The Virginia General Assembly wisely enacted Va. Code Section 15.2-1812 to protect war memorials from destruction for political reasons. It provides: “If such [war memorials] are erected, it shall be unlawful to disturb or interfere with any monuments or memorials so erected.”
Localities erected monuments to those who fought in the War Between the States several decades after the war, while millions of those veterans were still living. The Confederate soldier monument, at the Old Courthouse in Leesburg, was erected in 1908, roughly 43 years after the war ended. Most Confederate veterans would have been in their 60s by then, and many had befriended old adversaries.
In Northern Virginia, John Mosby, the famed “Gray Ghost,” had bedeviled the Union armies with hit-and-run cavalry tactics that earned him a prominent place in Civil War history. After the war, he befriended his old nemesis, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Their friendship began in 1866, when Grant issued him a handwritten safe-conduct pass. Later, Mosby became President Grant’s Republican campaign manager for Virginia, and he was fondly remembered in Grant’s memoirs. In such ways did our nation gradually bind the terrible wounds of our most tragic war.
Millions of good people, North and South, endured great suffering. In Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, he set forth his postwar goals: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.”
When the Courthouse Statue was erected, it was “to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.” The statue is a quiet, reflective image of the men who fought that war. One can imagine those who attended when it was erected in 1908. No doubt they included veterans, widows, and those for whom the statue was a solemn memorial to long-lost friends; to fathers, husbands or brothers. It was not a political statement any more than the Vietnam War Memorial is a political statement about that war.
The Virginia Code protects war memorials because they record our history. The purpose of the law prohibiting the removal of war memorials is to avoid the type of conflict that occurred in Charlottesville.
Troublemakers rip down historically significant statues for political reasons. The Islamic State employed cultural destruction as a weapon of terror in Iraq and Syria; we mustn’t follow suit in Virginia.
The chair of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors proposed a change to the Virginia Code making it easier to tear down war memorials. Attempts to remove Loudoun County’s Confederate Statue would harm our image and divide our community. The board should be calming racial tensions — not inflaming them.
As senator for the 13th District, I represent the Manassas National Battlefield and Balls Bluff Battlefield Regional Park. Visitors quietly walk those hallowed grounds with a sense of reverence that honors fallen heroes of both sides; political leaders should approach them with that same respect.
On the 106th anniversary of the birth of Jefferson Davis, the Arlington Cemetery Confederate Monument was unveiled before a large crowd of Northerners and Southerners on June 4, 1914. President Woodrow Wilson addressed a large crowd of Union and Confederate veterans, who placed wreaths on the graves of their former foes, symbolizing reconciliation between North and South — the memorial’s central theme. Those who paid the price in blood formed bonds of brotherhood for the benefit of America. We do them a disservice when we reverse those magnanimous acts of love and mercy.
I have no doubt that statue removal would eventually invite removal of headstones from Confederate gravesites; there is always some new tool to perpetuate division and hatred. We should have the wisdom to respect our history and draw lessons from it.
I oppose weakening the Virginia statute protecting war memorials. If bills attacking war monuments are introduced in the Senate, I will vote against them.
• Richard H. Black, a member of the Senate of Virginia, is a former U.S. Marine pilot and Vietnam War veteran. He is a member of the Virginia War Memorial Commission.