In the early 1900s, many Confederate veterans of Page County, Virginia (most of whom were probably members of the Rosser-Gibbons Camp, U.C.V.) decided to erect a monument to the memory of the county’s Confederate soldiers. Up to that time, “The Confederate Heroes Monument” was the sole Confederate monument standing in Luray. Sculpted by Herbert Barbee, the lone monument was probably inspired by a visit made by Barbee to Gettysburg, when he noted the absence of Confederate monuments there. Barbee’s Confederate monument was placed on the east side of Luray, but did not recognize the role of local Confederates in the war. Curiously, on the day the monument was dedicated in 1898, local Confederate veterans were enjoying a picnic within a hundred yards of the monument, but did not partake in the dedication, nor were they mentioned in any form in the dedication program. This is particularly significant when considering the interesting controversy that surrounded the Barbee monument around 2001… I’ll mention more about that on another day.
Since Barbee’s monument did not recognize the efforts of local Confederate soldiers, a monument to make up for the shortcomings of the Barbee monument was proposed. Yet, this new monument would be more than a statuary focal point for reflection on the local Confederate soldier. The monument was also to have tablets engraved with the names of all LOYAL Confederate soldiers from the county.
Forunately, I have some documentation that sheds some light on this complicated matter. In a letter to three of the county’s Confederate veterans, F.T. Amiss (a son the doctor who is most remembered for tending to the horrific wound received by Major Snowden Andrews at the Battle of Cedar Mountain) wrote about the difficult task before him
We can never build our Monument unless perfect harmony prevails, and I do not entertain for a moment the idea of dictating to any one as to who is not a loyal Confederate Soldier. I have stricken the names of deserters from the roll of Company K, and will give you my authority for doing this. What I desire is for you gentlemen to assist me in this undertaking to extent of confirming the enclosed list of the loyal members of Company K. It would greatly embarrass me if any member of the Company would publish a roster of Company K and include in it the name of any deserter. The family of this deserter would upon this authority take issue with me and cause me no end of trouble.
When I first read this paragraph, I thought about what parts of history may have been sacrificed in the name of preserving “perfect harmony.” Clearly, the objective of the monument was to recognize the local loyal Confederate soldiers, but there was some concern for raising the ire of some families in the process. Inevitably, the monument went up (1918), but, for whatever reasons, the proposed tablets with the names of the local loyal Confederate soldiers never adorned the sides of the monument.
While I think it is absurd to suggest that the local Confederate veterans schemed to omit the tablets in order to make greater the “illusion” of a solid South behind the Lost Cause, I do think that a little bit of purpose may have been behind the omission in order to simply keep the peace in the community. However, the long-term impact of the absence of the tablets also set the stage for something entirely accidental… in the way that it opened the gates for “myth-making” for generations to come. Specifically, because the “list of the loyal” is not publicly presented on the monument, people are free to interpret the loyalties of their ancestors as they see fit (and believe me, some do so never having never looked at the actual service records). The damage and distortions that the “open gates” have on the facts behind history are many and varied.
Additionally, one has to wonder about all of the potential little fights that may have resulted over the placement of the tablets on the monument. How many erasures and additions would have been made if the tablets were placed as planned? If history presented in monuments displeases us, how many ways shall we deal with that? As an example, consider what was done with one marker at Appomattox. Something, after placing the monument, didn’t please somebody, and a line was erased… viola, some folks among the living were made happy! Monuments are indeed more for the living than the dead.
All said, I wonder… in the efforts to remember the past through monuments (especially considering all the eggshells that we have to take care not to crush while developing the monuments), what truths in history do we end up sacrificing? Further, considering historical “memory,” what are the long-range implications to societal “memory” and reflection considering the “sacrifices of historical truths/facts” made in creating monuments years ago?