Some Civil War monuments need to go, others ought to stay, and still others should be built

tags: Confederate Monuments

Michael Nelson is contributing editor and columnist for The Daily Memphian, the political analyst for WMC-TV, and the Fulmer professor of political science at Rhodes College. His latest book is "Trump's First Year." (Thumbnail image: Robert E Lee statue at Lee Circle New Orleans being removed from atop the column. Watched from Howard Avenue side. The crowd watching had a block party festive atmosphere. Photo by Infrogmation of New Orleans, 19 May 2017.)

There are Confederate monuments, and there are Confederate monuments.

The Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jefferson Davis statues in Memphis needed to come down – and did, exactly one year ago Thursday, Dec. 20. So, for that matter, does the Forrest statue on the Tipton County courthouse lawn in Covington.

In contrast, the Confederate soldier statue on the University of Mississippi campus in Oxford ought to remain, despite the protest led three weeks ago by a well-meaning group called Students Against Economic Injustice. So should the Confederate Rest Monument in Memphis’ Elmwood Cemetery, where more than a thousand Confederate veterans are buried.

On the off-chance I haven’t alienated half of you because you’re mad about losing the Forrest and Davis statues, and the other half because you’re mad about keeping Confederate veterans’ statues in place, here’s the distinction I’m drawing.

As president of the Confederacy, Davis sent men into battle against his country. Forrest, who rose to the rank of lieutenant general in the Confederate army, led men into battle against his country.

The Ole Miss and Elmwood statues, like many others throughout the South, honor the bravery of ordinary Southerners who fought at Davis’ direction and Forrest’s (and other generals’) command.

Were these soldiers slave owners fighting to defend slavery, as Davis and Forrest clearly were?

In most cases, no.

As the late Shelby Foote, author of the three-volume history “The Civil War,” told the story to filmmaker Ken Burns in his PBS series of the same name, when a “ragged Confederate, who obviously didn’t own any slaves” was asked by a group of Northern soldiers why he was fighting for the South, he replied, “I’m fighting because you’re down here.”...

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