When a Monument Cherrypicks Its History

When people have the chance to learn about history, don’t we want that history to be factually correct? That’s the question I asked last week when writing about the Robert E. Lee statue at Antietam. Placed at a spot on the battlefield Lee never visited, the factual inaccuracies inherent in the statue’s placement undermine the value of the statue as an interpretive tool, which is one of the strongest arguments in favor of keeping statues and monuments up. “Shouldn’t accuracy matter?” I asked.

Today I’d like to pose a related question that I didn’t tackle in my first post.

If we’re talking about accurate facts, we should also talk about complete facts. We need as much of the who, what, when, where, why, and how as possible if we are to fully understand anything. The fewer facts we have, the less we can understand. We might know that murder was committed in the dining room with candlestick, but unless we know it was Professor Plum, we haven’t solved the crime. We need all the facts or we haven’t got a clue.

Again, the Lee monument at Antietam provides an excellent example.

Here’s the text on the plaque of the Lee monument:

General Lee led his troops along this road into Sharpsburg on September 15, 1862. Outmanned 2-1 he would outmaneuver the Federals on the 17th. Although hoping for a decisive victory Lee had to settle for a military draw. Robert E. Lee was personally against secession and slavery, but decided his duty was to fight for his home and the universal right of every people to self-determination.

We could quibble about whether Lee led his column or accompanied it, but that’s not my point. We could also quibble about how much “maneuvering” Lee did on September 17. We could also have a vigorous debate about Antietam as “a military draw” for Lee versus a strategic defeat. The first point is factual in nature but also depends on an interpretation of the definition of “led.” The others are less factual and more interpretive—a realm where people can have honest disagreement, depending on how they look at the facts.

That’s why it’s particularly important to look at the final line of the plaque, which has a strong interpretive angle:

Robert E. Lee was personally against secession and slavery, but decided his duty was to fight for his home and the universal right of every people to self-determination.

I don’t want to go down the rabbit hole of Lost Cause-ism but instead want to stick to the idea of facts—or, in this case, the facts omitted from this account.

Let me be presumptuous for a moment and add some facts back in:

Robert E. Lee was personally against secession and slavery, although he did own slaves, but decided his duty was to fight for his home and the universal right of every people, except those who were enslaved, to self-determination.

I’ve not added a single piece of untrue information. (Some might try to quibble about whether Lee owned slaves, but you can look at his father-in-law’s will here or read this article from the American Civil War Museum.)

Notice how the inclusion of new facts changes the overall meaning of the text?

The way we choose to phrase the information we add back in makes a difference, too. Instead of “although he did own slaves,” we could have added a phrase–still factually correct–with slightly different wording:

Robert E. Lee was personally against secession and slavery, although he did not free his own slaves….

Or, instead of “he did not free,” we could choose a different verb, like “he chose not to free” or “he opted not to free” or “he refused to free….” In each case, we’ve not changed the factual meaning of the sentence, although the flavor of each verb certainly certainly gives each sentence a different connotation. Word choice matters.

Similarly, in the phrase we’ve added to the last sentence, “except those who were enslaved,” we could have instead said “the universal right of every white person to self-determination.” I wouldn’t presume to say “every free person” because I don’t know Lee’s stance when it came to free black people, so again, it’s important to be careful with word choice.

I’ve not added a single inaccurate or untrue fact, yet the additions change the overall text and the truth it tries to convey. The newer truth we’ve illuminated with our additional facts is more upsetting to some, I imagine, than the shorter version of the story. The difference between the two is a truth some people want to hear versus one they don’t want to hear. People will go to great lengths to resist a factually accurate truth they don’t want to hear, even going so far as to pretend it’s not true because, after all, they can construct their own truth by just omitting a few facts.

To be clear, when William F. Chaney erected the Lee statue on his own property with funds out of his own pocket, he was entitled to put whatever text he wanted on the monument’s plaque. However, now that the statue belongs to the American people as part of Antietam National Battlefield, it’s fair game for scrutiny. As a general rule, I oppose removal of monuments from national battlefields because they serve a vital interpretive function and they themselves have histories that make them important additions to a park’s cultural landscape. When they are factually wrong, though, they undermine the very interpretive value that serves as the argument for keeping them.

Because this can of worms treads heavily into the realm of interpretation—which overlaps with the contentious concept of memory, which has so enflamed people’s passions of late—I didn’t want to mention it in my original post. However, accuracy matters. The more facts we have, the more accurately we illuminate our history. The discipline of history demands it.

Otherwise, we just have some stories and some statues and some monuments that don’t tell us anything but what we already want to know.


For more on slavery as the principle cause of the war, check out these resources:

The text of the Lee statue tries to frame the war as being about states’ rights, not slavery—a central tenant of the Lost Cause. The original secession documents make it clear that slavery was the principle cause, though. The “the universal right of every people to self-determination” trumpeted by the statue text sounds high-minded, but the issue they were arguing over was the right of states to allow slavery.

178 Responses to When a Monument Cherrypicks Its History

  1. Monuments have historically always been seen as evocative of a particular point of view, expressed at a particular time. They are Not history textbooks, nor should they be. That’s what real books are for. To try to add more “facts” leafs to the real question of who selects them, and what will they omit. Then we get into another tedious and fruitless post modern battle, which our lives seem filled with these days.

    1. I don’t see battles about statues as being “tedious and fruitless.” It’s important that those elements in our society who want to sanitize our history know that they will be opposed. Lenin said (and I’m paraphrasing here): “Advance with the bayonet. If you encounter mush, keep advancing. If you encounter steel, stop.”

      Bari Weiss, who used to write for the New York Times, warns that our society seems to be being overwhelmed by “safetyism”—the idea that we must remove anything from public view or polite discussion, if that “thing” might irritate someone, somewhere.

      This statue appears to be in the middle of nowhere. How could it possibly be irritating anyone? Bur a fair amount of effort is being expended on it. This whole “safetyism” mentality appears to be one of the reasons why. Well, we need to push back on this “safetyism” thing whenever and wherever we can. It’s getting out of hand. If the Falls Church school system feels compelled to take Thomas Jefferson’s name off its schools because it might make a student feel “unsafe,” then it’s time to dig in our heels and resist, to show some steel, wherever and whenever we can.

      1. I agree we must fight back by providing education and taking legal action to oppose the erasure of our history. If anyone is offended by Thomas Jefferson or George Washington without whom we would remain under the rule of the British Empire they are not being taught American history and are instead being indoctrinated by public school teachers who themselves were taught lies in the liberal colleges they received their teaching degree from

      2. The statue is on one of the main roads into Sharpsburg, so it’s not really the middle of nowhere. It’s pretty highly visible, and anyone coming to the battlefield without knowing the story of the battle can easily jump to the conclusion that “This must be Lee’s headquarters” because there’s a big statue of him there–at a place that’s not his HQ. I’d advocate moving the statue to a more accurate spot but still keeping it up.

      3. Donald your comment is very well stated and accurate ! Safetyism added with the polically correct cult dogma has bred generations of self centered, OCD, weaklings easily offended at anything that does not suit their narrow minded view. Thank you for noting that much time has been stated about this statue topic….speaking about OCD, this thread is fraught with it.

      4. Chris, I didn’t realize the statue was in such a prominent place. That changes things. Now that the Park Service owns the statue, it has an interest in making sure it doesn’t present an inaccurate perception of what happened at Antietam. I stand corrected.

        But, from what I’ve read, Rep. Brown and his fellow travelers aren’t mad at just this one Confederate statue—they want ALL of them gone, no matter how historically accurate.

      5. The right wing folks on america are part of the majority group and have always abused everyone else now folks like you are complaining because you can’t continue abusing some of your favorite targets

      6. I don’t get what the author is concerned about. He is conflating being someone who engages in the practices of the day with agreement ir support for those practices. Slavery was a fact of the south. Plantations ran on them and had to to compete. This does not make slavery correct nor does it does it denigrate the fact that someone could own slaves to compete and still think slavery was wrong and not condone it.

        The author is trying to apply a child’s view of morality to the man’s life without any understanding of the practical nature of life. To neglect the fact that Lee did own slaves does not change that he could have viewed the system which he was forced to be part of as wrong.

      7. The statue is on the national antietam battlefield. So it’s not “in the middle of nowhere”

      8. RE: IndyVisualist

        My issue isn’t with “the practices of the day.” Slavery was legal in Virginia, and society did not universally consider it morally good or bad. Lee was a man of his time and place and should be evaluated as such, not judged by today’s standards.

        My issue is with the text of the plaque, which, by omitting certain facts, suggests something about Lee that wasn’t true, as though slavery had nothing to do with the high moral virtues Lee was supposedly defending. If he “personally opposed…slavery,” he sure didn’t oppose it enough to free his own, so let’s not make him out to be more benevolent about it than he was.

        I have a lot of respect for Lee, and I don’t second-guess how difficult his decision was for him. But I also don’t pretend that, as a slave owner, he was fighting for the universal right of self-determination, either.

    2. I think you’re spot-on when you say monuments are not history textbooks, which is a distinction some people fail to make. I guess my intent with these last couple of posts is to help people draw that distinction between history and memory. Criticizing a monument isn’t criticizing history, it’s criticizing A history (which is what memory is).

