Last week, I wrote about the statue of Chief Justice John Marshall. I provided some history about Chief Justice Marshall, noting his association with slavery.[i] That resulted in a number of interesting comments that expanded the discussion to, among other things, statues of confederate soldiers. I write next about those statues.
Imagine, if you will, a tin soldier in confederate garb. I am taking about an object a history buff might use in his or her basement to reenact a battle during the civil war. The little figure might be someone like Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.[ii]
This tiny tin soldier in the hands of a history buff would not be offensive to most people, whether they be white or black. But now let’s expand the thought a bit. Assume the tin soldier has been blown up and plunked down in front of a courthouse where blacks and whites go to get justice (whatever the hell “justice” means). Does that change things?
Let me complicate the question even more. What if the full-size sculpture was placed in this spot with the encouragement of a group with an agenda? What if that group dedicated themselves to glorifying the confederacy?
It turn out that “white bronze”[iii] statues depicting confederate soldiers became widely available around the first two decades of the 1900s. “During this time, organizations like the United Daughters of the Confederacy were looking to reframe and glorify the Confederate cause, and in many states, the descendants of slaves had been stripped of the right to vote, which impeded their ability to effectively voice opposition.” Cara Giaimo, Those Mass-Produced Civil War Statues Were Meant to Stand Forever, AtlasObsura (August 25, 2017).[iv]
The United Daughters of the Confederacy, founded in 1894, is still a thing. Indeed, the United Daughters of the Confederacy is a nonprofit organization and it meets the requirements of IRS Code section 501(c)(3) as a tax-exempt organization.
It was incorporated under the laws of the District of Columbia on July 18, 1919. As stated in the articles of incorporation, some of the goals of the UDC are these:
- To honor the memory of those who served and those who fell in the service of the Confederate States.
- To protect, preserve and mark the places made historic by Confederate valor.
- To collect and preserve the material for a truthful history of the War Between the States.
- To record the part taken by Southern women in patient endurance of hardship and patriotic devotion during the struggle and in untiring efforts after the War during the reconstruction of the South.
- To fulfill the sacred duty of benevolence toward the survivors and toward those dependent upon them.
- To assist descendants of worthy Confederates in securing proper education.
- To cherish the ties of friendship among the members of the Organization.
It is not easy to become a member of the UDC. Those eligible for membership are women at least 16 years of age who are lineal or collateral blood descendants of men and women who served honorably in the Army, Navy, or Civil Service of the Confederate States of America, or who gave material aid to the cause. Women who were adopted are eligible only through the bloodline of the biological parent. Also eligible are those women who are lineal or collateral blood descendants of members or former members of the UDC. However, a woman can’t become a member if her ancestor took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States before April 16, 1865, the date Lee surrendered.
Like most snippets of history, there is a twist. Please meet Georgia Benton, a retired math teacher and a member of the UDC:
The story[v] of how she qualified to become a member of the UDC is both fascinating and moving. Benton’s great-grandfather was a slave. He was a manservant to his young master. George W. Washington, the black slave, was 16 years of age when he entered Confederate service in 1862 as the servant of Lt. William Alexander McQueen, who was 22. He stood by his master during the battles of Sharpsburg, Gettysburg and Petersburg. When his master was killed, Washington brought McQueen’s body home for burial after the lieutenant was struck down by artillery fire and slain during the war’s final days.
The former slave, Washington, died in 1911, and a 4-foot-high obelisk was put up by the A.A. Solomons family of Sumter, South Carolina to remember him. Washington worked for the Solomons as a butler and valet for almost 40 years. Ms. Benton often remembered visiting her great-grandfather’s gravesite when she was a child.
One side of the monument commemorates Washington’s Civil War service. When the obelisk needed repairs in 2005, they were paid for by the General P.G.T. Beauregard Camp No. 1458 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Ms. Benton said that George W. Washington could have run off in 1863 when he participated in the Gettysburg campaign. “But he stayed faithful. He stayed loyal. He was a true soldier.”
The United Daughters of the Confederacy would do this divided country a great good deed if it erected a larger-than-life real (not fake) bronze statue depicting the figure of George W. Washington. Mr. Washington was not a tin soldier.
Richard G. Kopf
Senior United States District Judge (Nebraska)
[i] My primary interest in writing that post was to advance the importance of legal realism. Frankly, I was then not much interested in the wider debate about other figures.
[ii] “Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson (1824-63) was a war hero and one of the South’s most successful generals during the American Civil War (1861-65). After a difficult childhood, he graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, in time to fight in the Mexican War (1846-48). He then left the military to pursue a teaching career. After his home state of Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861, Jackson joined the Confederate army and quickly forged his reputation for fearlessness and tenacity during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign later that same year. He served under General Robert E. Lee (1807-70) for much of the Civil War. Jackson was a decisive factor in many significant battles until his mortal wounding by friendly fire at the age of 39 during the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863.” History.com.
[iv] Thanks to Jake DiMare for tipping me off about this article.
[v] Chuck Mobley, African-American Savannah woman takes her place among United Daughters of the Confederacy, Savannah Morning News, (August 7, 2014).