Virginia Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin executed an orderly retreat in his battle to preserve Arlington National Cemetery’s Confederate Memorial (pictured above), dedicated by President T. Woodrow Wilson in 1914, and the final resting place of nearly 500 Confederate veterans and their loved ones.
The Washington Post reported that the governor found a home for the bronze statue:
The Board of Visitors at VMI unanimously approved a motion Wednesday to accept the statue for placement at the Virginia Museum of the Civil War at New Market Battlefield State Historical Park — owned and operated by the college — north of VMI’s campus in Lexington. The battlefield is a focal point of the school’s history — it was there in 1864 that its cadets joined Confederate forces to successfully push back Union troops. An enormous mural mounted inside the college’s chapel depicts the VMI corps of cadets’ charge across the New Market battlefield.
The Pentagon’s Commission on the Naming of Items of the Department of Defense that Commemorate the Confederate States of America or Any Person Who Served Voluntarily with the Confederate States of America has directed the removal of memorials to Confederate heroes, renamed military installations and even stripped quotes attributed to Confederates from military insignia.
Congress exempted grave markers from the Naming Commission’s purview but left it to the commission to define grave markers. In the case of the Confederate Memorial, the commission decided to remove the monument’s bronze sculpture program and bronze statue, leaving the stripped granite base. None of the graves are to be altered or moved.
The Post quoted a member of the Virginia Military Institute, who did not seem excited about the transfer:
Hugh Fain, a member of VMI’s Board of Visitors, said during the board’s Wednesday session that the monument was a “gift we’re being asked to accept” and described the statue as “a reconciliation effort” at the time of its creation. Fain said Youngkin and his administration believe the New Market battlefield is the “most appropriate place” for the monument.
The bronze work was created by Moses Jacob Ezekiel, the first Jewish graduate of the VMI and a Confederate veteran of the Battle of New Market. Ezekiel is buried at the foot of the memorial, and he is expected to remain at Arlington after his artistry is carted away.
The Post reported that Youngkin personally lobbied Defense Secretary Austin Lloyd to keep the Confederate Memorial intact and in place:
Youngkin asked Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to keep the statue at Arlington Cemetery but “in spite of the governor’s insistence, the Biden administration still sought to remove the statue,” Porter said in an emailed statement. “In order to continue to honor the legacy of Moses Ezekiel, a legendary sculptor and graduate of VMI, the Governor believes that the New Market battlefield will provide a fitting backdrop to Ezekiel’s legacy even though he disagrees with the Biden administration that the statue should have been slated for removal.”
Wilson said in his remarks at the dedication that he was thrilled to participate in an act of reconciliation, which closed an ugly chapter:
My privilege is this, ladies and gentlemen: To declare this chapter in the history of the United States closed and ended, and I bid you turn with me with your faces to the future, quickened by the memories of the past, but with nothing to do with the contests of the past, knowing, as we have shed our blood upon opposite sides, we now face and admire one another.
The president told the audience that the erection of the monument was proof that American democracy was still functioning.
“Am I mistaken, ladies and gentlemen, in supposing that nothing of this sort could have occurred in anything but a democracy?”
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Neil W. McCabe is a staff reporter for The Virginia Star.
Photo Arlington National Cemetery Confederate Memorial by Arlington National Cemetery.