Peca on History

Published 10:54 am Tuesday, October 31, 2017


Karl Schmitt tries to put forward the notion that statues of generals are not political but historical. It seems to me that if a statue has historical value, it would be located near where the subject actually did something notable. Gen. Robert E. Lee never got to Charlottesville, so why put up a statue to him there? Where is the relief of Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman at Stone Mountain, Georgia? They have one of Gen. Lee and Gen. Stonewall Jackson, even though neither set foot in Georgia leading troops while Sherman did. For that matter, why hasn’t Virginia put up a statue to native son Union General George Thomas?  There’s one in Washington, DC. Could it be that Sherman and Thomas fought for the “wrong” side? Where’s the monument to Col. Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Regiment in South Carolina? Could it be that the 54th was an all-black unit and that Shaw was considered a traitor to his race and therefore not acceptable?

History doesn’t come from statues. It comes from books. According to the Library of Congress Civil War Desk Reference, as of 2002 approximately 70,000 books have been published on the Civil War over the years up till then. The idea that Gen. Lee or other Confederate generals will somehow be forgotten if their statues are moved to a private area is patently absurd.

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Mr. Schmitt should drop his “Gone with the Wind” notion of the Civil War not being about whether white people could keep their black slaves. Instead he should look up Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens’ “Cornerstone” speech of March 21, 1861: “The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.”

Mr. Schmitt quotes from the Declaration of Independence, which began the revolution not the Constitution, which ended it. He is correct that George Washington and the rest of the Founding Fathers would be considered traitors to King George and his government. As the Benjamin Franklin character in the play “1776” states, “Treason is a charge invented by winners as an excuse for hanging the losers.” It was for this reason that the Framers of the Constitution specifically defined treason, the only crime so listed. Confederates, by taking up arms against the federal government, were in violation of the Constitution and therefore were traitors. This is especially significant in that serving U.S. officers at the time like Lee broke their oath to uphold the Constitution by joining the Confederate side.

James Peca

Farmville, VA