By Dean Close, Vinton Today Editor
I wonder what the Benton County natives mentioned below would have had to say about the issue that led to the protests in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend – protests that reminded us that not everybodyseems to know that the Civil War is over and segregation is now longer the law of the South.
What would the following men have to say about the issue of monuments to Confederate soldiers and leaders?
William A. Walker
Joseph A. Roberts
David D. Merchant
James E. White
C.C. La Rue
L. A. Marine
G. W. Sells
Jerome Hall James Wallace
All of these men fought – and the first eight of them on that list died – in the Battle of Atlanta, in which Union General William T. Sherman and Confederate General John B. Hood led their forces. The battle came at the end of a long and difficult summer for Union forces – a summer in which many Republicans had even considered removing Abe Lincoln from the 1864 election. But the victory in Atlanta showed the nation the war was nearly over, and it led to a Lincoln landslide.
It also cost thousands of lives, including those eight from our county.
The families of those eight also had to read in the local newspaper exactly how their loved one died in that battle. From an August 1864 Vinton Eagle available on microfilm at the Vinton library, here is how we lost those eight:
Major William A. Walker, shot through the head;
Robert Durand, 1st Sergeant, shot through the head;
Hiram Halleck, 2nd Sergeant, unknown;
Julius Jackson, head blown off by shell;
Benton Hoover, shot in the breast;
Joseph A. Roberts and James Green died the same way.
David D. Merchant was shot through the bowels.
While the most recent violence in Virginia took place at a rally to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue, Gen. John B. Hood has been the subject of a similar debate.
Here is one example we should all learn from: Less then a year ago, John B. Hood Middle School in Dallas became Piedmont G.L.O.B.A.L., after a two-year-long, student-led effort to change the name.
Not all students at John B. Hood agreed that a name change was a good idea, even though the student population is as non-white as Vinton is white. In fact, the vote to change the name was about 60-40 percent among grades 6-8, with the 8th grade class closely voting against removing Hood’s name.
“History is history. You can’t erase it. Why would you?” said Sarah Woods, who was the 8th grade Class President in 2016, when she spoke to a Dallas TV station.
“In order for you to progress in the future, you have to look back on the past as a guideline,” Woods, who is black, continued.
The principal of the school said her goal was for the students there to “express their voice in a positive and productive way.”
There is a place for debating the way we look at our history and its leaders, and what kind of monuments they deserve – and we need to have.
There are reasons for removing Confederate memorials – after all they were enemies of the United States, and we don’t have monuments to our enemies from other wars.
On the other hand, many of the Confederate soldiers and leaders served the U.S., both before and after the Civil War. It was Lee who did more than many northerners to re-unite the nation after he surrendered at Appomattox.
The main issue is something each of us should be asking ourselves: Why?
Why do you feel how you do about the monuments issue? Do you agree with me (and young Sarah Woods) that monuments and names on schools help preserve our nation’s history, good and bad. Or do you, as too many of the people we read about this week, view a Confederate monument as a symbol of white supremacy?
Another thing to keep in mind: Just about everyone we honor with statues and names on buildings, from Patrick Henry to FDR, has said or done something that modern Americans would have done or said. Are we going to be so arrogant and self-righteous that we stop memorializing the men who built our nation? The same Bible that described the sometimes-huge errors of guys like Abraham, Moses and David also warns us to not remove the ancient landmarks that those guys built. Every statue, every memorial, every monument tells part of the American story: Who we are, where we have been, and how we got here — the past as a guideline, as the 8th grader said. And hopefully: Learning about the people whe honor in monuments will help us as a nation to learn from their triumphs — and their screw-ups — and teach us to get to an even better place, together.
One of the white nationalist leaders of the most recent rally tweeted that his group’s “warriors acquitted themselves like men,” a reference to advice before a battle recorded in the Bible, in the book of First Samuel.
Many of those white nationalists embrace the silly doctrine Christianity belongs to the English European descendants of the U.S. I say “silly,” because according to the New Testament, nobody mentioned in the Bible spoke English, which came more than 1,000 years after Christianity began, and the nations of western Europe were among the very last to hear the message of Christ. I wonder what those white racists would say if someone pointed out that several Africans are prominently mentioned in the New Testament.
Here are a couple of other verses those Bible-quoting white separatists ought to learn:
“And a little child shall lead them…”
“Out of the mouth of babes…”
If a 6th grader at a school named for John B. Hood can thoughtfully, positively — and peacefully — debate the role of confederate memorials, why can’t all the rest of Americans?