Asheville Daily Planet, August 1, 2020
My hometown has a Confederate monument – a 76-footer right in the middle of downtown. It’s got four generals around the base and generic Johnny Reb on the pinnacle. It’s a prime target for the monument massacre going on these days, I’m sure. Indeed, a petition to remove it is circulating as I write.
But if they gave me the decision, I wouldn’t just say, “Confederate, gone.” There are considerations.
The four generals were, predictably, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, plus two local-boy generals, Thomas R.R. Cobb and William H.T. Walker.
I’d trash Cobb immediately. He was everything bad about the South. He wrote the slavery portions of the Confederate Constitution. In 1858, he wrote:
“This inquiry…seems to point [the negro] clearly, as peculiarly fitted for a laborious class. The physical frame is capable of great and long-continued exertion. Their mental capacity renders them incapable of successful self-development, and yet adapts them for the direction of the wiser race. Their moral character renders them happy, peaceful, contented and cheerful in a status that would break the spirit and destroy the energies of the Caucasian or the native American.”
The three non-Cobb generals deserve more thought. All owned slaves, but there’s nothing to say they joined the Confederacy to perpetuate slavery. All three were professional soldiers, and when they had to decide, incredibly to us, they sided with their home state over the country they loved and had fought for.
For sure, they failed to exercise due diligence in choosing the Confederacy. Dysfunction was absolutely predictable. Eleven states with States’ Rights and little loyalty to a central government? Georgia’s governor threatened to secede from the Confederacy over conscription. Jefferson Davis, an old soldier himself, intended to personally manage the war. Did my three generals really want to swap the United States for a shabby country run by plantation birdbrains? My generals were pitiable figures, not villains.
I’d spare statues of Confederates of good character as memorial of the man. Cobb would go, and in a pleasantry, I’d replace him with Union Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs, local boy who stayed with the Union and is credited by some as winning the war with his logistics. And Johnny Reb stays on his perch. These poor dupes were in no way culpable for the Confederacy. They were literally cannon fodder.
There’s another reason for keeping my hometown monument. It was erected in 1877. Coming as it did soon after the War, it’ was a true expression of grief. And as such, it was almost unique.
Let me explain. Wikipedia lists 91 Confederate monuments in North Carolina, and of those, I counted only four that were erected before 1890 – in Raleigh, Fayetteville, Wilmington and a battle site in Harnett County. The rest came much later.
The much-later memorials were the result of an ideology called the “Lost Cause,” an intentional reshaping of Civil War history. It gained momentum as the dwindling Civil War generation wanted future generations to know the “truth” about the Southern cause. In that effort, they were totally successful.
According to the Lost Cause narrative, the pre-war South glowed with benevolent, Christian light. The war was necessary in the face of imminent Northern aggression, slavery “elevated” the savage Negro and the Confederate army’s skill and courage were overwhelmed by Yankee numbers and industry. (My grandmother liked to say, “We were not defeated; we were outnumbered.”) And threading through it all, white supremacy.
Sixty-seven of the 91 monuments I noted on Wikipedia came after 1900, exactly the time when the Lost Cause was fully realized. That’s also when Jim Crow started. They celebrated their fictitious white legacy with Confederate monuments – and black suppression.
We can’t tolerate Lost Cause monuments. They didn’t rise out of grief, like the early monuments. They deliberately celebrate a false history of benighted blacks and benevolent white masters – and enshrine white supremacy as a permanent way of life.
Monuments are being moved away to appropriate places, like cemeteries. Dallas sold the R.E. Lee statue from Lee Park (erected 1936) to a golf resort in South Texas for a million dollars. The final resting place of Asheville and Buncombe County monuments is being discussed.
Footnote: They say 35 Confederate monuments have been place in N.C. since 2000, like he 2011 one in Bakersville that lists the 79 Mitchell County Confederate dead. These brand-new monuments may be kin to modern displays of the Confederate flag.