- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 25, 2001

The Confederate monument "The Righteous Cause" in Arlington National Cemetery, a large and imposing sculpture, was created by Moses Jacob Ezekiel, America's first great Jewish sculptor. He executed more than 50 statues here and in Europe and was knighted by the Italian and German governments for his work.
Ezekiel was born in Richmond in 1844, one of 14 children of emigrants from the Netherlands. He attended the Virginia Military Institute and joined fellow cadets at the Battle of New Market.
He was intensely proud of his fighting in the War Between the States, which he believed was in defense of constitutional rights. The Italian revolutionary leader Garibaldi once accused him of fighting for slavery. He replied, "None of us had ever fought for slavery, and in fact were opposed to it. The South's struggle was simply a constitutional one based on the doctrine of 'States Rights' and especially on free trade and tariffs."
His extraordinary skill, intellectual brilliance and a profound understanding of Southern history enabled him to create a unique work of art in "The Righteous Cause."
The monument illustrates in beautifully worked bronze what Southern theologians, historians, statesmen and citizens believed about the South. It embodies the spirit out of which evolved the Confederate States of America.
He considered this monument to be his greatest achievement, and when he died in 1917, his will instructed that he be buried next to it. His grave is marked: "Moses J. Ezekiel, Sergeant of Company C, Battalion of Cadets of the Virginia Military Institute."
The monument was commissioned and financed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and has been maintained by that group since its presentation to President Woodrow Wilson, who accepted it as "a gift to the nation" on June 4, 1914. Surrounding it are the graves of more than 450 Confederate soldiers, wives and civilians.
The ideas that Ezekiel conveyed in his monument can be studied by viewing the work in three distinct sections from top to base: At the top, he depicts the religious beliefs of the Southern people; in the midsection, the culture of the South; and in the third section, the political principles that led 11 states into secession.
At the summit, the graceful figure of a woman representing the South stands serenely, looking consolingly on the graves below. Her head is crowned with a branch of olive leaves, a symbol of peace. Her left hand holds a laurel wreath that represents the South's moral victory in the war in spite of her conquest.
The wreath symbolizes also the love and honor she bestows upon her fallen sons and daughters. Her right hand holds both the plow and the pruning hook, which replace the sword and spear of her desperate struggle.
Below the words of Isaiah is sculpted a frieze of 14 shields bearing the coats of arms of the 13 states of the Confederacy — including Kentucky and Missouri, which the South considered to have succeeded — and Maryland, which would have voted to secede had President Lincoln not circumvented that by arresting her legislature. The shields of the 13 remind us that 13 Colonies seceded from a tyrannical British government.
This female figure stands upon a pedestal, the circumference of which is embossed in bas-relief with four cinerary urns, which commemorate the Southern dead. Below the urns are the words of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah describing the noble intentions of the Southern people after the war: "They shall beat their swords into plow-shares and their spears into pruning hooks." This section implies what Ezekiel personally experienced, that the war brought forth among the Confederate armies a great revival of religious faith.
In the middle section, Southern culture is portrayed by 32 life-size figures and several more in bas-relief to represent the sacrifice and heroism of the Southern people. In the center, the war goddess Athena holds up a wounded, falling female figure — representing conquest — who is resting on her shield, upon which is inscribed the word "Constitution."
Around the circumference, soldiers and sailors of the Confederacy march into battle, and six vignettes depict Southern families facing separation, sacrifice and the horrible consequences of war.
Near the front, Ezekiel sculpted a black Confederate soldier under arms to symbolize thousands of black men who were integrated into the ranks of the Confederate army with white soldiers. (This is in contrast to the Federal armies, in which black soldiers were segregated into units commanded only by white officers.)
Ezekiel recognized Southerners' reverence for the Bible. He knew that as people of great courage, they remembered how their ancestors in both biblical and more recent times had been persecuted by their governments. They were ready to risk everything to preserve their "unalienable Rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." Thus, Ezekiel sculpted a minister of the Gospel comforting his weeping wife while bestowing a blessing on his son, who is preparing to leave for war with a rifle on his shoulder.
The Great Seal of the Confederate States of America is attached to the base, and below it is the inscription: "To our dead Heroes by the Daughters of the Confederacy." The seal depicts George Washington, with the Latin inscription "Deo Vindice" (God Vindicates). Southerners revered the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, identifying themselves with the Colonial army of Washington and believing their struggle was a Second War for Independence.
On the back of the monument is a refrain describing how Southern soldiers felt about the war and their responsibility as citizens. The words were written by the Rev. Randolph McKim, a Confederate army chaplain who later was rector of the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in Washington.
"Not for fame or reward, nor for place or rank,/Not lured by ambition, or goaded by necessity,/But in simple obedience to duty, as they understood it,/These men suffered all, sacrificed all, dared all … and died."
Below that inscription, Ezekiel placed the words from the epic poem "Pharsalia" by the Roman poet and historian Marcus Annaeus Lucan: "Victrix causa diis placuit sed victa Catoni" (the winning cause pleased the gods, but the losing cause pleased Cato). Here the sculptor draws a comparison of the War Between the States and the war between Julius Caesar and the Roman senator Pompey. The poem is a condemnation of civil war and emphasizes the horror the Roman state inflicted upon itself.
Pompey was an admirer of Cato the Younger, a statesman devoted to the political principles and moral virtues of the early Roman Republic. Pompey's army was defeated by Caesar's legions and his, as well as Cato's, hopes for a republican form of government were crushed.
Thus, Cato symbolizes the South's moral victory in attempting to maintain the political ideals of a constitutional democratic republic while being overthrown by a centralized federal government.
Ezekiel has given Americans a most moving memorial to honor hundreds of thousands of Southern soldiers and civilians, both black and white, who gave their lives in what they firmly believed was a righteous cause.

The Rev. Alister C. Anderson is a retired U.S. Army chaplain with the rank of colonel. He lives in Frederick, Md.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide