August 18, 2017: Almost a year ago to the day, I wrote about the "Appomattox statute," i.e., the Confederate soldier in the middle of Washington Street in Alexandria who looks toward Richmond, back to Washington, DC.
The specific reason was discovery of a photo from 1889 (see toward end of the post), in a collection at the Alexandria library.
Now, the events in Charlottesville are putting a new focus on this and other memorials to the Confederacy.
Route 1 through Alexandria was already slated for a name change--from Jefferson Davis Highway. You can weigh in with suggestions here. Mine: Harriet Tubman Highway and Patsy Ticer Highway. What do you think?
Back to the soldier, which is owned by the Daughters of the Confederacy although on public land. A year after it was erected, in 1890, the Virginia General Assembly passed a law protecting it without Assembly approval. The City Council in September 2016 voted to remove the statue from the public street. The state delegation from Alexandria expressed reluctance to push the issue, figuring they would rather use their bargaining chips for other issues.
That was last year. This year, or rather after last week, the mood has changed.
Original Post: August 26, 2016
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.
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).
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.