By Douglas W. Phillips Jr.
Phillips is an environmental engineer. He lives in Roanoke.
My purpose in writing is to inform those who may not be aware of the historical relevance of the Lee Monument. Here are some considerations if we remove the Lee Monument from downtown Roanoke as Robin Barnhill advocates in her Roanoke Times article of June 6 titled “Time to Change Roanoke’s Lee Memorials”; a very well-written article and accurate in its portrayal of how “many towns across the country” are now engaged in trying to remove Confederate monuments. According to the Virginia Flaggers there are more than 1,100 statues in Virginia alone, which honor the fallen, valiant warriors and leaders. Why do we need to engage removal in Roanoke? What Barnhill may not realize is that many of these statues and shrines were allowed to be erected by donors as conciliatory efforts by the local governments toward the defeated South.
She points out that in Charlottesville in 2017 people were seen carrying the Confederate battle bag while chanting words of hate, “Sometimes these people were in the same group with others who were carrying the Nazi swastika.” I feel this was very unfortunate for the cause of retaining the statues, and I have seen such photos, but many groups who support the memory of the Confederate battle flag do not align themselves with neo-Nazis, nor with white supremacists. The Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) has nothing to do with those advocating white dominance of the races, but remains interested in non-violent historical education and remembering our ancestors.
Many Confederate veterans became great citizens, businessmen, farmers, and municipal leaders in a post-slavery nation after the war. Even during painful Reconstruction, former Confederates worked with northerners to rebuild the nation. One example of this is the Trans-Continental railroad. Many do not appreciate the South or Southerners and what they tried to defend, and many lack direct connection to the warriors who fought so courageously for the South to protect states rights under the U.S. Constitution. Many officers in the CSA had patriotic descendants of outstanding leadership such as Gens. Lejeune and Patton as well as Gen. Wheeler who had the unique distinction of serving as a commanding officer for the CSA as well as a U.S. General later in the war with Spain.
Barnhill mentions that slavery was one of the issues causing the War Between the States. However, it is very difficult for a society to impose its current laws to those of the past which were, in their own time, lawful. I, like Barnhill totally condemn and don’t condone slavery in any form.
General Lee has been accused of treason before. Section 3 of Article II that Barnhill references does not cover secession of individual states. After the Southern states seceded, Lee then decided, it was his duty to protect his home state of Virginia from invasion by the federal government. There is no treason with Lee in a seceded state of Virginia. I would remind readers, as does Barnhill, of Lee’s faithful service to the country before the war as superintendent of the West Point Military Academy and his faithful service as an Army Engineer in the Mexican War in the 1840’s.
Robert Allison provides a powerful insight in his book, the American Revolution — A Concise History, and asks this:
“Would Jefferson use the government’s power to punish his political opponents, who had tried to silence the opposition? He would not. The Federal Supremacists had mistaken the nature of American power. The government did not need an army to keep domestic peace, nor laws to punish dissenting opinions. Its strength rested on an informed citizenry.” Much of what he outlines is now happening.
The Lee monument in my opinion should remain in place because it is historically relevant but if the Plaza must by popular demand be renamed, I suggest this alternative: The Sherman (after Gen. Tecumseh Sherman of the northern Army of the Potomac) — Lea Plaza (named after the current mayor) — The Sherman Lea Plaza!
We have all heard it said that “Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.”
Finally, I quote to readers the engraving on the court square’s shrine at Floyd County’s Confederate statue (which bears Lee’s image on the pedestal):
“STOOP ANGELS, HITHER FROM THE SKIES: THERE IS NO HOLIER SPOT OF GROUND WHERE DEFEATED VALOR LIES BY MOURNING BEAUTY CROWNED.”