      But I do believe facts matter. One reason we’re bogged down in tedious and fruitless postmodern battles is that too many people DON’T think facts matter.

    3. Chris’s article is exactly why monuments are coming down.The same can be said of most of the founders also. The past was not perfect.

    4. This article is just as disingenuous, in it’s inclusion of convenient facts and the exclusion of others, as the monuments placard if not more so.
      After token quibbling whether ‘Led’ is the correct word for what Lee did at the battle, we quickly get to Slavery. Here’s the money shot – what we’re really after in this article.
      Your mention of the articles of secession is one that is often used to ‘prove’ the war was fought to preserve slavery. Well, working for a number of years in the south, I can tell you a great deal of people there would disagree with you. The articles of war are not the same as those of secession. There were many other difficulties between the north and south not mentioned here.
      You mention Lee’s father in-law and his will. The slaves he ‘owned’ were probably inherited – just like those of Thomas Jefferson? It wasn’t a simple thing in those days to set the slaves free. There were practical and legal restraints from doing so.
      As for the battle itself, it appears the brief description of the battle is as accurate as it could be told, in a sum of 35 words. ‘Military Draw’ might be the most debatable.
      I’m trying to think of this article as something deeper than just more kowtowing and pandering to the left — but it’s about even right now.

    5. I’m still trying to understand the need to revise history…. or completely erase it. It can be plainly demonstrated that all those Confederate soldiers didn’t fight and die for slavery when practically none of them owned a single slave. Even more compelling is the number that quit and went home after Antietam when Lincoln made the war about slavery – and while I’m at it, see also the number of Federal troops that bailed. They also weren’t fighting against slavery.
      All of this is ridiculous. You want to pull statues or rewrite the placards on them, by all means…. PUT IT TO A VOTE. Why do Libs always want to do our thinking for us? For Christ’s sake, we don’t NEED your help!

  2. You make a good point about the plaque. I can’t imagine the National Park Service composing text like that, if it was creating a plaque for this particular statue from scratch. That’s the kind of wording I’d expect from the Sons of Confederate Veterans (of which I am a proud member!) not an objective NPS historian.

    But, as John said above, we don’t sculpt statues to recite points of history. We can just use signs for that.

    A fair compromise would be to keep the statue but change the plaque. But, I doubt that Rep. Brown and the folks who want all Confederate statues off the battlefields seek compromise.

    1. That sounds like a good compromise, Don. I would also advocate moving the monument to a more appropriate spot, but I would certainly like to see the monument stay on the battlefield (with a different plaque).

      1. I like this idea in theory. But if I might play devils advocate for a second. For those who have advocated for these monuments being removed, this is a compromise that has been put forward for a long time. Instead of removal let us correct/recontextualize. The problem is that while this has been put forward as a compromise for years, it rarely has actually happened.

        To those on the other side of the argument this compromise is likely to seem hollow and disingenuous, after all it has been promised (or at least put forward) before and not followed through with. If we want them to take this argument seriously, those who want to keep the monuments up need to start doing the same. Not just giving the idea lip service then forgetting about it when protests quiet down.

    2. It begins at Antietam, but it will not end there. Next it will be Gettysburg, then Fredericksburg and Chancellorsvile, then Bull Run, The Wilderness and a hundred other battlefields. Once they have sanitized Civil War statues then next it will be Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, etc. Then the left will move on to something else. Why do these
      leftists get there way? Because if you don’t agree with them they
      Resort to violence. The Statue at Antietam is telling a story. Can anyone imagine Gettysburg without the Statues and monuments? The left will one day run into a brick wall. Over the last 20 years I have donated thousands of dollars to the Civil War Trust to save these Battlefields. They tell a painful story in our history. Destroying and removing these statues won’t change that. I will not sit back and watch to much more of this.

      I like the Robert E. Lee statue where it sits. It is the place to begin the story of the Antietam Battlefield. Over 22,000 Americans were casualties on this day of battle. Some wore Blue, some wore Grey, but they were all Americans, and they all fought heroically for what they believed in. My Great-Great Uncle was attached to the 15th Alabama at Gettysburg. He died at the Devils Den. I had another of my kin fight with Custer and the Michigan Calvary at the Battle. He survived. Both were heroes to me. At Antietam, there was no clear Victor. McClelland was slow, sluggish, and stupid. Lee got himself into trouble dividing his forces. He was just fortunate that the Union was commanded by McCleland. At the end of the day the Union commanded the field. For a President who had nothing but endless defeats, that was enough to declare Antietam a Victory. If we cannot reach common ground with our friends on the left, then thete is going to be trouble in the not to distant future. They should think of those consequences before they go full scorched earth on these Battlefields. Because eventually the other side will say enough is enough. I am at that point already. So are millions of others. The Statue should stay with an interpretive plaque.

  3. I do not believe those persons who want to remove Civil War statues really do not care about the ‘facts’ or the accuracy of ‘interpretations’ at all. They prefer to erase history rather than allow us or future generations to learn about what happened.The political ‘leaders’ of Virginia are especially guilty of this

    1. Except that this monument doesn’t teach what happened. It teaches a slanted version of what happened. That’s not the same thing.

      I, for one, do care about accuracy and facts, and I would like to see monuments stay up on battlefields. Problems with accuracy make it easier for opponents to justify removing them.

      1. Chris, they don’t need a justification, they just need an event they oppose. Statues to them are just the last corpse to remove from the battlefield.

      2. To Wiliam.Yes I know that accuracy is important but memorials are emotional as well aka CSA Kirkland at Fredericksburg

      3. If you are worried about slanted versions of history, maybe we should look at the textbooks first.

    2. Diane – your comment nailed the current entire situation perfectly. The bigoted, politically correct cult does not care about facts. Facts are their enemy and hinderances toward their goal of erasing anything that does not promote and further their agenda.

      1. What agenda is that, Thomas? Factual accuracy?

        I tend to agree that the political left has too much “Thought Police” to them, but if you’re going to talk about bigotry, wasn’t slavery the ultimate form of bigotry? Too much so-called “Confederate history” ignores the centrality of slavery to the war, which seems to me a total disregard for the facts.

  4. Perhaps we need to look at how Germany dealt, deals with, its history of its past to gain some valuable lessons for teaching our kids!!

    1. My ancestors came from Germany when the eastern seaboard states were still British colonies. I have been to Germany several times and spoke with numerous Germans (thank goodness they speak English because my high school and college German fall far short of conversational ability). The Germans are struggling to come to grips with Hitler and Nazism, fully recognizing their guilt by remaining silent and now honor martyrs like Colonel Von Stauffenberg and the members of the White Rose 80 some years later. There are no monuments being erected to the memory of the Nazis, no protests against forbidding the display of the swastika by law except where visible in a period photographs or an actual historical relic. Nor was there any opposition to the razing of the vacation homes of the Nazi hierarchy in Obersaltzberg to eliminate any possible shrine to the Third Reich. Of course, it is a false comparison to equate the Confederacy to the Nazis, but the Germans take no pride in their participation in or silence to the Final Solution. However, those who proudly claim a connection to the cause of the Confederacy are now 155 years late in acknowledging the crime of slavery of human beings and the resultant apartheid of segregation.

      1. Or look at Ireland. Occupied by a foreign power for 800 years, they still have many left-over memorials and monuments to folks the Irish Catholics would like to forget. But, they also seek to calm sectarian tensions, so many British monuments remain – even if in a state of benign neglect.

  5. It’s a shame that many of the comments here reflect a knee-jerk reaction. They see, or read, about a monument being removed or for the calling of a monument to be removed and they immediately go on some anti-liberal tangent. They do not take the time to read the article and see what the author’s point of view is. And that is that monuments should at least reflect historical accuracy. This monument in particular serves none. So why erect it. People who cry that history is being erased (which it isn’t) don’t seem to care when history is presented inaccurately. Again, they are bemoaning the removal of statues without understanding why. As one comment states, lies are being taught in school by teachers who earned their degrees from liberal colleges…I’d like to know what lies are being taught. Or is it just that a version of history that you don’t like is being taught because more research has come about. News flash people, our founders were human and were imperfect and had flaws. We need to stop with the idolatry. Our founding fathers had no problem removing statues to King George 3rd but yet some people dig their heels, as another comment states, on these statues claiming it is erasing history…even if it sometimes presents inaccurate history. Placing a statue to Robert E. Lee in Gettysburg Pennsylvania makes perfect sense. Placing one to him that portrays inaccurate history serves no purpose. Would we put a statue of Meade at Shiloh? Or one of Grant at Gettysburg?

    1. Some Americans like myself and others who may not need to know the precise details of a battle or who was there want to honor our military leaders and Founding Fathers.We know they are not removing these statues because of historical inaccuracy but to dishonor those persons because they decided for all of us that they don’t like them

      1. You are correct, accuracy and factual information is something you appear to care very little for.

      2. The statue relocated in this case depicted neither one of our Founder Fathers, or military leaders. The Confederate military did not fight for our country, it fought against it. If you want to honor that, that’s your business, but it seems out of place at an institution that trains officers for the same military the man fought against.

      3. please spare us your diatribe. Your self righteous vitriol is only surpassed by your ignorance

    2. This statue is part of the Antietam Battlefield historic site, Lee was the leading confederate general there. A statue to Lee on this battlefield is every bit as accurate as placing one at Gettysburg. There is no “inaccuracy” to place his statue here.

