James Longstreet Statues?
Last Monday I wrote of the adage "You are judged by the company you keep." Then I was referring to the Republicans who refuse to find fault with Matt Shea (State Rep, LD4), but never far from my mind was the welcome offered to James Allsup by then Spokane Republican Party Chairwoman Cecily Wright at her and her husband's NWGrassroots gathering. James Allsup, once the Chairman of WSU's College Republicans, spoke at the Charlottesville, Virginia, Unite the Right rally. Video showed young men with tiki torches, their faces contorted as they chanted "Jews will not replace us."
This is the same rally about which the occupant of the White House declared there were "very fine people on both sides." The stated purpose of the rally was to oppose the removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee from Lee Park in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Let's look at statues of Confederate Generals. From the end of the Civil War to 1877, the Reconstruction Era, there were three competing visions of Civil War memory: "the reconciliationist vision, which was rooted in coping with the death and devastation the war had brought; the white supremacist vision, which included segregation and the preservation of the traditional cultural standards of the South; and the emancipationist vision, which sought full freedom, citizenship, and Constitutional equality for African Americans."
The outcome of the 1876 presidential election, one of the four elections in our history ultimately won with a minority of popular votes (thanks to the Electoral College...as in 2000 and 2016), was disputed. Part of the compromise that put Rutherford B. Hayes (a minority President) in office was that the government would withdraw from the South federal troops supporting Reconstruction efforts. Their continued presence in the parts of the South had been a major deterrent and irritant to those supporting the white supremacist post war vision.
With the end of Reconstruction the white supremacist vision largely won out, but it acquired new clothing: "The Lost Cause of the Confederacy", or simply the Lost Cause, is an American historical negationist ideology that holds that, despite losing the American Civil War, the cause of the Confederacy was a just and heroic one. The ideology endorses the supposed virtues of the antebellum South, viewing the war as a struggle primarily for the Southern way of life or "states' rights" in the face of overwhelming "Northern aggression". At the same time, the Lost Cause minimizes or denies outright the central role of slavery in the outbreak of the war."
The statuary featuring Nathan Bedford Forrest (an early member and promoter of the KKK), Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis was all put up in the late 1800s and early 1900s by promoters of the Lost Cause, while the North essentially looked the other way and got on with business.
The historian Carl Becker wrote that history is what the present chooses to remember about the past. So it was with the choice of Generals to be remembered in statuary scattered throughout the South. Who was not chosen to be remembered in heroic statuary is instructive. General James Longstreet was one of the foremost Confederate generals in the Civil War. Robert E. Lee referred to Longstreet as his "Old War Horse." Longstreet figured prominently at Gettysburg, Chickamauga, the Wilderness, and a series of other battles. As a confederate general, he certainly deserved recognition in statuary, but the first and only statue of Longstreet was dedicated in 1998 at Gettysburg. Why?
Two reasons: Longstreet disagreed with Lee's order for Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg, an action many consider the turning point in the war against the South. (Note that like any good soldier he carried out the order he was given in spite of his critique, an order that sent more than a thousand men to their death marching uphill into a hail of lead.) Worse, from the standpoint of those wishing slavery were still legal, in 1874, still during Reconstruction, Longstreet led troops in New Orleans against the "White League," a white paramilitary terrorist organization. The white supremacist southerners never forgave him...
Remember Longstreet and Reconstruction when you consider the intended message of Confederate statuary. As the victorious North looked away the losers wrote the history. We're re-visiting that history even now among the company kept by local Republicans.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. Since my second decade I've been interested the Civil War. I've visited a number of Civil War battlefields, most notably Gettysburg. In my youth I took part in Civil War re-enactments as part of the Civil War Centennial, I have been aware of General James Longstreet for decades, but, memory being what it is, I've sometimes found it hard to recall the side on which he fought. The articles and opinion pieces I read in preparing this post explain for me my haziness of memory.around this man. Indeed, history is what the present choses to remember about the past. Although I grew up in Wisconsin, I was taught Civil War history through the lens of the "Lost Cause."