The violence that erupted in Charlottesville over the weekend, which left one woman killed and dozens more injured, stemmed from a white nationalist and alt-right protest over the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
In light of all this, it’s probably best to remember one relevant historical fact: Robert E. Lee was opposed to Confederate monuments.
“It’s often forgotten that Lee himself, after the Civil War, opposed monuments, specifically Confederate war monuments,” Jonathan Horn, a Lee biographer, told PBS.
After the Civil War, Lee received a number of letters requesting support for the erection of Confederate memorials, according to Horn.
In June 1866, he wrote that he couldn’t support a monument of one of his best generals, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, saying it wasn’t “feasible at this time.”
“As regards the erection of such a monument as is contemplated,” Lee wrote in December 1866 about another proposed Confederate monument, “my conviction is, that however grateful it would be to the feelings of the South, the attempt in the present condition of the Country, would have the effect of retarding, instead of accelerating its accomplishment; [and] of continuing, if not adding to, the difficulties under which the Southern people labour.”
Not only was Lee opposed to Confederate memorials, “he favoured erasing battlefields from the landscape altogether,” Horn wrote.
He even supported getting rid of the Confederate flag after the Civil War ended, and didn’t want them them flying above Washington College, which he was president of after the war.
“Lee did not want such divisive symbols following him to the grave,” Horn wrote. “At his funeral in 1870, flags were notably absent from the procession. Former Confederate soldiers marching did not don their old military uniforms, and neither did the body they buried.”
“His Confederate uniform would have been ‘treason’ perhaps!” Lee’s daughter wrote, according to Horn.
“Lee believed countries that erased visible signs of civil war recovered from conflicts quicker,” Horn told PBS. “He was worried that by keeping these symbols alive, it would keep the divisions alive.”
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