VIRGINIA: Civil War Monuments In Henry County Stand Amid Outrage
MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Across Virginia, the South and the nation, monuments to the Confederacy and the Civil War that have stood as totems to a troubling past have come down in recent months, at times amid violence and mass protest.
As millions took to the streets across the country this summer to protest the tragic killings of George Floyd Jr., Breonna Taylor and others, and the social issues those killings lay bare, monuments to the nation’s war over slavery became obvious if not always easy targets.
There were other symbols razed, as well. Mississippi changed its state flag. Dozens of buildings, schools, and regional landmarks across the country were given new names that didn’t honor slave owners and defenders. The Confederate battle flag was banned by NASCAR, whose crowds often were dotted with them. Politicians and business leaders often tried to move quickly to control the destruction while recognizing the issue.
The epicenter of all of this has been Virginia, and principally Richmond.
“Travelers look to Trails to put them in the footsteps of the generals, soldiers, citizens, and the enslaved who found themselves in the midst of this Civil War.”
On April 8, 1865, the Union and the Confederacy met in the Henry Court House engagement in Martinsville, one of the final events before the end of the Civil War.
“Early that morning, Union Col. William J. Palmer’s Tenth Michigan Cavalry encountered Confederate Col. James T. Wheeler’s troopers at Henry Court House. Palmer’s troops were part of the First Brigade of Gen. George Stoneman’s command and Stoneman’s Raid through parts of Virginia and North Carolina in the spring of 1865,” the Bulletin wrote in 2012.
A Virginia Civil War Trails marker commemorating the Henry Court House Engagement stands on Church Street in Uptown, across from the courthouse. The marker tells the story of that skirmish.
“Confederate Col. James T. Wheeler and about 250 cavalrymen bivouacked the night before about a mile north of here on Jones’s Creek on their way to join Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s army in North Carolina,” the sign reads.
Some Henry County men were part of Wheeler’s unit.
The day after the engagement, Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House, ending the Civil War.
Across the street from the Civil War Trails marker are two monuments. One, on the east side of the old Henry County Courthouse, is specifically for recognizing Confederate soldiers. Another, on the west side, is a war memorial to honor Henry County and Martinsville residents who have died in wars throughout American history. The second lists more than 100 names of locals who fought in the Civil War. The statue does not state if those soldiers fought for the Confederacy or Union.
The Confederate monument is engraved with the Virginia seal and has inscriptions that read “To The True Confederate Soldiers of Henry,” “Henry Honors Her Heroes,” and “Defeated Yet Without Stain.” At the top of the monument stands a carving of a Confederate soldier.
The courtyard where the monuments stand is privately owned and maintained by the Martinsville-Henry County Heritage Center & Museum. Virginia King, former president and current volunteer at the museum, told the Bulletin she has not heard from people in town about removing the Confederate monument, because she believes residents realize it is on museum grounds and that memorials of the kind should be in museums.
The Confederate monument was unveiled in 1901 by the Mildred Lee Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a group founded in 1894 to commemorate Confederate Army soldiers and fund erection of memorials to the men.
“Into the 20th century, they focused on recording and saving historical records, caring for Confederate soldiers and their widows, and helping children of Confederate veterans to obtain an education,” King said of the group in a prepared statement.
The group was later granted permission to erect the monument at the courthouse – now the museum – rather than the cemetery. The Bulletin reported that fundraisers were held, and some 200 Confederate veterans attended the unveiling.
“As you know, that monument is part of our history. It is important that we all know about its history,” King said in a prepared statement on behalf of the museum.
A few miles away from where the Henry Court House engagement took place, at Oakwood Cemetery, are the graves of nearly 80 Confederate soldiers, including one marking for an unknown soldier. There is also the grave of a Union soldier who moved to Martinsville after the war.
A local neighborhood
In July, the mayor of Richmond, Levar Stoney, ordered “the immediate removal of Confederate monuments from their pedestals.” These monuments included statues for Confederate generals J.E.B. Stuart and Stonewall Jackson, among others.
Stoney said the removal was partly a matter of public safety as protestors attempted to take down statues themselves and counter-protestors threatened further violence. In June, protestors in Richmond toppled a statue of Jefferson Davis, who had been president of the Confederate states.
A neighborhood in Martinsville has streets named for the same people whose statues were removed in the state capital. Chatmoss Village has residential streets named Jeb Stuart Road, Stonewall Jackson Trail and Jefferson Davis Drive. Another is named General Longstreet Road for General James Longstreet, a general and trusted advisor to Robert E. Lee.