Editor’s note: Since last summer’s violent alt-right demonstrations in Charlottesville, NC, communities have confronted the existence of Confederate monuments in their communities. These monuments were erected in a time of retrenchment against the progressive gains of the post-Civil War period, and served to consolidate the power of white supremacy. This past August, as the monument in Ellicott City, Maryland, near UUCC’s spiritual home in Columbia, was at last being removed, our Jim Caldiero provided the following historical insight:
Across the country, statues and monuments celebrating Confederate soldiers, politicians, leaders are being removed. The key word, of course, is “celebrating.” As New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu aptly observed, there is a difference between remembrance and reverence. The idea of reverence for the Confederacy and the proliferation of glorifying monuments can be traced to one man who is arguably connected to Ellicott City.
In 1864, as he had done in 1862 (Antietam) and again in 1863 (Gettysburg), Robert E. Lee sought to carry the war into the North and relieve General Ulysses Grant’s tightening noose around the Confederate capital of Richmond. Lee sent General Jubal Early down the Shenandoah Valley to raid Maryland and threaten the weakly defended Union capital. General Lew Wallace (author of Ben-Hur), commanding the troops in Baltimore, marched to meet Early at the Monocacy River, near Frederick, delaying the rebels by one day, enough time to allow Grant to reinforce the forts ringing the capital. Wallace, defeated, withdrew to the small town of Ellicott Mills (now City) where the B&O railroad station enabled him to move his troops north to protect Philadelphia or south to Washington, depending on Early’s direction. Early marched through Silver Spring and was subsequently repulsed at Fort Stevens on the outskirts of Washington, but not before remarking to an aide, “Major, we haven’t taken Washington, but we scared Abe Lincoln like hell.”
When the war ended, Early refused a pardon, fled to Texas, Mexico and Canada where he wrote an accusatory memoir about the last year of the war, contemplated a move to New Zealand but instead returned to Virginia to practice law when President Andrew Johnson declared a general amnesty for all Confederate soldiers. Historian James Robertson notes that Early, an unrepentant rebel who always wore gray suits, responding to a rumor about a planned run for governor averred that, if elected, he’d have the whole state in another war within a week. He is credited with creating the cult of the “Lost Cause,” the southern view that the war was a contest of might over right, romanticizing Robert E. Lee and rebel soldiers as better than their Union counterparts. Through the Southern Historical Society Papers monthly magazine, he spent the next thirty years defending the righteousness of the Confederate cause. Towards the end of his life, Early saw his beloved home state of Virginia and other southern states begin to memorialize the Lost Cause with hundreds of monuments and statues, including his own in Lynchburg, Virginia.