McPoland: Remembering History, Duty and Sacrifice

By Michael McPoland, Ashburn

The statue in memory of Loudoun’s Confederate soldiers on the courthouse grounds serves as a reminder of the sacrifices and sense of duty by Loudoun men and their families.  They responded to the call to defend Virginia at a time when loyalty to particular states was equal to or greater than the concept of a national union.  In the mid-1800s we were essentially “these United States,” a collection of states.  Like our soldiers today and in many other conflicts, mostly young men during 1861-1865 died and suffered because of a sense of duty and honor to a perceived greater cause.

One need only visit Balls Bluff to see the service and valor of Loudoun residents.  Thomas Clinton Hatcher, not yet 22, died in that battle of October 1861 along with others from the Virginia Eighth Infantry.  The place of his death and his story are marked in the park which is well maintained.  Young Mr. Hatcher is buried in Purcellville.  As noted on the marker, he died “defending his native state.”

Most people today are historically ignorant and many folks on the left want to obliterate history, related statues and memorials for largely political reasons.  The actions of a few alt right individuals such as the troubled Dylann Roof who inexcusably killed nine black parish members in Charleston, SC and James Fields, linked to neo-Nazis, who killed a woman in Charlottesville do not represent me or the vast majority of others seeking to preserve history and monuments honoring sacrifice, service and valor.  The left and numerous politicians are acting like the Taliban (destroying Buddhist carvings in Afghanistan dating to the 6th century on so called religious grounds) and like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) (destruction of Palmyra’s’ temples in Syria, and tombs of Christian prophets) in seeking the removal and destruction of Confederate statues and memorials.

Unfortunately, people today view history through 2017 eyes rather than viewing it through the eyes of people living at a particular time.  We should remember and respect the sacrifices of our soldiers who responded to the call to defend the homeland.  In the 1860s Virginia was the homeland.  At the time slavery was allowed in the United States implicitly through the Constitution.  Lincoln called for states to put down the secessionist movement not to free the slaves.  Separately, no one was tried for treason after the war.

Racism existed throughout most of the country in the 1800s (and through most of the 1900s) but not everyone is a racist and racism is a two way street today.  Northerners benefited from the slave trade in part through ship building, banking, and providing insurance to slave owners.  New York City residents voted against Lincoln in 1860 and 1864.  At least one if not several Ivy League schools received money from people profiting from the slave trade.  Draft riots shortly after Gettysburg in New York resulted in the deaths of many black residents.  That was a sad time in our history, but again we need to look at context which is being ignored.

We need also to look at the entire lives of individuals serving in the Confederacy.  For examples, Robert E. Lee served in the U.S. Army for approximately 30 years.  Lee would have personally benefitted by accepting command of Union forces when offered the position as Arlington House would have been protected.  Both Lee and Stonewall Jackson served with honor in the Mexican American War in the 1840s.  Lee after the war sought to help the south through education at what is now Washington and Lee University.  Jackson’s physician Hunter McGuire later served as president of the American Medical Association.  Matthew F. Maury, born in Stafford, served as an officer in the U.S. Navy before the war and is recognized as a pioneer in oceanography (“pathfinder of the seas” for charting currents).  John Mosby later became friends with President Grant and served as a consul in Hong Kong under another president ferreting out corruption.  The famous Jewish American sculptor Moses Ezekiel of Richmond served in the Confederacy, fought as a VMI cadet during the Battle of New Market, and later distinguished himself primarily in Europe after the war as a sculptor.  Countless others, lost in history including former Mosby rangers in our region, contributed to America, their states, and communities both before and after the war.

A former Mosby ranger Dallas Fuhr donated his land to let men from the Massachusetts First Cavalry build a monument in the 1888-1890 time frame to the men who died during the Battle of Aldie on his property.  The Fuhr farm and Massachusetts monument are on Snickersville Gap Turnpike.  Two thirds of the regiment were killed, wounded or captured.  This was an effort by a Dallas Fuhr to reconcile and honor valor and sacrifice.  Confederate and Union soldiers had a large reunion at Gettysburg in 1913 wherein Woodrow Wilson acknowledged the valor of both parties.  In 1865 Joshua Chamberlain of Gettysburg fame directed men at the Appomattox surrender ceremony to provide a “marching salute” as a sign of respect to Confederate soldiers which Confederate General Gordon acknowledged.

Locally, one only has to go to Union Cemetery, the cemetery near Middleburg and elsewhere to be reminded that so many young men died in service to Virginia and Loudoun County.  That call to service should always be remembered.  It is truly reprehensible that school administrators, history and civics teachers in high school and college with some notable exceptions do not take the time to educate students about the courage, dedication, sense of honor and duty of those individuals who came before us.  Will “political correctness,” increasing racial divisiveness, historic and civic ignorance, and apathy continue to diminish the efforts (and recognition) of men and women who sacrificed for what they thought was right at the time?

We honor the sacrifices of veterans and families from most of our conflicts regardless of whether we agree with the overarching reason for a particular war or police action.  They loved and were loved.  Our Silent Sentinel on the lawn is no different than the Vietnam and other memorials (even though many on the left disrespected our Vietnam veterans).  The Silent Sentinel and a majority of statues in our country represents our son, our brother, our father, our friend.  Remember and respect him and do not pass judgement through the eyes of this time.

We have serious problems in America today and this divisiveness has to end in order to deal with the multitude of issues facing most of us.

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