      The biggest thing missed in the article is that the author bemoans that the statue doesn’t state that Lee owned Slaves, but what the Author doesn’t acknowledge is that Lee freed the slaves that he only owned through the inheritance of his wife. So the article is every bit as factually inaccurate as the plaque on the statue, if not more so.

      1. The statue in question does not depict any historical accuracy at all. It was built/erected by a private citizen on land that was purchased by the park service. In the spirit of keeping with historical accuracy, which this statue serves none, the park service wants to remove it, and rightly so. It has nothing to do with politics or erasing history as many are quick to assume. It has everything to do with presenting history as accurately as possible.

      2. How does it not depict History accurately? Lee was the leading general for the South in the battle of Antietam, and it’s on the Antietam historic battlefield site. Just because it was erected by a private citizen doesn’t mean that it’s not accurate or that it doesn’t belong there.

      3. It’s a little more complicated than you’d like. Lee’s father-in-law required in his will that the slaves be freed within 5 years. Lee worked them as slaves and even (unsuccessfully) sought twice in the court to extend the 5-year deadline. He then freed them shortly before the 5 years was up. So the reality is that Lee’s father-in-law “freed” them and Lee reluctantly and very slowly carried out his wishes.

      4. John, as you stated, Lee freed them BEFORE the time was up, Lee could have kept them until the last possible minute, but he didn’t do that. Lee had only asked for the postponement because the properties inherited were in debt and he wanted to use the slaves to lift the said properties out of debt.

        Lee also inherited slaves when his mother died in 1829, but he freed those slaves as well, and without any court order forcing him to do so.

        Considering that Lee had willingly freed the previous slaves that he had inherited, it would only make sense that he would have done the same thing with the slaves he inherited in the 1857. He did in fact free them before he was legally obligated to do so. In essence Lee freed those slaves as well as the inherited ones in 1829. Even if Lee’s action in freeing them only came a short while before he was required to do so, he was still the one that freed them!

      5. He freed them a few days before the deadline. He could have freed them 4 years and 362 days sooner. He didn’t. That says a lot about him. And keeping people in bondage because it makes financial sense doesn’t earn him plaudits.

      6. You miss the ENTIRE point of my argument against the “accuracy” of the article, which is the fact that he freed his slaves. The article COMPLETELY leaves this out, all the while complaining that the plaque on the statue didn’t state that Lee owned slaves.

        Lee was also under no obligation to free the slaves that he had inherited in 1829, yet he did so.

      7. Relax with the ALL CAPS mode. I didn’t miss the point of your comment – I disagree with any notion that he should get some kind of medal for “freeing” slaves because he was legally required to do so after trying twice to get the requirement changed and then waiting until literally the last minute.

      8. Even freeing them a few days early is a good thing. I’m sure they were happy for those few extra days of freedom.

      9. So he owned them for 1,823 days out of the 1,826 total. I hope that the ingrates sent him a thank you note for that 1.5 tenth of a percent..

      10. You are still missing the point, which is that the author is only putting out half truths to paint a picture that isn’t representative of actual reality, and all the while he is complaining about others not being accurate.

  6. I read Mark Monmonier’s How to Lie with Maps over the summer (for which I owe you a blog post on my takes of how it connects to battle mapping) and he makes the case that all maps have to portray incomplete versions of the world, otherwise every blade of grass must be included. Because we accept cartographic license to tell these white lies, mapmakers can get away with deliberate deception in what they select to include and not to include on maps. He writes, “I want to make readers aware that maps, like speeches and paintings, are authored collections of information and are also subject to distortions arising from ignorance, greed, ideological blindness, or malice.” Seems like Monmonier could easily write a How to Lie with Monuments book.

  7. Over simplification of the war just shows lack of trust in the regular person from studying the war and coming to their own conclusions. Those who are “educated” always know best and know more than the regular person. And this is not the only monument that shows an inaccuracy…lets be honest, most of them are guilty of that

    1. Indeed, we all hope “the regular person” will study the war more, but unfortunately, we also know how historically illiterate most Americans are. Hopefully good experiences at historic sites and good interpretation inspires them to learn more. Isn’t it important to make sure they have an accurate jumping-off point?

      One reason I love monuments so much is that they’re inspiring. They create an emotional connection. That all transcends “fact.” But that doesn’t meant the facts they do get should be fuzzy and inaccurate.

      1. Agreed and look forward to future posts by you on Union monuments that have inaccuracies on them in their words or sculpture (I can point you to a few in GETT if you like). I will be waiting here with my beer 😉

      2. Yes Sir, I too look forward that. I suspect we might still be waiting when our grandchildren are old.

  8. Most of the movement to sanitize our history is brought about by Democrats who wish to wash away all of the trouble they have created for the republic….by creating more trouble. I hope they so.efay find a country they like and move there…forever.

  9. Funny how this author stays a monument is “cherry picking” history, yet, he does the same thing. Lmao.

      1. You cherry picked Robert e Lee owning slaves from his father in laws will because his father in law owned them. You failed to mention he was 9nly named executor, not bequeathed them. Ergo, as an executor, Robert e Lee had no ownership over such and his job was to carry out the emancipation as described. Shows no ownership of slaves but you helped your readers draw a (negative) conclusion, whereas your article slams against omission for positivity. Whether he did or didnt own them, this seems hypocritical to me, or is omission for negativity not the same as for positivity?

      2. In fact, “A hypo,” I provided a couple linke that explained all that, so I’m pretty sure there’s no cherrypicking. Lee owned slaves as early at 1829. Later, as executor of his father-in-law’s estate, Lee was responsible for the fate of those slaves. They were supposed to be freed within five years, and Lee went so far as to petition the court to extend that term of service. The war ultimately interrupted all that.

        So, uh, what again did I cherrypick?

      3. https://acwm.org/blog/myths-misunderstandings-lee-slaveholder/

        Link from the American Civil War Museum.

        Lee owned slaves outright, according to his son several families inherited from his mother. The account given in the link above shows exactly how Lee felt about the slaves his father-in-law made him executor of. It was his legal right to work them as hard as he saw fit to alleviate the debt of the estates he inherited. It was also his right to petition to extend his control over them in his effort to resolve the debt. When several of those slaves escaped it was Lee’s right to have them punished, severely, for doing so.

        I can’t say much about these monuments. I don’t think they should have been erected, because why erect statues to traitors? It doesn’t pain me emotionally to look at them, but then my ancestors were not slaves. I think the expense of removing monuments or changing the wording on them can be better spent in other ways. However I don’t support this idea that we should be praising men who were not only traitors to our country, but also fought for the institution of slavery. That is not distorting facts. The constitution of every state in the confederacy cites slavery as fundamental to their way of life. It may not be the only reason they fought, but it was a major one. For all of them.

        Lincoln was unequivocal in his distaste for slavery. He acknowledged that it was wiser to let it be faded it out slowly, and that was his ultimate goal. When push came to shove, and the slave holding states refused any compromise, Lincoln stood by his moral values. He took action and freed the enslaved population, knowing the ramifications it would have.

        Lee supposedly hated slavery, but his actual thoughts on it were very muddled. He wrote that slavery was a greater evil against the white man, and that Africans were better off as slaves in America than free in Africa. In the end, actions speak louder. Lee owned slaves, he abused slaves and he fought to maintain slavery as an institution. That is not a man to be praised, however good a general he may have been.

      4. You don’t state that Lee freed his slaves, yet you want the monument to add that he owned slaves. By stating he owned slaves without saying that he freed them is leaving out an important fact about his ownership of slaves.

      5. RE: sdu754

        You wrote, “You don’t state that Lee freed his slaves, yet you want the monument to add that he owned slaves.” We could, indeed, add something to that effect, but we would have to specify that he freed his slaves only after ordered to by the court.

      6. Well, you ignore the 4th Lincoln Douglas debate when Lincoln declares himself a white supremacist and blacks will NEVER be the equals of whites, you ignore Lincoln’s inaugural speech and his letters to the NY Times, where he insists the war wasn’t over slavery. You also ignore 4 Yankees states were slave states, and want us to believe in spite of Lincoln’s words that 4 slave states attacked 11 slave states to “free the slaves”, sheer sillyness. You also ignore in the tactical move to cut off the souths food production (halfway through his war) he “freed the slaves” in only 8 states, wonder why he didn’t free the slaves in all 15 states in your cherry picked revisionist history about slavery instead of Lincoln murdering americans for corporate greed. You should also put on that statue he fought against a tyrant that rigged the election in NY, placed illegal tarriffs on the south, blockaded thier harbours, used federal troops to attack americans, suspended the constitution, arrested journalists, used freed slaves as cannon fodder, and then sent Sherman on a war crime spree that included raping and murdering the slaves you lie he cared about along with civilians. That’s what the man on that statue fought against, America’s first tyrant.

