The United Daughters of the Confederacy, one of the organizations that paid the bulk of the cost to erect the monument of a Confederate soldier on the courthouse lawn in 1908, has asked the county government to return its statue, all but sealing its fate after years of controversy.
“In recent public statements by the members of the Loudoun Board of Supervisors, a clear majority has expressed their support for its removal,” Steve Price, of law firm McCandlish Lillard, on wrote on behalf of the Daughters of the Confederacy to supervisors. “Consequently, the Loudoun Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (“UDC”) have directed me to request the statue’s return. As you may be aware, the UDC, not the County is the owner of the statue.”
In in support of the request, the letter is accompanied by historical minutes of the Board of Supervisors meetings indicating that the statue belongs to the Daughters of the Confederacy, as well as a letter from the other organization the raised money for it, the Sons of Confederate Veterans. It is signed by A. James Diehl, commander of Clinton Hatcher Champ #21 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
This year for the first time, the Board of Supervisors has the authority to move war monuments on county-owned land, including the statue, after law passed in the General Assembly. As noted in the letter to the board, the majority of county supervisors have expressed interest in doing so. Price said the Daughters of the Confederacy haven’t yet determined what they will do with the statue—for now, he said, it will go into storage.
But the request all but settles the debate on removing the statue.
“I’m fine with that, as long as that statue doesn’t ever again appear on public property that taxpayers are paying for,” said County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large). “They are welcome to come get their statue.”
“The vote is 7-2, everybody knows that,” said Supervisor Caleb A. Kershner (R-Catoctin), an opponent of removing the statue. “And I think that’s the point, that the [Daughters of the Confederacy] understand that the writing’s on the wall, and they see the political reality, and they are right. It’s their statue, they paid for it.”
Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge), who said he supported relocating the statue but keeping it somewhere on courthouse grounds, expressed a similar sentiment—“they want their statue back, then take it back.”
However, Kershner said he was “sad” to see the statue go, and that removing the statue—which has been at the center of debate for years—”just brings up the pain of history once again.” Asked if the statue’s presence brings up that pain for Black people walking by it, he said “I don’t know if it does or not.”
“We can learn and forgive the past, and the sins of 170 years ago, or we can continue to harbor bitterness about them,” Kershner said.
The statue, the “Silent Sentinel,” was commissioned by the Clinton Hatcher Camp Confederate Veterans and Sons, now the Clinton Hatcher Camp of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, and the Loudoun Chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy, now the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which began raising funds for the project as early as 1901. In 1906, the Board of Supervisors agreed to allocate $500 for the project as long as the Sons and Daughters raise the remaining $2,500, and the statue was formally unveiled in 1908, in the height of the Jim Crow era as Confederate monuments were going up across the south.
The statue’s sculptor, Frederick William Sievers also created the Virginia Memorial at the Gettysburg battlefield, as well as the statues of Gen. Stonewall Jackson and Matthew Fontaine Maury, the Confederacy’s Chief of Sea Coast, River and Harbor Defenses, that have been the center of protests on Monument Avenue in Richmond. He also created other monuments to the Confederacy across Virginia.
The Board of Supervisors also contributed $3,300 in 2008 to support the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s 100th anniversary celebration of the statue.
The statue’s impending removal from the courthouse may also close out another controversy in Loudoun—what to put around it. Before the General Assembly passed a new law this year allowing the county government to move war monuments such as the statue, county supervisors began work to add a new series of new monuments and exhibits, dubbed “The Path to Freedom,” to the courthouse lawn during work on the new county courthouse. Supervisors voted in January to pursue a National Historic Landmark designation for the historic courthouse and grounds; form a committee to consider naming the historic courthouse, possibly after pioneering civil rights attorney Charles Hamilton Houston; reserve space for a the “Path to Freedom” interpretive display; and create a scope and cost estimate for gathering community input on designing and placing memorials commemorating the reading of the Declaration of Independence at the Leesburg courthouse, to Loudoun’s Union soldiers, and its enslaved people.
That work may now be moot.
“Let me be clear, I’ve never wanted anything but that statue gone, off of taxpayer property and off of the courthouse,” said Randall, who had pushed unsuccessfully in 2017 to ask the General Assembly for authority to remove it, and argued against the statue for years before. “I did not believe that that statue was appropriate, and I don’t believe you can contextualize that statue. Putting a statue of an enslaved person next to a Confederate Statue is like putting a statue of Anne Frank next to a statue of Josef Mengele. You cannot contextualize that, and the very suggestion was incredibly offensive to me.”
She said what happens now on the grounds “should be a community conversation.”
“We should talk about it, and I want to hear from all people in the community to talk about what that should look like,” Randall said.
Buffington said he would wait to see a report from county staff members of the Path to Freedom project.
“I think a lot of that was based on this particular statue, and now that this particular statue is going to be removed by the owners, I’m not sure there’s going to be that much interest from the public,” Buffington said. “But if there is, then I will be listening and participating in this process, and waiting to see what folks are waiting to do.”
There remains a question of technicalities—the Board of Supervisors may not need to follow the procedure laid out in the new state law on moving war monuments since the statue’s owners are asking that it be returned. Randall said the County Attorney’s Office is still researching that. Either way, the board will vote on the Daughters of the Confederacy’s request on July 7. Neither Price nor Randall expect that technicality to stop the statue from being moved.
“It brings about an end an apparent majority of the board wants to happen,” Price said.