Wednesday, September 2, 2020

What Lee Said About Monuments in 1869

Monuments are not for what we are now.  They are for where we were and what the community was then.  Monuments are stone bookmarks.  They prompt you by reminding you of past events.  They are meant for you to learn your history.  After seeing one, you go look up something about the person, place, event, that it memorializes.  Then you learn your history.
A frequent argument against Confederate monuments is a “sound bite” of a quote from General Robert E. Lee in 1869 in some variation to “I think it wiser not to keep open the sores of war.”   The time of the event and the Monument Movement is significant.  Understanding this connection changes the meaning of the “sound bite” entirely.  Here the context.

The letter cited is Lee’s decline to attend a reunion of Gettysburg veterans from the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association.  The Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association was chartered by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on 13 April 1864, to preserve the Gettysburg Battlefield.[1]  David McConaughy was the president.[2] 

Lee wrote on 4 August 1869 his reply to David McConaughy’s invitation to participate in the  “reunion of Gettysburg veterans, who identified specific, historic battlefield sites, and offered personal accounts of the engagement.”[3]  Many letters in the Gettysburg College, Gett Digital collection of these letters are responses to David McConaughy’s invitation. They declined to attend for a variety of reasons, some even naming others to consider inviting for the desired information.[4]  Lee was not alone in his absence from the event.  The entirely of Lee’s letter is:

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