Confederate Flags Return to W&L’s Lee Chapel

Well, not exactly, but John Paul Strain’s latest effort at realism is the next best thing for those people upset with the recent removal of Confederate flags from the chapel room. It’s a curious print and while it may do well within a certain community Strain’s choices distorts the history and identity of Lee Chapel.

Lee ChapelYes, Edward Valentine’s beautiful marble recumbent statue depicts Lee in his military uniform, but as far as I know there are no other symbols of the former Confederacy present when the room was first dedicated. More problematic, however, is the addition of images of Stuart and Jackson on the rear panels. Strain makes it appear that their images have been etched into the panels, but as many of you know, they are in fact clear.

Lee’s burial site was not intended to be a Lost Cause shrine to the Confederacy and the flags that adorned the space, before they were removed last year, only arrived in the 1930s. In my mind the attempt at realism with the addition of Stuart and Jackson does a disservice to the purpose of the space and perhaps even the way Lee wanted to be remembered.

4 comments add yours

  1. I feel it is better to say that the Lee burial site was not intended to be a shrine to the Confederate flag and other leaders. But it is seems (to me, others mileage may vary) a shrine to Robert E. Lee and the depiction of him in a Confederate uniform I think speaks to the intent of how Lee was already remembered in 1875 and going to be remembered forever in this hunk of marble and in this building.

    It appears that by 1915 the chapel space had become a shrine to the Lee family. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47dd-b1dc-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

    • I think we agree. Lee is remembered as a military man, but there are no explicit symbols of the Confederacy beyond Lee. You make a good point re: the site as a shrine to the Lee family.

  2. Long after the Civil War, a widow was said to have excitedly informed Robert Lee that she had kept alive a tree that had once been damaged by Northern artillery. When asked what she should do with the tree, Lee reportedly answered, “cut it down and burn it” or words to that effect. That kind of sums up how I feel about the issue.

    • I don’t know if that story is true, but it does, to a certain extent, reflect his postwar attitude, which was to move on. The chapel itself reflects this given that much of the Confederate iconography was added decades after its dedication.

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