      7. Where to begin in response to aceleopard: Lincoln’s attitude toward Afro-Americans evolved during his presidency. He had always been opposed to slavery, and with Frederick Douglas’s help began to see African-Americans as human beings equal to the white race. Simply look at the Democratic attacks on Lincoln during the 1864 presidential election to refute the claim of his “white supremacy.” In 1861, the war was not over slavery. Lincoln’s primary goal was to keep the Union together, and his public statements reflected that, To reveal his abhorrence against slavery at the beginning of the war would have alienated the slave states in the North. He says it all in “I would like to have God on our side but I MUST have Kentucky.” It, along with Missouri, Maryland and Delaware did not secede because of the hard work of the non-abolitionists, pro-Unionists in those states. Grant and Sherman with Lincoln’s acquiescence, understood the path to victory was to deny the Confederacy’s ability to make war, and as Napoleon said, “An army marches on its stomach.” Lincoln did not “free” the slaves when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, but only later on January 1, 1863, only in states that wee still in Rebellion. His reasoning was to give those states until January 1, 1863, to return to the Union to avoid liberating their most valuable chattels. The corporate greed to which you refer would have required the continuation of slavery because the northern financiers who provided capital to the South accepted the slaves as collateral to their loans. The Emancipation Proclamation cost them millions by eliminating that collateral. Rigging state elections has to be done at the state level, not the federal, as our current President has discovered. Congress, which included Representatives and Senators from the South enacted the tariffs, not the executive branch. All of Lincoln’s actions that are criticized fall within the war powers of the President, which have been exercised by Presidents before and since the Civil War. See U.,S. Constitution, Article I, Section 9; 50a United State Code, Section 601 and subsequent sections. Sherman’s attitude towards non combatants is best summed up in his response to the Mayor of Atlanta after the announcement of the city’s forced evacuation and destruction. “War is cruelty and you cannot refine it, and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices to-day than any of you to secure peace. But you cannot have peace and a division of our country…. You might as well appeal against the thunder-storm as against these terrible hardships of war. They are inevitable….”

  10. Not to worry. In a 100 years when we are all the same race, the same gender, living in identical residences, eating the same food, going to the same school, driving the same car to the same government job, while listening to the same government approved music, and wearing the same uniform. I am sure that our King and Queen (who are direct decendants of the Cardashian, Obama, Clinton, and Biden family trees) will have already erased all of our history. So this issue is mute.
    This is what happens when they stop making George Orwell mandatory reading in school. Big Brother has already won. Bring on the Borg. YIPPEE…

  11. This article starts off on being politically correct placement of a statue, then disintegrates into slavery. Stop nit picking. There’s a reason why the statue is where it is. It’s a battlefield; a very important one in our nation’s history. Are YOU going to spend time and money just to be specific? Can we all get over this feeling sorry for something beyond our control and just honor those who justly deserve it? My God, people. Let’s just take them all down so we won’t have anything to squabble about.

  12. Make sure to include on Lincoln’s monuments that “freeing of slaves was not his primary goal for defeating the Confederate States of America. Lincoln would have kept slavery intact if the southern states rejected secession.”

  13. So what did the Germans and jews have to do with civil war. Its well documented that the jews where a big part of the slave trade in South Carolina, with the 100’s of Black Slave owners. Germans where a big help to the Union. Facts not found in the books that matter.

  14. Is it just me but when I go to a battlefield I’m not there to learn the causes of the war but the actions of that battle I want more what unit did what how the commander moved his men around the field and won or lost that battle not what caused the war in the first place

  15. While an argument about Chronoethikocentrism (the belief that the current set of values and circumstances apply through all time) could be made, Slavery; because of the machine age, and more humane systems of finding workers were evolving; such as salaried and hourly workers, unionism, and “hired hands”; in Agriculture; was a dying institution, and was already outlawed in other advanced countries; plus the United States had already taken a step toward outlawing Slavery by outlawing the importation of slaves decades earlier, even though that law was broken many times for the next quarter-century.
    The South stubbornly refused to recognize this, and fought to retain the institution, extend it further west, and north, in the United States, and if they had won their independence; planned to war against Mexico, seize land there, and extend Slavery south. The “Lost Cause” was mentioned, and the North, being the winning side, would have been entirely, and legally, correct in at least executing the leadership of the Confederacy; since it was in armed rebellion against the United States, and met the definition of Treason. However, the North did take the South back, but the South was unrepentant, and this has caused friction, and national division, even to this day. The “Lost Cause” and “States’ Rights” struck a chord with me, and President Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” is worth mentioning, and I would note, President Reagan’s first trip, after he had won nomination for President for the first time; was to Philadelphia, Mississippi; where three Civil Rights workers had been murdered, and buried in an earthen dam, less than two decades earlier (not to mention the murder of other Civil Rights Leaders; in Mississippi, and elsewhere, particularly in the South). I read the transcript of Reagan’s Speech, made at the Neosho County Fair; and as published in the Neosho County Democrat; it was typically Reagan; full of nostalgia, ego-massaging, and pseudo-patriotism, bland as vanilla ice cream, but he did mention “States’ Rights”, which was “code” in the South at that time for racism, segregation, and “Jim Crow”, and I believe, was a signal for Reagan’s intent, and true position; which I believe should be noted.

  16. You sir are ignorant of facts in that the war was not about slavery. It was about states rights and if you as a supposed writer would yourself do but a scant bit of research then you too would be able to produce facts.The traitor Lincoln was himself for slavery as he said if he could end the war without freeing the slaves he would do that. Sn 1830 census proves the free blacks had plantations that rivaled white ones in that same period there were as many as 1000 slaves owned by blacks in Richmond alone. The fact is the South had the right to secede and North was the invader. Check your facts and show yourself to be educated before you speak.ma

    1. So WHAT THEN, have you RESOLVED by your argument. Kincoln saw the horrors of war as a primary evil above that of an activity that had been oracticed by mankind for tens if thousands of years. Native Americans took slaves as did Indians below the Himalays who’s “Holy Books” go far prior to “western civilization’s Bible” due to their “escaping” “the Flood”, caused by the Laurentide Glacier falling into the Atlantic & causing “the younger Driehaus” cooling 10000 yrs ago. The TSUNAMI washed away mediterranean cultures & raised sea levels due to the massive influx of meltwater upon Canada.
      Emancipation devastated world cotton production and BANCKRUPTED EVERY COTTON BUSINESS in America. It HAD TO BE A VIOLENT EVENT.

    2. Yes, the war WAS about states rights: specifically, the right to own slaves. So, it was about slavery.

      You say, “The fact is the South had the right to secede….” Where was the written down anywhere? I missed that line in the Constitution, I guess. In truth, while the issue WAS murky and not set one way or the other, the Supreme Court later ruled that the war, in effect, settled the question.

  17. American history only contains about 36% of actual history of the settlement of America which ended in 1923.
    Negro slavery only made 8% of the slave trade to North America, 90% were White Slaves.
    War on drugs didn’t start in 1980 by Reagan, it started 1914 when drugs were made illegal only to stop Blacks from dating White women. Or else drugs would be legal today.
    The Confederate army was established by white Peasants (Slaves) during the Peasant revolts in Europe. Royals ordered their militias of Blacks known as Unitas Fratrum (United Brotherhood) to kill 68% of the Confederates just before expelling them into North America Slavery.
    For what ever reason after the Union (Unitas Fratrum) defeated the Confederates again they allowed monuments of these losers to be erected everywhere.

      1. I would suggest you read the 4th Lincoln Douglas debate, his first inaugural speech, his letter to Horace Greely and the NY Times. Then watch the pbs series “the Lincoln letters” to discover hundreds of Lincoln quotes about hating blacks and wanting them deported (in his own words, instead of other people like Seward’s revisionist history). There is also an incredible article in Smithsonian Magazine circa 2013 (blackbeard cover) that explains precisely who and why and how history was rewritten to hide the evil that Lincoln wrought and preserve his legacy in “the greatest revisionist history ever foisted upon the American people”. And to address the above response, of course it was rigged at state level in NY, just like every other rigged US election including this one. “If voting really mattered, they wouldn’t let us do it” ~ Mark Twain after the rigged 1860 Lincoln election. One other thing, what Democrats in 1864? You are ignoring that Lincoln refused to count the votes in the southern states, while “fighting to preserve the union” (4/5ths of the tax base) indeed!

