The other day Andy Hall challenged the common assumption that the Confederate monument at Arlington National Cemetery contains a black Confederate soldier. I encourage you to read Andy’s thoughtful analysis. You will find images of this monument on countless websites along with colorful interpretations that seem to confirm the existence of these men. While Andy cites the California Division of the SCV’s website, I am going to return to G. Ashleigh Moody’s response over at the Virginia Sesquicentennial’s Facebook Page. Apparently, he wasn’t pleased with my initial post, but this will give me the opportunity to quote him in full. Here is what he has to say about the Confederate monument:
One of the most “telling” monuments to the South and including Black Confederates and other Black Southerners is this 1912 (pre-PC) Confederate Memorial towers 32 and 1/2 feet and is said to be the tallest bronze sculpture at Arlington National Cemetery. On top is a figure of a woman, with olive leaves covering her head, representing the South. She also holds a laurel wreath in her left hand, remembering the Sons of Dixie. On the side of the monument is also a life size depiction of a Black Confederate marching in step with white soldiers, and among other life size depictions, a Black woman receiving a baby as a father going off to war. These are the stories that bring people together, not the Neo-Yankee version of the South that we are having to endure today. We could do with a lot less “presentism”!
If it is a black Confederate soldier it would be news to Moses Ezekiel as well as the folks who gathered to dedicate the monument in 1914. Consider the original, published history of the monument by Hilary A. Herbert:
But our sculptor, who is writing history in bronze, also pictures the South in another attitude, the South as she was in 1861-1865. For decades she had been contending for her constitutional rights, before popular assemblies, in Congress, and in the courts. Here in the forefront of the memorial she is depicted as a beautiful woman, sinking down almost helpless, still holding her shield with “The Constitution” written upon it, the full-panoplied Minerva, the Goddess of War and of Wisdom, compassionately upholding her. In the rear, and beyond the mountains, the Spirits of Avar are blowing their trumpets, turning them in every direction to call the sons and daughters of the South to the aid of their struggling mother. The Furies of War also appear in the background, one with the terrific hair of a Gordon, another in funereal drapery upholding a cinerary urn.
Then the sons and daughters of the South are seen coming from every direction. The manner in which they crowd enthusiastically upon each other is one of the most impressive features of this colossal work. There they come, representing every branch of the service, and in proper garb; soldiers, sailors, sappers and miners, all typified. On the right is a faithful negro body-servant following his young master, Mr. Thomas Nelson Page’s realistic “Marse Chan” over again.
The artist had grown up, like Page, in that embattled old Virginia where “Marse Chan” was so often enacted.
And there is another story told here, illustrating the kindly relations that existed all over the South between the master and the slave — a story that can not be too often repeated to generations in which “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” survives and is still manufacturing false ideas as to the South and slavery in the “fifties.” The astonishing fidelity of the slaves everywhere during the war to the wives and children of those who were absent in the army was convincing proof of the kindly relations between master and slave in the old South. One leading purpose of the U. D. C. is to correct history. Ezekiel is here writing it for them, in characters that will tell their story to generation after generation. Still to the right of the young soldier and his body-servant is an officer, kissing his child in the arms of an old negro “mammy.” Another child holds on to the skirts of “mammy” and is crying, perhaps without knowing why.
It’s ironic that Mr. Moody accuses others of falling into the trap of presentism. His assertion is a textbook example of just such a move: reading into the past through a lens defined by our own assumptions and values. The problem here is that black Confederates did not exist in 1914. You will not find a reference to black Confederate soldiers in any of the public addresses given at the monument’s commemoration nor will you find them in newspaper coverage of the event. While there may be a few scattered references to black Confederate soldiers at this time, I have yet to come across one. And I suspect that the reason they don’t exist is that white Americans have no use for it. Continue reading →