Whatever the outcome of November’s non-binding referendum regarding the Civil War monument on the courthouse lawn, the Warren County Board of Supervisors must eventually decide this issue. I do not envy them.
I’m told there are 600 names on the monument’s plaques, listing the Warren Countians who served during the Civil War – 10% of Warren County’s 1860 population. Imagine 4,000 men leaving our current Warren County (population 40,000), many of them never to return. It’s not difficult to understand why the community would want to memorialize this.
These men do need to be remembered. The hard part is to remember also that they fought and died serving a government whose constitution enshrined the institution of slavery in no less than four of its clauses. The Confederate States of America believed it acceptable to enslave our fellow human beings for economic gain and personal profit.
Did any of these 600 read the Confederate constitution before enlisting? Likely not. They answered the call of their community, county, and state leaders, and had they been born in Pennsylvania or Ohio, they would have enlisted in the Union army instead, for the same reason.
When Ulysses S. Grant met with Robert E. Lee at Appomattox, Grant says In his autobiography that he could not rejoice “…at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought…I do not question, however, the sincerity of the great mass of those who were opposed to us.”
Perhaps instead of removal we should consider repurposing. Let us disassemble the current monument, and then:
• With subscription funds, commission a design and erect a historically neutral display featuring the three plaques from the current monument, maintaining the scale of the existing courthouse memorials to WWI, WWII, Korea, and Viet Nam.
• Include a revision of the existing memorial’s dedication: “This monument was erected to commemorate the courage and sacrifice of the men from Warren County who served during the Civil War, 1861-1865. ‘To those who fought and lived, and to those who fought and died. To those who gave much, and to those who gave all.’”
• Through subscription, commission a pedestal for the Confederate soldier statue from the top of the monument, and move it to stand watch over the Soldiers Circle in Prospect Hill Cemetery.
• Lastly, use the monument’s remaining stone to create a small, paved area with stone benches in one of our parks, with a plaque describing their original use and why they are there.
The impact of this terrible, bloody conflict still stirs our community 155 years after the event. We can honor all sides of this discussion by remembering the words of Lt. Col. Ely Parker, a Native American present during the surrender at Appomattox. “I am glad to see one real American here,” General Lee said as he shook Lt. Col. Parker’s hand. Parker’s answer?
“We are all Americans.”