For the majority of my life I have had an intense interest in the history of the War Between the States. This interest germinated as a result of two very influential places that I became well acquainted with from a young age.
The first of these was the land that I have lived on since before my memory was even able to take root, a parcel that was witness to some of the most sanguinary fighting that occurred throughout the course of the whole war- the battle of Gaines’ Mill on June 27, 1-862, and the battle of Cold Harbor during the first two weeks of June 1864- and which still bears visible scars from both conflicts.
The other was Monument Avenue. As a child, I was often afforded the opportunity to take long walks down the grassy median to view the massive statues of Stuart, Lee, Davis, Jackson, and Maury. Each figure stood larger than life, sentinels of the city for which each sacrificed so much for over the course of their illustrious lives. As a child, Richmond was, in my mind, that place where the monuments were- all else was secondary. Before I knew anything about the men to whom those monuments paid tribute, I knew that they must have accomplished something great in the course of their lives for them to be memorialized in-the permanence of granite and bronze, and to be conspicuously placed on one of the world’s most beautiful avenues.
This belief and the curiosity which it fostered, resulted in a continuous study of those men and the war that made their names immortal. I soon learned of Stuart riding around McClellan’s army in that fascinating and promising spring of 1862, of Jackson winning fame in the Shenandoah Valley and turning Hooker’s flank at Chancellorsville, of Davis working incessantly day and night to sustain the dream of an independent South, and of Maury’s advancement of the science of oceanography. And then, of course, there was Lee. The Virginia Gentleman, commander of the army that my ancestors fought with, and who, against odds that were often unbelievably long, outfoxed foe after foe with his uncanny ability to read his opponent’s mind. I was indeed fortunate to mature in an environment where books were present, along with the encouragement to read them.
The earliest printed material that I can remember ever grabbing my attention on any subject was a little booklet entitled Monument and Boulevard: Richmond’s Grand Avenues, which my father gave to me as a Christmas present when I was eight years old. It showcased each of the monuments that I had already come to love, and it did a wonderful job in explaining their history along with the many reasons why Richmonders revered them. It was from this booklet, along with an inherited copy of Thomas Nelson Page’s Robert E. Lee: The Southerner that developed a love for reading and a proper respect for the generations of the past.
It would have been impossible in those halcyon days to have had the slightest premonition that the vicissitudes and fierce polemics of the next twelve years would fan the flames of ignorance and neighborly suspicion to the point of an unquenchable blaze, which would eventually result in the destruction of the avenue I adored. The degeneration of the public and pseudo-intellectual discussion surrounding the memory of Southern heroes in the past decade has been unprecedented in its rapidity and malignancy. I have tried, to the best of my ability, to defend the honorable names of the men mentioned above against incessant attacks, but I have had to face time and time again the stark reality of the apathy of the modern mind, along with the futility of trying to convince ignorant minds of truths that I have learned through my own study, which were often not in accordance with the narrative that they had been conditioned over the years to accept.
And so here we are, 130 years after the unveiling of the Lee monument, left with street in Richmond that is only a shadow of its former self, gaining nothing. It ought to be renamed Amnesia Avenue, as we are now left with a capital city whose identity, if it can be said to have one at all, lies solely in the unkempt streets that hurry a deracinated populace from chain store, to office building, to bars that provide an illusory alleviation to the everydayness of their miserable urban lives.
In the not too distant past Richmond was a place where the past was remembered with reverence, and the future was faced all the more boldly because of it. Today in our commonwealth, which is currently under the management of ignominious and barbaric politicians, there now remain fewer reminders of men who, by the examples they set, provided a standard that most of our day are incapable of meeting. The removal of Richmond’s monuments only provides the doltish agitators, screeching against men of whom they know nothing, a temporary slake to their thirst for cultural conquest. ln observing the despotic conduct of the Governor of Virginia and the Mayor of Richmond up to this point their terms, I have been constantly reminded of the philosophic wisdom of General Lee, who once wrote, “The forbearing use of power does not only form a touchstone, but the manner in which an individual enjoys certain advantages over others is a test of a true gentleman.” Is it any wonder that government officials have been so pathological in their attempt to remove the image of Lee from the public conscience?
What we are experiencing in our time is another manifestation of the spiritual warfare that has been raging since the fall of mankind. While I am unremitting in my opposition to the removal of any monuments to the soldiers and statesmen of the South, I am at the same time cognizant of the fact that the memory of godly men will never be in vogue within the city limits of New Gomorrah, and that such a trashy city is unworthy to have such beautiful monuments. To me, Richmond is now the place where the monuments used to be, and I will lose nothing by staying as far away from it as possible. The demonstrators can have their Vanity Fair in its streets; at least they will not be plagued by the reminders of men who were greater than themselves.
A century from now, when the names of those responsible for the destruction Old Richmond are either forgotten entirely or indignantly remembered, those of Lee, Jackson, Stuart, Davis, and Maury will remain esteemed in the minds of those who have taken the time to learn from the lives that they lived and the examples that they set. The coffins of Stuart and Jackson were both draped in the Stainless Banner, and that banner remains stainless still.
“Truth crushed to the earth is truth still and like a seed will rise again.” -Jefferson Davis
“Above all things, learn at once to worship your Creator and to do His will as revealed in His Holy Book.”-Robert E. Lee
“All that the South has ever desired was that the Union, as established by our forefathers, should be preserved, and that the government as originally organized should be administered in purity and truth.”-Robert E. Lee
“To me it seems that our overthrow is the worst thing that could have happened for the South- the worst thing that could have happened for the North, and for the cause of constitutional freedom and of religion on this continent. But the Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens and his kingdom rule over all…” – Rev. Dr. Moses Drury Hoge