      2. Interesting comment that Lincoln refused to count the Democratic votes in the southern states during the 1864 Presidential Election. With apologies to Old Abe, this reminds me of a little story. After war broke out in the spring of 1861, Ben Butler was given command of Fortress Monroe. When a patrol was sent out to check the water supply for the fort, several African Americans followed the soldiers on their way back to the fort. The slaves “belonged” to one of the ranking Confederate officers commanding the rebel troops in the vicinity. The “owner” of the slaves sent a staff officer to the fort under a flag of truce to demand the return of his “property.” Butler granted the staff officer an audience and listened to his demand for the return of the African Americans to his commander. Butler, an accomplished lawyer, rejected the demand to turn over the liberated slaves, and the staff officer reminded Butler of the Fugitive Slave law. Butler pointed out that it was the law of the United States, but Virginia’s succession and becoming part of the Confederacy removed the application of those laws to an officer of a hostile government. However, Butler admitted he would be obliged to return them to their “master” if the Confederate claiming ownership would take the oath of allegiance and recognize the United States as his sovereign nation. N.B., During the conversation the staff officer challenged Butler’s right to keep the African Americans from leaving the fort. Knowing full well that they did not want to leave, Butler then advanced the right for them to be retained in the fort as “contraband” which became the appellation of all African Americans who came into Union lines to escape slavery pending the Emancipation Proclamation

  18. Mr Mackowski is either lying or is ignorant. Gen. Lee did indeed free the only slaves he ever owned. He inherited them, and turned them loose per the request of his father in-law who bequeathed them. More than that, Gen Lee supported Cleburne’s proposal to emancipate and compensate slaves who would fight for the South. That happened in the end. Many a black Mann received a Confederate pension. More than that, Gen Lee said that slavery was a great evil that damaged master and slave alike. This is all part of the historical record. Simple google searches will bring one to primary sources corroborating the facts. I can’t imagine that Mr Mackowski would not know that.
    As to the found cause myth of the union. It seems to me that preserving the union was found not to be worth killing more than a million fighting men and several millions of southerners and slaves. Nor was It worth the rape, pillage and murder of the union army during the war or reconstruction. So the Jacobin republicans had to come up an alternative cause a “found” cause to dispute the following realities:
    1) The fight was between 2 slave holding republics. Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland and Delaware were all slave states. There’s an argument to be made that New Jersey was as well, but let’s leave them off the list.
    2) Just prior to and during the war, there were at least 2 attempts by the Lincoln administration to appease the South by protecting Slavery in an amendment to the constitution. The South was not interested.
    3) Of the amendments to the Constitution of the union that became the Confederate Constitution, only a handful, I believe two, had something to do with slavery. As a post script to this point: a good place to start when seeking the reasons the South left the union is with those very amendments.

    There’s more that I don’t have time for. But I’d like to make one final point. There is a difference between why the South left the union and why they were fighting. Gen Lee was fighting because the yankees invaded his home. That’s true for all the confederate soldiers. Had the union gone about it’s business nobody would have been fighting anyone.

    1. Indeed, there’s a huge distinction to be made between the reasons nations go to war and the motivations behind a soldier’s decision to go to war.

      Tom, you repeat some of-told myths in your opening, and I’d urge you to look at the two sources I provided for more information about Lee’s relationship with slavery.

      1. No myths Sir. Fact. Verifiable by primary sources brought to your computer screen by an easy google search. At this point I think you are intentionally misleading people.

      2. You must not have read everything, Tom. Custis’ will required Lee free his slaves within five years of Custis’ death. Lee petitioned the court to extend that timeline. Per the museum’s article, “State courts in both 1858 and 1862 denied Lee’s petition to indefinitely postpone the emancipation of his wife’s enslaved people and forced him to comply with the conditions of the will. Finally, on December 29, 1862, Lee officially freed the enslaved workers and their families on the estate, coincidentally three days before the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect.

        “Robert E. Lee owned slaves. He managed even more. When defied, he did not hesitate to use violence typical of the institution of slavery, the cornerstone of the cause for which he chose to fight.”

        The article provides additional sources for further reading.

        So, nope, no “intentional misleading” here. Just providing some facts, complete with sourcing.

      3. Ok Sir, I’ve got a job and a family. So in a couple of weeks when I’ve examined your sources and found them to be false, Misrepresented or “cherry picked”. I’m gonna come back here and make that known. The reasons I know that I know that I will be doing this is 2 Fold: 1) Y’all found-causers are about manipulating the Truth to support your nationalist myth. 2) Lee led a consistent Christian life, something moderns don’t know. So, he said slavery was a human tragedy and his actions would have been consistent with that.

      4. Tom, I do hope you look at the sources and do so with an open mind. While I have little patience for Lost Cause-ism, I do have respect for Robert E. Lee. I think the Lost Cause adoration of him does him a great disservice because, as a complex human being, he’s someone we can learn a lot from. He was human, just like the rest of us, and I think that makes his experience a lot more poignant.

  19. Let’s go back to THE CONSTITUTIONAL ARGUMENTS. FEDERALIST 42 & 54.and the 1808 COMPROMISE evident in ARTICLE 5 that BANNED IMPORTATION IF PERSONS after 1808.The INTENTION was to BAN SLAVERY , but “men” being an “incorrigable species”, found the FISCAL REALITY of removing an ASSET OF BUSINESS FROM THEIR BOOKS that had been part of mankinds history since BEFORE THE FLOOD ( established geologically at 10,000BC. AMERICAN indians were in N America 20,000BC & took slaves) would ultimately lead to BANKRUPTCT of EVERY COTTON GROWER. The CONSEQUENCE was that EMANCIPATION HAD TO BE A VIOLENT HISTIRICAL ACT.

  20. History is just that. Events that occurred in the past and can’t be changed. We study History and hopefully learn from the study. Slavery was a great injustice to Our black population in slaved at the time. It was so a terrible time for immigrant Irish forced to mine, and Chinese forced to build our railroads. Children were forced to work in factories in the North from morning to night for little pat. Only by studying these events can we learn. In Germany the Concentration camps where the Jewish population was imprisoned and put to death are still standing to tour and learn from. Only from this knowledge can steps be taken to prevent it from reoccurring.
    It must also be remembered that Confederate soldiers and their leaders were also Americans before and after the Civil War. They fought for their families, homes and way of life. It was a different time and no one today can change the past, but the men should still be honored and remembered.

  21. Who the fk wrote this article because its is false.history ! If this author took any time to read and study history oh, he would know that Robert E Lee inherited his slave and freed him in 1861 Before the War started. He was very much against slavery which is why his wife started a school for black slaves ! Journalist can’t help themselves to rewrite history and indoctrinate our youth! Newsflash everyone, every race since the beginning of time has had a hand in slavery to suggest otherwise is buffoonery! And I’ll leave this history fact for all you sanctimonious Union lovers , as Lincoln once said to Horrace Greeely in 1862″ my Paramount objective in this struggle is to save the union, it is not either to save or destroy slavery ,if I could save the union without freeing any slave I would do so” Abraham Lincoln

    1. Actually, White Rabbit, Lee didn’t free his slaves until December 29, 1862, after being compelled to by a state court. Please see: https://acwm.org/blog/myths-misunderstandings-lee-slaveholder/

      Lincoln did, indeed, write that quote to Greeley in August 1862–even as the first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation sat in his desk drawer. At the time, Lincoln’s PARAMOUNT objective was to preserve the Union, but that didn’t mean he did come to realize other objectives, too, as the draft of the E.P. in his desk suggests.

  22. In your blurb about Lee owning slaves, you use the will of R E Lees father-in-law, in which he names Robert E Lee, as well as 3 others executor of his estate. The slaves in question were not bequeathed to Robert E Lee or his wife, rather were to remain with the estate until their emancipation. You literally did exactly what you are lobbying against and omitted facts to fit your conclusion. In your case you did it to make things feel worse, whereas a monument plaque may do it to male things feel more acceptable. Hypocrite lol

    1. Say it ain’t so, Joe! A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. These ignoramuses breed contentious, division & anarchy.

    2. And Lee was the primary executor of the state, responsible for managing the properties, so in fact, I’m not “lying” at all. And I provided documentation to back it up. But thank you for trying.

      So it’s okay to make things “feel more acceptable” because, in reality, knowing the full set of facts isn’t so hot? Isn’t that a version of willful ignorance? I’m not asking that to be snide. Isn’t it better to know what’s what rather than just feel good about something? That seems like an argument in favor of “ignorance is bliss.”

      1. I believe you have to go back to the day and time to truly understand what happened. More importantly the lessons learned. Your “interpretations” stir the pot of a stew that is and was unfit for consumption. Lessons written in blood to be rewritten to benefit someone’s agenda. Brothers fought against brothers. Most confederate soldiers didn’t own slaves. Go on and tell the whole story about where the slaves came from and who sold them into slavery and how good they had it where they were from. Now there’s a story. If that war was primarily about slavery then in this day and time you can make it sound like a war between good and evil. But it wasn’t. It was about unfair taxation. It was about state’s rights. And yes it was about slavery. Ole Abe was a smart one. Most of the slaves were in the south because cotton was king. Strategically if you offered a large portion of their population freedom it would be to their benefit in a war of attrition. There were blacks that fought for the confederacy.
        My point to you is you have totally missed the point of those statues. A lot of Americans died in that war. There was the time for a nation to heal. Lessons written in blood and on stone from a perspective of someone that was there. Heed not to these lessons and the next interpretation may very well be in Cantonese.

    3. Lee owned slaves in his own right as well. They are enumerated in his 1845 (Mexican War) will that was probated in 1870 in Rockbridge County, Virginia at the time of his death. Nancy and her children remained his property throughout; they appear on the manumission document that also freed the Custis slaves in late 1862, so it appears they were domiciled along with them. The documentary record shows Lee was involved in all aspects of the mid-19th century southern slave economy–leasing, leasing out, and otherwise managing (and disciplining) slaves. For instance, his wartime manservant Perry and his cook Meredith were hired. And he applied slave labor quite intensively to rapidly improve the three estates–Arlington, Whitehouse, and Romancoke–that his children would inherit through his father-in-law’s bequest, while the labor was available to him. That engendered the sort of resistance that was on his mind when he documented his “famous” dislike of slavery in the oft-cited letter to his wife in 1856.

      It’s important to understand how thoroughly slavery was integrated into an evolving and modernizing southern economy, through industrial leasing schemes and even as collateral for other capital investments. Far from modern confederate apologists’ notions of slavery fading out as the war approached, it was growing, expanding, and seeking new outlets.

