With the recent activity regarding the removal or even destruction of Confederate monuments throughout the South, I felt it was time that I respond. I have read of some people locally who would like to do away with the monument in front of the Clarke County Courthouse. They feel that it represents some sort of intent to intimidate black people or even promotes white supremacy. I can tell you that this monument represents neither of those things.
A little background on the monument is in order. It was erected in 1880; 10 years after the end of the U.S. Army occupation of Virginia. Due to the devastated economy of the South, it took that long to raise enough funds to build it. The monument is a granite sculpture of a common foot soldier, not a general or a dashing cavalryman. He has no name. In fact, he has his hat in his hand, has no weapon and carries no cartridge box. He is hardly an intimidating figure.
A contemporary account at the raising of the monument described it this way, in part:
“The base is four feet square, and with the pedestal is twelve feet in height. Surmounting these is a heroic figure, eight feet high…with arms folded, with bare head and eyes cast down, the embodiment in stone of one who, after having given up home, friends, and country in defense of principles, now that the struggle is over and all lost, almost as in a dream begins to realize the situation. And yet there is something of hope in the expression on the face — a hope which has found fruition in the part of the soldiers of the Lost Cause have played in the progress and advancement of our united country since the close of the war.”
The inscription on the monument says it all:
“Erected to the memory of the sons of Clarke who gave their lives in defense of the rights of states and of constitutional government. Fate denied them success, but they achieved imperishable fame.”
This is not a monument meant to coerce or intimidate. It is a monument to commemorate the 107 common soldiers of Clarke County who died defending their rights, their homes and their families. Were their leaders sometimes bombastic and hypocritical? Certainly. Were their politicians quick to take offense and unwilling to compromise? Undoubtedly. It was described then, as in most every war, before or since, as a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight. This monument is to that poor man.
If these men, who had literally been at each other’s throats, could lay down their arms, make peace with their brethren from the North and form a new and even stronger United States of America, we certainly owe them the decency of keeping the monument they raised. This monument stands as a reminder of where we as a nation have been and gives hope for the future for what we can attain. We must keep this monument.
Dave Clarke is a resident of Clarke County.