General Robert E Lee (a painting of whom is seen above) was opposed to erecting monuments in honor of fallen Confederate heroes
Alt-right and white supremacists organized a rally in Charlottesville to protest the planned removal of a statue of Robert E Lee over the weekend.
The protest and counter-protest turned violent, with participants clashing and one alleged white nationalist driving his car at high speed into a crowd of anti-fascist demonstrators, killing one and injuring 20 others.
The incident ignited a fierce national debate, particularly in light of President Donald Trump’s statements saying that ‘both sides’ were at fault for the violence.
Trump on Thursday also decried the movement to remove Confederate symbols from public venues.
Ironically, if the Confederate general were alive today, he would most likely side with the counter-protesters rather than those looking to keep his statue in public view.
Historians who have researched Lee say that after the Civil War ended, the Southern general was opposed to erecting memorials for the vanquished Confederacy, according to PBS.
Instead, he believed it was time to swear allegiance to the Union and move on for the sake of national unity.
Alt-right and white supremacists organized a rally in Charlottesville to protest the planned removal of a statue of Robert E Lee over the weekend. Virginia State Troopers are seen above standing under the statue of Lee in Charlottesville on Saturday
When there was discussion about building a memorial at Gettysburg in 1869, four years after the war ended, Lee wrote: ‘I think it wiser…not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.’
Lee has become a symbol for white southerners who wish to preserve Confederate heritage, while liberals say the nation should shun reminders of a time when slavery and segregation were considered the norm.
The general himself, however, was eager to turn the page.
‘It’s often forgotten that Lee himself, after the Civil War, opposed monuments, specifically Confederate war monuments,’ said Jonathan Horn, the author of the Lee biography, The Man Who Would Not Be Washington.
Jonathan Horn (left), the author of a biography of Lee titled The Man Who Would Not Be Washington (right), says the general opposed Confederate war monuments because he believed they hindered national reconciliation after the Civil War
Workers load statues of Confederate generals Lee and Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson on a flatbed truck in the early hours of Wednesday morning in Baltimore, Maryland
The year after the Civil War ended, the general weighed in on the possibility that a memorial would be built to honor the memory of Stonewall Jackson – historically considered to be the second best-known Confederate military officer after Lee.
‘As regards the erection of such a monument as is contemplated, my conviction is, that however grateful it would be to the feelings of the South, the attempt in the present condition of the Country, would have the effect of retarding, instead of accelerating its accomplishment; [and] of continuing, if not adding to, the difficulties under which the Southern people labour,’ Lee wrote in 1866.
Horn says that the general believed monuments and memorials to dead Confederate heroes only served to slow the process of national reconciliation.
Lee believed countries that erased visible signs of civil war recovered from conflicts quicker,’ Horn said.
‘He was worried that by keeping these symbols alive, it would keep the divisions alive.’
Historians have debated whether Lee was really opposed to slavery and the degree to which he supported seceding from the Union, though there is unanimous sentiment that he opposed memorials.
‘He said he was not interested in any monuments to him or – as I recollect – to the Confederacy,’ said James Cobb, a history professor emeritus at the University of Georgia.
‘I don’t think that means he would have felt good about the people who fought for the Confederacy being completely forgotten,’ Cobb added.
‘But he didn’t want a cult of personality for the South.’