  23. Well written and researched article. How REL felt about slavery will be a mystery. It is interesting that for an article that demands “facts” the commentary does not allow for historical changes not necessarily based on facts. Most people in the world witnessed and possibly even prospered due to enslavement. Today most media profit from the labor’s of humans (including this articles/commentary author) while engaging in examining “facts” based on the admiration of one human for another. One of the major points of this article is the cherry picking of history. REL was not a man of the future, Thomas Jefferson was (in my own fact based opinion). But neither Lenin or Churchill were future thinkers regardless of the ism both held. The author knows that by changing what monuments say and mean history is changed. Why else write the article. One bright light about the Civil War is it allowed for change without a complete destruction of a society while freeing millions. Its interesting that intellectuals cannot fathom that inequality is not the problem with American society. It is possibly, in fact, the historical phase that we abide, where the worth of the individual is being supplant by the community, based on affluence and influence that include censoring and dehumanizing. After all is not my take on history more relevant than yours, if I can alter history with my opinionated facts?

    1. Thanks. You raise some great points, and I like your question at the end. We’re living through that right now in a media environment where we all get to pick our facts and then decide our perspective is better based on the facts we expose ourselves too. It’s really quite damaging.

  24. An excellent example about how the choice of words frames the discussion. Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. wrote in one of his Supreme Court opinions that “a word is the skin that covers the body of a thought”. Careful consideration should be given to the words used in our current political debates as to what they mean as well as to what they do not mean.

  25. We should discuss it from the viewpoint of the horses involved. The writer thinks he is clever but its sophomoric to point out that any statement is biased.

    1. The point is to show HOW the statement is biased–and as this discussion demonstrates, that bias isn’t as obvious to some people as it might be to you.

  26. My only complaint about the monument itself is that during the Battle of Sharpsburg (that’s Antietam to you folks above the Mason-Dixon Line) Lee probably wasn’t sitting on Traveler very much. He’d suffered from two broken hands at the time which happened near the end of the Battle of 2nd Manassas (Bull Run) the month before when he was thrown from his horse. Both of his hands were bandaged and he rode in a hospital wagon much of the time while his hands were healing.
    In that much the statue is probably inaccurate, but then again I doubt many of the monuments with statues depicting men in Herculean physiques are any better.

    1. But one of the main justifications for keeping them, I think, beyond their commemorative value is their use as interpretive tools. That’s a more objective reason for keeping them than their commemorative value because, after all, most of the hubbub is over what deserves and doesn’t deserve to be commemorated and why.

  27. If we want to keep it real when are we going to go after Martin Luther King and Mahatma Ghandi. Because when people start this type of protest eventually to get to the point that their not satisfied until they have cured everything so to speak. So why don’t we just tear down everything,and take names off of everything and just put a number on everything lest we sully ourselves with the me of someone and later on find out that they yelled at their child 50yrs earlier and are now unworthy of any mention in history or to be memorialized in any way.the left will not stop until they have their own view of the Garden of Eden oops sorry for the biblical reference guess I can’t run for President now. Being a Right Wing neo Nazis homophobic,sexist, misogynist, xenophobic,(and since I’m black) a self loathing Uncle Tom. I’m tired of these distractions that we are spending our time and money on.

  28. I love how the left always feels responsibility for educating people. Leave the statue and let people educate themselves on the issue. I also think it is dangerous to interpret history outside its context. The fact was, slavery was viewed as normal until it wasn’t, and then we fought a civil war to end the practice. Conflict shapes a Nation. The south was as much responsible for shaping America as the north. The problem is that blacks have been taught to always be the victim because of historical slavery. They were just enslaved in a different way. And now we are resegregating America at the behest of BLM and whacky progressives. Their enslavement will only get worse, maybe even irreparable during this or the next generation.

    1. I can’t speak for the left and its desire to educate people or not. But I can speak for myself. As far as I’m concerned, people can’t get enough education about history. And everywhere I go, I hear Civil War buffs universally lament how people don’t know enough about the war and they don’t know enough about history. So, while I’d love it if everyone did “educate themselves on the issue,” my experience has been that people don’t. That’s one reason why we created ECW–so we can serve as a resource for people who DO want to learn more.

      (As an aside, before you paint me as a leftie again, I had a Lee license plate until this summer, which I removed because I was afraid my car would get vandalized.)

  29. Yes Robert E. Lee owned slaves but at the same time he was against slavery. Why can’t people understand that as true? How about this then, Ulysses S. Grant also owned a slave so why don’t we start tearing down his statues too? Or Washington and Jefferson statues? History as it happened can not be erased, although people are trying to erase it just like the holocaust. Times were different back then. People and their beliefs were different. Virginia at the time was looked at more as a country than a state by it’s residents. What percentage of confederate soldiers owned slaves? Probably less than 3% yet they fought for what, slavery? No. They fought for their states rights and for there “country”. I just wish people would educate themselves before talking about things that they don’t understand.

    1. You hit on my point exactly, Darrin, although perhaps from another angle. Yes, Lee DID own slaves bit opposed slavery–but the text on the statue plaque only presents one side of that equation in an attempt to ennoble him rather than grapple with messy complexity. Again, it was the statue’s original owner’s complete right to do so, but it makes for inaccurate history. So, I would argue, using your term “history as it happened” as a criterion, that the text of the plaque did not present history as it happened because it omitted some inconvenient facts.

      Grant’s slave-owning is always worth examination. It’s irrelevant to my original point here because I was talking about specific text on a specific monument, but there is info about Grant in one of the links I provided above. My argument is NOT “take down Lee’s statue because he owned slaves,” an argument I wouldn’t make about anyone.

      I also agree with you that judging past events through the lens of presentism is not helpful at all if we really want to understand our history.

  30. It’s funny that he actually names the article “when monuments cherry pick facts” as that is exactly what the author is doing here. Whereas it is true that Lee owned slaves, it was only because he inherited them from his father in law. Lee actually freed all of those slaves BEFORE the civil war. If he got to add his “fact” to the statue it would actually distort history. Grant also owned slaves through inheritance and freed them in the same way that Lee did.

    I also have to wonder how this guy could possibly know that Lee never went down that particular road? Even if the statue is placed in a spot he never was, does that mean that it is inaccurate? Lee was the lead general of the south in the battle. Seems to me like he’s splitting hairs.

    1. Lee actually freed his slaves on December 29, 1862, after twice petitioning the state court to allow him to keep them in bondage beyond the length of time specified by his father-in-law’s will. The court turned him down twice.

      And a closer reading of the article will show you that I do mention Lee went down that particular road. He just didn’t stop at that spot–not to make his HQ or even to eat his lunch. He was the lead general of the south in the battle–and his statue is located outside Confederate lines.

      I’m not splitting hairs. I’m making a point about accuracy. I don’t anywhere say we should take the monument down, either, although moving it to a more appropriate location and removing the Lost Cause plaque would be good.

  31. Robert E. Lee was the greatest man of the 19th century. After the war many northerners wanted him to run for president. He was a gentleman, Christian, and a great man. Read my book “Duty Most Sublime”.

  32. The Lee monument at Antietam is basically a one off. I’m not aware of any other monument that was recently built on private land which was then acquired by the Park Service. I don’t know what kind of legal agreement the private landowner had with the Park Service when the land was conveyed. Absent a contractual agreement to the contrary, I’m in favor of removing the statue from its location. However, the cancel culture with respect to monuments and other references to the past has got to stop. Recently, the school board of Falls Church voted unanimously to remove the names from Thomas Jefferson Elementary School and George Mason High School and rename them. In defending the action, a member of the school board was quite blunt in stating that the action was taken because half the country voted for Trump and therefore the United States is racist. To me, that is insane. As Americans, we are the most fortunate people in the history of the world. The freedoms we enjoy were built on the shattering sacrifices of many different people. We should show some humility and also celebrate our history, as imperfect as it is. Everyone in the past was imperfect, we are imperfect, and the people in the future judging us will be imperfect. Judge people in the past in the context of when they lived and hope people in the future will accord us the same courtesy.

    1. Well said, Bill. I agree entirely.

      My worry about the Lee statue, in particular, is that even though it IS a one-off, it’ll be the crack that opens the door to indiscriminate monument removal from battlefields, which would be a terrible thing. If we can remove reasons to remove the monuments–and stick to objective things like facts–then perhaps they won’t be as susceptible to removal. Monuments are useful teaching tools, they can be beautiful artwork, and they can be inspiring. They can also be uncomfortable–which, in my view, is a good thing because that will spark discussion and, I hope, interest.

      1. Thanks. I think the monument is rather jarring in its current location as you go across the Middle Bridge on Route 34, but where could it be relocated? One alternative might be the land across the road from the Visitors Center and south of the Dunker Church. That area is more central to the Confederate line and I believe that at least one parcel in that area has been recently acquired. Maybe add some interpretive signage about monuments and memories on Civil War battlefields.

  33. It’s your heritage why should you take monuments down, I have relations so I’m told that were in the Civil War for the Confederate States and proud of them I think we are being brain washed every time you put the TV on.

    1. Thanks, Rudy. I think we can learn a lot more from history when we look at the good, the bad, and the ugly and not just look at it through rose-colored glasses.

