War monuments, plaques, and historical markers in all these localities in various parks and cemeteries, on highways, or other places. The above list only identifies those that are associated with the county courthouses.

A book could be written on the inscriptions that are found on Confederate monuments. One of the most frequently used says simply: To Our Confederate Dead. Another common phrase lifted from Rudyard Kipling’s 1897 poem “Recessional” is the three words: Lest We Forget. Numerous monuments are also dedicated: To Our Confederate Heroes. Yet the briefest and perhaps most poignant and meaningful of all the phrases appears on General Robert E. Lee’s famous equestrian statue on Monument Avenue in Richmond. When Virginians considered what should be written on the monument, they decided that his name said it all—just three letters: LEE. No other words were needed to describe their feelings and their bond with this man.

The monuments are found in some very remote places. In the spring of 1870, Robert E. Lee, in hopes of restoring his failing health, made one last tour to the warmer climes of the south with his daughter Agnes. The farthest point south that they reached was a small town named Palatka on the St. John’s River in Northern Florida, not far below Jacksonville. Lee and his daughter spent one night there in the home of Colonel Robert G. Cole, the former chief commissary officer for Lee in the Army of Northern Virginia. The next day they reversed course and headed back north towards home. A few years ago my wife and I drove through the small community, and there in front of the Putnam County Courthouse was a Confederate monument dedicated in 1925, and another marker commemorating the historic visit of Robert E. Lee. They did not forget.

And lest you think that these Confederates symbols are restricted only to the states of the old Confederacy, Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, California, contains a memorial with the following inscription: In memory of the soldiers of the Confederate States of America who have died or may die on the Pacific Coast.

These stone and metal symbols of a tragic war may seem anachronistic and out-of-place to many in our society today, quaint reminders of a painful, yet distant and meaningless past—to be denigrated, ignored, suppressed, or even removed. But for me, they are part of our culture and our history, and a constant reminder of the honor, courage, and devotion to duty of these men. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the women of the South who, in leaving us the legacy of these monuments, fulfilled their motto: “Love Makes Memory Eternal.”