Monday, February 28, 2011

Lincoln at Tredegar Iron Works....a Second Invasion!

Greetings Cosmic Americans! preparation for a talk I am giving next month about lingering Civil War animosities, I've been revisiting a few of my favorite postwar smack-downs. Here's a zinger that unfolded in Richmond, Virginia a few years back (2003)

When a statue featuring Abraham Lincoln and his son Tad was unveiled on the grounds of the old Tredegar Iron Works. Neo-Confederates responded with apoplectic fury over the idea of Lincoln once again “invading” the Confederate capital city as he had done during the final days of the war.  Virginia state delegate Richard H. Black concluded, “Putting a statue to [Lincoln] there is sort of like putting the Confederate flag at the Lincoln Memorial.” Black even went so far as to accept a request from the local Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter to seek an injunction from state Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore until they could determine the legality of placing a statue at Tredegar. Bragdon Bowling, commander of the Virginia Division, SCV, whose great-grandfather John Stephen Cannon fought for the Confederacy, saw the statue as the ultimate humiliation. Stating, “[Lincoln] sat at Jefferson Davis's desk and propped his feet up on the desk,” Bragg was clearly incensed. Together with Black, Bowling and other neo-Confederates argued that a Lincoln statue had no place in Virginia. “We've got a Lincoln Memorial not that distant," argued Bowling. "It's a huge memorial right across the Potomac. I suppose you could put a Lincoln memorial in every city of the United States. I'm not sure what that accomplishes.”

The Lincoln statue certainly accomplished one thing: a response that included some stinging acts of opposition. On the day of unveiling, New York sculptor David Frech’s statue depicting Lincoln and Tad sitting on a bench against a granite wall, those in attendance witnessed both applause and jeers. The statue was meant to convey sectional healing, yet while Lieutenant Governor Tim Kaine gave a dedication address, a small plane pulling a banner reading “sic semper tyrannis” flew overhead. Invoking the Virginia state motto, “thus always to tyrants,” the words allegedly shouted by John Wilkes Booth to the audience at Ford’s Theatre after he had shot the president in 1865, sent a rather clear message. If catcalls from the audience were not enough, several offered their words to the press in attendance. “When somebody does something as ignorant as put Abe Lincoln in the capital of the Confederacy,” declared H. K. Edgerton, “how can I not come to protest it? You don't put a criminal up and call it reconciliation, and Lincoln was a war criminal on top of it.”

The previous day, about 100 members of the Virginia SCV had rallied in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery at the gravesite of Confederate president Jefferson Davis in protest of the Lincoln statue. There, Bragdon Bowling iterated his opposition. “They have no concept of history and how it might be the wrong place to put the statue. As a Southerner, I'm offended. You wouldn't put a statue of Winston Churchill in downtown Berlin, would you? What's next, a statue of Sherman in Atlanta?” The protest was the culmination of a yearlong battle by Confederate sympathizers, including hundreds of reenactors and SCV members. But the activity during the unveiling itself overshadowed the earlier protest. One group of protesters displayed a large Confederate Navy Jack on a hilltop overlooking the ceremony, and a few scuffles ensued when officials barred attendants from bringing Confederate flags to the ceremony. Finally, individuals such as United States Historical Society chairman Robert H. Kline and others who claimed to be “delighted that Lincoln is in Richmond again” came under intense fire from heritage groups and prominent Virginia state officials. State representative Virgil Goode, for example, called in to question the society’s non-profit status in an effort to quash fundraising activities meant to pay for the monument.

So…you think neo-Confederates have put their animosities to rest….? Not so sure on that one.




  1. Thanks for this. The deeply humorous and predictable sequel to this was that, in fit of grade-school one-upsmanship, the SCV immediately embarked on a project to respond in kind, commissioning a statue of Jeff Davis intended for Tredegar, that ultimately ended up in Biloxi. The thinking is absolutely straight-line counter-story: "well, here's a statue of our</i< president, with two kids, and one of 'em's black!" Childish in the extreme.

    Hadn't seen that quote from H. K. Edgerton before, but I shouldn't be surprised. He's made quite an industry of himself, between licensing his image to Dixie Outfitters and (apparently) to a weed-growing outfit. But it's all about the "heritage," right?

  2. By any means at all, right Andy? Right Keith?
    Seems like lincoln lovers are just as corrupt as ol Abe himself.

    Only el-amin are left in power. You people are truly warped
    Billy Vociferous Bearden

  3. Ironic, the hullabaloo around the statue and the man behind it--Bob Kline--who, as I understand it, did much to raise funds for the White House of the Confederacy Museum, too. A personal attack on a man from Illinois who married a southern gal, loves Richmond as much as anyone born there and who sees in the Civil War the lost opportunities for a creative and peaceful solution to avoid war or to recover from it. He also--if anyone cares to ask--sees the many similarities between Jeff Davis and Lincoln--loss of children during the war; the toll it took as leaders carrying the burdens of their side; marrying strong women; being born about 100 miles apart. The saber rattling continues, creating a din where thoughtful conversation might take place.