  34. If your entire family fortune was based on a legal institution that you felt might be morally wrong, would you bankrupt yourself and your family to right that wrong even though the wrong was perfectly legal. Look at spirit of the times and quit interpreting 19th century hiatory based on 21st century ideas.

    1. Exactly right. We don’t glorify slavery but there were many forms of indentured servitude. Men were kidnapped from the UK and sent to Australia to work for seven years after which others could be sent to them for seven year unless of course their time was extended by the whim of the overseers.Catholics Irish were kidnapped and sent to the Caribbean.Men were kidnapped and forced to work on ships.Many southern men were taken from their farms to be forced to fight for the Confederacy.We cannot change what happened

    2. I don’t disagree with any of what you’ve said, John, and I think “presentism” is the biggest hurdle we face today in trying to understand the past.

      I don’t, anywhere, interpret 19th century based on 21st century ideas. I’m merely advocating that we include more of the facts we know about Lee IN HIS TIME, not as some people WANT to see him.

  35. Shelby Foote the historian said that when confederate soldiers were asked why they were fighting since they didn’t own slaves, they replied “You’re down here, that’s why”. General Lee also-fought for the US in the Mexican War. I would posit that the south was fighting for the right to decide slavery on their own and without Northern interference. Slavery has destroyed every economy ot has come in contact with and also destroyed any Middle class prosperity.

  36. The War Between The States was NOT a “Civil War”. A civil war is what happens when the population of a single nation or region begins fighting with one another. Take, for example, the civil war that occurred in Northern Ireland or in Syria.

    The War of Southern Independence was fought between the United States of America (the Union) and the Confederate States of America (the Confederacy). Both had their own separate capitols, governments and organized armies.

    The institution of slavery played a part, but so did Mr. Lincoln’s raising of import taxes (tariffs) on the imported manufactured goods from Great Britain and Europe on which the agricultural Southern states depended. The Southern economy was based on exchanging farm products such as cotton, tobacco and rice for finished goods from the industrialized countries of the old world. Mr. Lincoln and his Northern industrialist backers wanted high import taxes because their new factories could not compete on price with old established companies of Britain and Europe which had already amortized the cost of their production facilities.

    Basically, the War Between The States was brought on by the desires of Northern industrialists to gain sales in Southern markets from which they were excluded due to their higher cost of production.

    1. Since I am not familiar with Lincoln’s voting record when he was a Congressman, I am not in a position to dispute your claim of his approval of protectionist tariffs. However as President he could only recommend that Congress pass that revenue producing legislation. Furthermore, whatever he did or didn’t do as President, it was considered to had no effect on secession as most of the future Confexerate states left the Union before he was inaugurated. Finally the Federal Government was making no attempt to collet tariffs when Fort Sumter was fired upon,

      1. Lincoln himself said he would do what he had to , on three separate instances, said he would do what he had to to collect tax revenue from the CSA. He was attempting to reinforce and resupply Ft Sumter for the purpose to invade the south and force them back into the tax district of the Union. The South, having suffered the foreign military presence in control of a fort in one of the most strategically important harbors long enough, reduced it. The major in command wisely surrendered. The only casualty being a union man when the south allowed the yankees to fire a salute to their flag prior to surrendering the fort.

    2. John Thayer…thank you for your clearly written statement. Its refreshing to see such a post amid all of the “holy union empire” worship on these threads.

    3. Except that the war was NOT a war between separate nations. No one but the Confederacy recognized the southern states as a separate nation. That would be like me saying I’m the King of the Independent State of Spotsylvania, and while I might believe it, I doubt the county government would recognize my sovereignty. Just because I say it doesn’t mean it’s so.

      All of that stuff about Lincoln raising tariffs is nonsense. SC declared secession before Lincoln ever took office. Lincoln had little incentive to antagonize England over economic issues at the risk of nudging England toward recognizing the South.

      1. This tariff stuff is so confusing. Are you referring to the Tariff of Abominations, thirty years before the war? Or the subsequent free-trade tariffs, all written by southern Democrats, that reduced rates to their lowest levels in generations? Or the Morrill Tariff, made possible by, and enacted after, secession? And where can I find data to show who paid those tariffs on foreign imports? All I can find is customs data that details, very precisely, *where* it was paid–and for the most part, it *wasn’t* in the south.

  37. I think the fact that the statue is factually incomplete allows us to call attention to that very fact like you did here, and that is why it should stay. By adding context, it allows us to reflect on the fact that humans like to turn people into idealized icons, because they are more emotionally powerful, but lose the nuances of reality.

    The context added must be carefully crafted however, as you shed light on, to avoid falling into the same bias it is trying to figure against.

    1. That’s the most cogent argument I’ve seen in this entire thread for leaving the statue as-is. Thank you. And I would probably be inclined to agree with you if the statue wasn’t under constant threat from several Congressmen who’d like to see it removed altogether.

  38. Seems youve touched on a very interesting subject as the same frame of thought could be applied to todays journalism in general …..I tend to be absolutist when it comes to the application of principals to almost anything ….with that in mind I would say we need to be as crutical about anything disseminated to the public …… Its kind of all or nothing …… realistically I tend to take anything I read with a grain of salt to begin with and at this point I believe most people do . So equivocating about full truth on a plaque in a battlefield in todays dishonest journalistic culture seems a bit silly

    1. There are definitely parallels, Ernest. That we’ve somehow moved into a “post-truth” world with “alternative facts” is hugely problematic. I teach in a journalism school, and it’s something my colleagues and I talk about all the time. Believe it or not, there are many journalists who DO go to great lengths to “get it right,” as the expression goes. But because facts have become politicized, we can’t all agree on who is right and who isn’t. And corporate media motivated not by public service but by profits make the matter worse.

      In the midst of all that, I know a lot of media professionals AND historians–and I count myself in both camps–who still strive for factual accuracy and fairness. So, it’s not silly, to me anyway, to try and hold the line on those sorts of standards.

  39. Talk about dishonest, the South’s concerted effort of rewriting of history for generations has practically made having a rational discussion about the Recent Unpleasantness impossible. There are few in the South who haven’t been tainted by the revisions visited upon them by the UDC and SCV once they gained control of the Southern states history curriculum.

  40. Seems much ado about nothing the writer feels he has pulled off the ultimate gotcha. Yet the statement is true, Lee chose Virginia not to lead its army to maintain slavery. He resigned his commission because he was a Virginian and could not bear to take up arms against Virginia. He never made mention of fighting for slavery.. financially it was disastrous for southern slave owners. Unlike their Northern counterparts they did not receive money from the treasury for compensation ,Lee had he chosen the North would have likely held the family slaves longer. He would have profited from it.
    Like all people who look back at History they want to look at it like a backward contemporary. To be shocked by their lack of enlightenment, to me it projects the writer’s arrogance. Had Robert E Lee not resigned his commission, had he taken the offer to lead the Army he still ,by way of inheritance ,owned slaves and most still would have been freed in 1862 in accordance with the will of the Custis family, unless of course they would have been seized by the confederate government or state of Virginia as punishment for his treachery, in a similar way that the Union ,under secretary Seward seized Arlington house , first to occupy and then to bury union dead.
    But hey why let history get in the way of your virtue signaling, no points in that right?

    1. Robert Carlton : bravo for your post and calling out the hypocrisy of the “Oh so virtuous” politically correct crowd.

    2. I didn’t say anything critical about Lee’s motivations, and in fact, I’ve written elsewhere about how I don’t envy the choice he had to make. I don’t judge him for what I’m sure was a heart-wrenching decision for him.

      Nor do I criticize him for owning slaves, which was legal in Virginia at the time and not universally condemned as morally wrong. I am merely suggesting that by mentioning slavery instead of whitewashing it, we get a more accurate picture of Lee. If there’s any “virtue signaling,” it’s by saying “Lee opposed slavery” so that he sounds like a really good guy, without mentioning any of the complexity of it.

      What I AM critical of is the disingenuous way the plaque tries to characterize him. He was most definitely NOT fighting for “the universal right of every people to self-determination.” That’s pure balderdash. Ask any black person in the south whether Lee was fighting for their universally recognized right to self-determination.

      But hey, why let history get in the way of the story you WANT instead of what really happened?

  41. Of course it’s ”cherry picking.” It is what they call ”his story.” Usually, the information is relayed from the person who actually witnessed an event to someone else to record this ”history.” And then the account is combined with reports from other witnesses. Depending on whose story you want to believe, these additional reports could mean nothing at all or make all the difference in the world in the way of accuracy. Editting can also play a parr, so it’s to be expected that not everything will be documented. ”All the news that’s fit to print” was a famous saying by a big newspaper back in the day. And that went hand-in-hand with ”All thr news that fits to print.” Some of the details might just wind up on editor’s cutting-room floor. Fighting plays a big part in the shaping of our world — way back when and here and now. Wars settle disputes, change boundaries and cause many people to die along the way. Those who fight these battles are usually tough fighters, but not necessarily good storytellers or historians. Opportunity for another exaggeration or detail to be omitted. You know it happens. How can you jot down all the details with a pen or pencil as you’re storming the enemy beach under a barrage of machine gun bullets and cannon fire. Let’s get back to the ”cherry picking.” On today’s news reports, it’s obvious every game is not going to be shown in its entirety. There will be some highlights shown for viewer to watch. And not just any play makes the highloght reel. The plays usually shown are top efforts made during a crucial part of the game. Those highlights represent your cherries. Anyway, some days may be more eventful than others and there stands a chance of one cherry this day and two the next. When it comes to recording our history, we know it isn’t 100 percent accurate. Who discovered America? How long has man been on this planet? Did Adam and Eve really exist? Is anybody wanting to look for a juicy cherry? That’s a good place to start looking. We can cover it up, make it up or even f__k it up. I guess it depends on our motives and willingness to find what we’re looking for. If we’re looking for the truth, you might have to ask Jack Nicholson. The famous actor said in the hit movie ”A Few Good Men” — “‘You can’t handle the truth!” That could very well be.

