Arlington National Cemetery (Arlington) is removing its Confederate Memorial, as mandated by the Congress’s authorizing the Naming Commission to rename and/or remove Department of Defense assets that commemorate the Confederate States of America (CSA) or any person who voluntarily served with the CSA against the United States.
The memorial, located in Section 16 of the cemetery, is expected to be dismantled and the bronze elements relocated, while the granite base and foundation remain in place to avoid disturbing surrounding graves.
Controversial History of the Confederate Memorial
Arlington National Cemetery was formally established in 1864 under the command of Major General Montgomery C. Meigs, the Quartermaster General of the United States Army. Confederate military personnel were not initially intended to be buried there, but some prisoners of war who died while in custody or who were executed as spies and some unidentified bodies were included.
For example, although Meigs had not intended to include Confederate remains, an 1865 cenotaph and monument to unknown Civil War dead includes the bodies of 2,111 United States and Confederate dead collected within about 35-miles of Washington, D.C. The inability to identify the remains meant that Confederate dead were included. Several hundred other Confederate battlefield dead also found their way to Arlington by the end of the war.
After the war, the federal government did not permit the decoration of Confederate graves at the cemetery. In 1869, former United States soldiers who were members of the Grand Army of the Republic stood watch over Confederate graves at Arlington to be sure they weren’t honored on Decoration Day (now Memorial Day). At the same time no new Confederate burials were allowed and no monuments to Confederate dead were allowed.
Following the end of Reconstruction in the late 1870s, as white supremacists returned to control in most of the South, a movement rose to re-frame the history of the Civil War and have history textbooks present a version of the War in which secession was not rebellion, the Confederacy did not fight for slavery but was responding to “Northern aggression,” and the Confederacy was a “lost cause,” only defeated by overwhelming numbers and industrial wealth. At the same time, the Confederacy was portrayed as being more moral and having greater military skill.
Pseudohistorical lost cause ideology and the reestablishment of the white supremacy in the South led to the establishment of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a neo-Confederate hereditary association for female descendants of Confederate Civil War soldiers. Established in Nashville in 1894, the UDC initially venerated the Ku Klux Klan (who they funded a monument to in 1926).
According to the Institute for Southern Studies, the UDC “elevated [the Klan] to a nearly mythical status. It dealt in and preserved Klan artifacts and symbology. It even served as a sort of public relations agency for the terrorist group.” At the same time, the Klan was revived in the 1910s, adopting cross burnings and hooded robes; by the 1920s it had millions of members.
At the urging of the UDC, the Confederate Memorial at Arlington was authorized in March 1906 and commissioned by the UDC in 1910. The memorial was unveiled by President Woodrow Wilson on June 4, 1914, the 106th anniversary of the birth of Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederate States of America who led the fight against the United States. The sculptor was former Confederate soldier and “true believer” in lost cause ideology Moses Jacob Ezekiel.
The memorial has been widely criticized for its racist overtones since it was placed, which include a woman representing the South protecting black figures below. One is described by the UDC in 1914 as “a faithful Negro body-servant following his young master.” Ezekiel also included the weeping figure of the “loyal black mammy” as a correction to what he and the UDC saw as lies about the history of slavery perpetrated by abolitionists and their ideological descendants.
In 2017, after the Unite the Right rally violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, twenty of Ezekiel’s extended family published a letter in The Washington Post calling for the monument to be removed. This appeal was ignored however, and in May 2020 the UDC headquarters building in Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy, was damaged by fire during the George Floyd protests.
Congress established the Naming Commission in the summer of 2020, after those protests and the subsequent resulting removal by protestors of several Confederate monuments in the South. The Naming Commission completed its analysis on Sept. 21, 2022 and the Secretary of Defense subsequently concurred with all of the Naming Commission’s recommendations, which became law in December of 2022.
In order to remove the Confederate Memorial, ANC must comply with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. On February 9, 2023 Arlington initiated the Section 106 process by submitting a notification to the Virginia State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) regarding its intent to remove the memorial.
Public comments to determine the new location of the memorial’s bronze elements. Later this spring, updates on the public comment process are expected to be publicized via the Federal Register, the ANC website, and social media platforms.
For more information see:
Photos, from above: “loyal slaves” shown on the Confederate Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery; and the Confederate Memorial today.