Appomattox Statue, Then and Now

As you know, deciding what to do about the myriad of street names, statues, schools, and other publicly funded tributes to Confederate leaders and symbols is a fraught enterprise. 

Alexandria has its share--from Jefferson Davis Highway (which is U.S. Route 1) to Taney Avenue near me (Roger Taney was Chief Justice in the Dred Scott decision). As it happens, I live on Fort Williams Parkway, named for a Union fort. 

One of the most controversial decisions relates to this statue, in the center of Alexandria. He faces away from Washington, towards Richmond, pensive. Confederate veterans had him erected by the sculptor Castor Buberl to mark where they assembled to march off to war in 1861.

  Appomattox Statue, present day

Appomattox Statue, present day

This reminded me of a photo that I considered using in my book. I was looking for post-Civil War photos to illustrate Julia Wilbur's description of the town when she visited from Washington: so quiet, that grass grew between the cobblestones. 

The Local History Room at the Alexandria Library has a collection of photos taken by the Green family (yes, somehow related to the Mansion House Greens, according to the librarian but decades later). 

  Appomattox Statue, 1889, Alexandria Special Collections

Appomattox Statue, 1889, Alexandria Special Collections

The original is fuzzy; I tried to make the case that I could write a caption around that fuzziness, because look! there is grass growing between the cobblestones, just as Julia described it. But it was no go.

I did not find any mention of Julia seeing this statue, although we know what she would have thought about it. The re-writing of history affected her about three years earlier. President Grover Cleveland appointed a former Confederate diplomat as Secretary of the Interior; he oversaw the Patent Office where Julia worked. Several rounds of dismissals ensued; she was caught up in one of them. As part of the case to reinstate her, supporters made the (incorrect) case that during the Civil War she ministered to hospitalized soldiers on both sides. 

Interesting enough, the veterans knew the statue would still be controversial. They lobbied for a state law to protect him--Alexandria would have to request permission to remove him.

As noted in the Washington Post article, there is no plan by city leaders to do this.

 

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