  42. Please leave Robert E. Lee alone. He was a great man, a great leader and deserves none of this garbage. Thanks to Lee and other Confederate”s the United States expanded westward with the defeat of the Mexicans. Another thing… Why aren’t liberals concerned about Grant’s slaves.

  43. Research the Hyde Amendment. The South was guaranteed to have slavery but still left the Union. It was not about slavery. It was over States rights.

    1. Slavery was still legally protected at the time of the war. Lincoln’s main concern was that it not spread beyond where it already existed. Unfortunately, that would affect representation in Congress. The balance of power there had already begun to shift away from slave states, and without the prospect of more slave states joining the Union, the south saw itself about to lose the catbird seat. Secession was their preemptive strike. If you look at the primary documents at the time, you’ll see that they talk about the centrality of slavery to that movement:


  44. Excellent article. There was little that was honorable about Robert E. Lee. He was such a staunch supporter of slavery, he was known to torture his slaves for attempting escape, doubtlessly motivated by his mistreatment of them.

  45. I don’t know why we’re even having this discussion. The slaves were freed. Robert E. Lee whether pardoned or not deserves recognition for being an important part of history.

  46. Small point: a “can of worms” that “treads heavily” on something is a grotesque monster from “Ear of the Worlds.” But seriously, a statue is an emotional statement from specific people at a specific place and time. Generally, statues should be left alone. They are part of history. Modern plaques on public property are more complicated. The last sentence on the plaque could be omitted. We — or rather I — have to acknowledge that Lee, like many then and now, was an honorable man with views that I detest– but no less worthy of honor.

  47. Where is the hue & cry against the display of Egyptian pyramid artifacts in American cities? Egyptians enslaved the Jews for thousands of years! Yet the left hates Israel! Slavery has occurred in every corner of the world. It seems the SJW’s are just using one incidence of slavery to advance their narrative against a section of a population that believes in individualism with all of its warts and self determination. In essence the SJW’s are attempting to [enslave] one half of the U.S. population. Blatant hypocrisy!

  48. If we are concerned about facts… the Monument for Lincoln in Washington is one big example of “Cherry Picking” just read the book… “The Real Lincoln” by Thomas J. DiLorenzo and you will understand his true character and actions which should be added to the Monument.

  49. Talk about cherry picking – that is all this revisionist piece does. Lee never owned slaves and he did want to free them but only after they were educated/taught a trade, not just be released into general public unable to read/write with no means of supporting themselves. We see the results as liberals have segregated minorities in new plantations of our inner cities – most run exclusively by liberals for 50/75 years all fraught with crime, drugs, crappy gov’ment schools, inadequate housing,lack of economic mobility, etc. No Yankee went to war to free the slaves. Lincoln did not start the war to free the slaves. Just as no Southern fought or died to keep humans in slavery. Clearly the Southern states had the right to secede. When Lincoln and FedGov infringed on these rights – the war resulted. There is only one truth – stop trying to refashion history to fit your biased leftist narrative – it’s boring and weak minded.

    1. August, I think you’re espousing history as Lee partisans WANT it to have been, but the documentary record shows clearly that he did own slaves of his own as well as slaves he had to manage following his father-in-law’s death. You can be as mad as you want about that “cherry picking,” and you can ignore the sources I’ve offered as evidence, but you’re clinging to a myth, not facts. I respect Lee a lot, but I’m not blind to complicated facets of his life, either.

      You have a lot of information mixed up. For instance, southern states began to secede BEFORE Lincoln became president; others followed after his call for volunteers to quell the rebellion after S.C. opened fire first.

      There was no established right to secede. There was no established prohibition. Only after the war did the Supreme Court rule that secession was illegal, a point they said was settled by the war.

      Most Yankees did not go to war to free the slaves, but some did (you contend “no” Yankee did). When Lincoln changed the war aims, there were a lot of northern soldiers disgruntled about that, but because they swore an oath to defend the Constitution, they generally stuck it out (with a very few exceptions, such as deserters).

      Your post underscores the point I made last week, about how important it is to get facts correct. If you start there, then you’ll find history a lot more fascinating to study.

      1. “If you enter the harbour, it will be considered an act of war, and you will be fired upon” . Lincoln committed the action that started the war, and baited the south into “firing the first shots” in DEFENSE of our harbour, another of the revisionist lies. Right, the south attacked the north 500 miles below the mason dixon line, as silly a lie as 4 slave states attacking 11 slave states to “free the slaves”. The correct name of it is the war of northern aggression, nothing civil about murdering americans for corporate greed….

    2. I’ve been to Fort Sumter. Before I go again could you tell me which of the artillery piece on display in the fort that fired the first shot at Charleston by President Lincoln’s orders that started the Civil War? I’ve always been under the impression that it was that old secessionist Edmund Ruffin who fired the first shot. Thank you for correcting that obviously false impression that I had.

  50. I thought the article was fine, but these comments are embarrassing. Commenters should know what they’re talking about before accusing others of not knowing what they’re talking about.

    1. If you think some of these comments are embarrassing, you should see some of the nonsense we’ve had to delete because they violated our posting standards….

  51. When people want to bring honest Abe into this they might want to remember his wife and her family owned slaves as far as statues being historically accurate I agree to the extent of his accomplishments not his view on slavery that goes for books and teachings as well

  52. We live in an age where a school district in San Francisco can decide to remove Abraham Lincoln’s name from one of their schools because he didn’t care enough about black lives. Any discussion of subtlety or nuance is futile.

  53. The best book on this subject is….Lee Considered , by my late friend, Alan Nolan.

    Realize that Lee and the rest of those Southerners who fought against the United States were traitors, and that when they did accept a pardon, along with that pardon was an admitting of guilt.

  54. In the mid 19th century, females could not legally own property, so lee took control of the slaves left to his wife. The will stated that he is to work the slaves until a certain amount of money was raised to provide douries, for his grand daughters was raised or 5 years. Lee was off fighting a war I 1862 so he applied for an extension but was denied. If lee is said to be a slave owner because of his wifes father then lincoln became owner of the 2 slave women given to her as a wedding gift from her father. Lincoln deliberately courted and married into a slave owning family.

  55. Unless you’ve been sleeping for the past decade or so, ypu would have noticed that the media does this on a daily bases. There is no “truth” in this country anymore. People report, write, inscribe, etc., what they want you to know or how they want you to think. So yes, both ways are accurate, but what words are added or left off depends on how people want him remembered.

  56. Interesting discussion, and I’m reminded of Grant’s thoughts, as expressed in his memoir, on Lee’s surrender @ Appomattox:: “I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse. “,

  57. If you are so into facts, I challenge you to find 20 facts that show the principle reason for the civil war was not slavery

  58. I beg to differ with you that Lee never visited the spot where the monument to him sits. He would have crossed the Antietam on the bridge and followed the road that goes right by where the statue sits on what was the Newcomer Farm.

  59. I’m gonna post something here that I have on at least one other thread over time on these boards. It has nothing to do with THIS statue or RE Lee for that matter, it’s just a general musing.

    Chris Mackowski posted this earlier in the comments: “Indeed, we all hope “the regular person” will study the war more, but unfortunately, we also know how historically illiterate most Americans are.” I think information found on many a marker contributes to this (and this discussion mentions things that SHOULD be amended on the RE Lee statue in question). But my own experiences, at least when I was younger, were that anyone who had a monument or statue or marker dedicated to him/her just had to be “great”. Time and research has shown that is often far from the case. There are plenty of ‘cads’ and ‘scoundrels’ who have been thus honored in this life, here and abroad. Quite often, such markers represent that the individual who is presented on one was important to the events of that area at a given time. The information that accompanies such markers would do well to explain why that marker is in the particular place it occupies.

    One other thing that comes into play in such matters is the old adage that “one mans’ cure is another man’s poison”. As history has shown, many an individual is judged in quite different ways and means. Who is ‘great’ and who ain’t is often a matter of who is doing the ‘judging’. We are all familiar with the term “The Lost Cause”, and we know how some historical accounts and scholarship over time have ‘judged’ the participants of that. But my reference to Chris M’s earlier statement reveals an ugly truth: those who ate truly ignorant and ‘illiterate’ of our nation’s history are calling many of the shots.

  60. Lee was not really anti-slavery. He made the comment about it being an “evil” but also described it as the best relationship between the two races. Also, there’s no evidence that he freed the slaves he inherited in 1829. No legal documents exist for that. And he tried to convince the court to extend the time before freeing the Custis slaves. And he brought a couple of his wife’s slaves with him during the Civil War as personal servants. So it is a bit of a myth to say Lee was anti-slavery.

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