The U.S. Army War College, which molds future field generals, has begun discussing whether it should remove its portraits of Confederate generals — including those of Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
Nestled in rural Pennsylvania on the 500-acre Carlisle Barracks, the war college is conducting an inventory of all its paintings and photographs with an eye for rehanging them in historical themes to tell a particular Army story.
During the inventory, an unidentified official — not the commandant, Maj. Gen. Anthony A. Cucolo III — asked the administration why the college honors two generals who fought against the United States, college spokeswoman Carol Kerr said.
“I do know at least one person has questioned why we would honor individuals who were enemies of the United States Army,” Ms. Kerr said. “There will be a dialogue when we develop the idea of what do we want the hallway to represent.”
She said one faculty member took down the portraits of Lee and Jackson and put them on the floor as part of the inventory process. That gave rise to rumors that the paintings had been removed.
“This person was struck by the fact we have quite a few Confederate images,” she said, adding that the portraits were rehung on a third-floor hallway. “[Lee] was certainly not good for the nation. This is the guy we faced on the battlefield whose entire purpose in life was to destroy the nation as it was then conceived. … This is all part of an informed discussion.”
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It is the kind of historical cleansing that could spark an Army-wide debate: Lee’s portrait adorns the walls of other military installations and government buildings.
Two portraits of Lee are on display at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.: In the Cadet Mess Hall is a painting of Lee when he was superintendent as an Army captain. A portrait of Lee in full Confederate regalia hangs on the second floor of Jefferson Hall, the campus library.
Opened in 1901 to study the lessons of war, the Army War College is a history class and modern warfare symposium for lieutenant colonels and colonels who know that a diploma from the institution helps their chances with the promotion board. The college graduates more than 300 U.S. officers, foreign students and civilians in two classes each year.
Lee’s life story is full of personal conflict.
Born and raised in Virginia, the son of a Revolutionary War hero and governor, Lee graduated from the Army’s premier undergraduate school, West Point, and returned as its superintendent. Serving as a combat engineer, he distinguished himself in the Mexican-American War, during which he was wounded and received several battlefield promotions. Yet he broke with the Union and agreed to lead the Army of Northern Virginia for the Confederate States of America.
Jackson, who also received battlefield promotions during the Mexican-American War, is another West Point graduate.
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In 1975, Congress enacted a joint resolution reinstating Lee’s U.S. citizenship in what could be considered a final act to heal Civil War wounds. The resolution praised Lee’s character and his work to reunify the nation. It noted that six months after surrendering to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, Lee swore allegiance to the Constitution and to the Union.
“This entire nation has long recognized the outstanding virtues of courage, patriotism and selfless devotion to duty of General R.E. Lee,” the joint resolution stated.
President Ford traveled to Arlington House, Lee’s former home in Virginia, to sign the resolution into law on Aug. 5, 1975.
Ford quoted from a letter that Lee wrote to a former Confederate soldier: “This war, being at an end, the Southern States having laid down their arms, and the questions at issue between them and the Northern States having been decided, I believe it to be the duty of everyone to unite in the restoration of the country and the reestablishment of peace and harmony.”
Ford said: “As a soldier, Gen. Lee left his mark on military strategy. As a man, he stood as the symbol of valor and of duty. As an educator, he appealed to reason and learning to achieve understanding and to build a stronger nation. The course he chose after the war became a symbol to all those who had marched with him in the bitter years towards Appomattox.”