Thursday, June 19, 2003

SHARPSBURG, Md. — A bronze statue of Robert E. Lee will be unveiled Saturday on the Antietam Battlefield, bucking a trend that has devalued Confederate history and memorials.

William F. Chaney, a distant relative of Lee who in 1999 purchased the land on which the statue stands, says the statue he has erected is a necessary symbol of the Confederacy at a time in which others around the country are being shed.

“It represents all the Southern boys who fought on the bloodiest day in American history,” said Mr. Chaney, an Anne Arundel County resident. “They need to be represented, too.”

In Sharpsburg, the town in which 22,726 soldiers were killed or wounded in a Civil War battle 141 years ago, Lee sits astride his horse, Traveller, with a defiant gaze and binoculars drawn.

Mr. Chaney, who calls himself a lover of all history, spent “well into six figures” on the project and will dedicate the statue during a ceremony in Sharpsburg at 6 p.m. Saturday.

According to the National Park Service, a majority of the 94 monuments at Antietam are related to the Union. The Confederacy had difficulty raising money for monuments after the war, hence the Union’s advantage at the Antietam National Battlefield, which was established in 1890 as the second Civil War park in the United States.

By Mr. Chaney’s count, Union statues in Sharpsburg outnumber those of Confederates 99 to 3. The fourth will be the Lee statue.

“You know, we Confederates, we’re used to being up against long odds, but not that long,” said Mr. Chaney, 57. “With General Lee being one of those four, I like those odds.”

However, there is some opposition to the statue by some who say it presents an unrealistic view of history. Tom Clemens, president of the Save Historic Antietam Foundation, said the statue marks the site of Lee’s brief presence during the battle.

Mr. Clemens said critics have no problem with honoring a Confederate solider, it’s just that the placement of the 24-foot-tall monument — a 12-foot-tall granite base beneath a 12-foot-tall bronze statue of Lee and his steed — could confuse visitors. “It’s a statue that is sort of a theoretical Lee in a theoretical place,” he said.

Sharpsburg officials are also concerned because they fear more statues will turn the town into a tourist attraction on the scale of Gettysburg, where hotels and visitors abound.

While preservationists and Sharpsburg residents might not object, Confederate icons are being removed more and more from public places for their “divisiveness.”

A group of Boy Scouts in Virginia last month stripped Lee’s name from its title and uniform patch to further its mission of being all-inclusive. In Georgia, a dispute led to the removal of a Confederate emblem from the state flag. The Confederate flag that flew at the Florida Statehouse was removed in 2001, and contention over the Mississippi flag almost led to the removal of the battle flag as part of the design.

A mural in Richmond depicting historic events in state history and a portrait of Lee drew criticism a few years ago from some black residents and the City Council. After some debate, council members relented and Lee’s likeness remained on the mural.

Mr. Chaney, whose land borders the National Park Service’s Antietam National Battlefield, has responded to previous criticism by doing away with plans to have statues of Confederate soldiers J.E.B. Stuart and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson flanking Lee’s.

Ron Moore, sculptor of the Lee statue, said he spent about two years on the project, taking special care to make sure Lee’s intensity and poise were reflected in his face. He called it his biggest project.

“It’s a likeness of Robert E. Lee near Antietam,” he said. “That’s pretty intimidating.”

Some residents in and around Sharpsburg agree that a Lee statue is valuable because it is a reminder of the country’s and the region’s history. Joel Thomas, 44, of Sharpsburg said Lee is a hero to many in the area. Though he realizes the statue might be offensive to some, Mr. Thomas thinks it is important to remember people like the Southern leader.

“I can understand how a black family, how someone might be a little insulted,” he said. “But if you put up a statue of [Union Gen. Ulysses S.] Grant, I think many people locally could find that offensive. I mean, [Union soldiers] tore up [Southerners] land.”

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