Army Begins Dismantling Arlington Cemetery Confederate Memorial Despite Opposition

(U.S. Army photo by Elizabeth Fraser / Arlington National Cemetery / released)

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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  • The Army began removing the Confederate reconciliation memorial from Arlington National Cemetery on Monday, despite opposition from lawmakers and some of the U.S. public.
  • Opponents of tearing it down say the memorial was intended to symbolize reconciliation between the North and South after the Civil War, and falls outside of Congress’ intent in ordering a review of Department of Defense assets seeming to commemorate the Confederacy.
  • “The Reconciliation Monument does not honor nor commemorate the Confederacy,” Republican lawmakers wrote in a letter to the DOD.

The Army will begin removing the main part of the Confederate memorial at Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) on Monday, despite opposition from lawmakers and the public, an ANC spokesperson confirmed.

While a bipartisan commission determined the memorial fell under its mandate to identify any Pentagon articles that portray the Confederacy in a positive light, some lawmakers and members of the public who fought in court to halt the memorial’s removal say the removal disparages an effort to represent reconciliation between the North and South after the Civil War. Calls to halt or delay the removal have gone unheeded, as the process of removing parts of the monument displaying the iconography deemed offensive began.

“Safety fencing was installed around the Memorial yesterday, Dec. 17 and the deliberate deconstruction process is currently underway,” cemetery spokesperson Rebecca Wardwell told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

On Dec. 11, 4o Republican members of Congress wrote to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin asking that he suspend the monument’s removal and saying the Army’s decision to proceed violates Congressional intent outlined in the 2021 defense policy bill.

“The Reconciliation Monument does not honor nor commemorate the Confederacy; the memorial commemorates reconciliation and national unity. Furthermore, the Naming Commission’s authority explicitly prohibits the desecration of grave sites,” the lawmakers said in the letter. “Considering the hundreds of gravestones encircling the monument, it would be impossible for these graves to remain untouched if the Department of the Army proceeds with its proposed removal of the monument – both being a clear violation of Congress’ enacted statute and legislative intent.” (RELATED: Army Base Named For Confederate Leader To Be Renamed After Hispanic General)

On Saturday, the Army completed the last of the regulatory requirements before tearing down the memorial, Arlington National Cemetery said in a press release. Videos show removal staging beginning Sunday night, with a metal fence and black screening encircling the memorial and deconstruction implements operating near the statue.

A group calling itself Defend Arlington sued the Army and the Department of Defense (DOD) in a district court in February to halt the removal on similar grounds to the Republican lawmakers’ arguments. The district judge dismissed the case on Dec. 12, court documents show.

Former President William McKinley, a Union veteran, commissioned the memorial in 1898, according to the memorial’s webpage on the ANC site. Congress in 1900 allowed for more than 400 Confederate veterans to be reinterred in graves forming concentric circles around the memorial in a bid to foster healing from the Civil War half a century prior.

“Sectional feelings no longer holds back the love we feel for each other,” McKinley said. Successive presidents from both parties have practiced an annual wreath-laying on the memorial.

Sculptor Moses Ezekiel, a Jewish-American Confederate veteran and Virginia Military Institute cadet, is buried at the base, according to the cemetery’s page for the structure.

The bronze figures of the monument itself — the parts that will be taken down by Dec. 22 — was unveiled in 1914 under former President Woodrow Wilson to symbolize the peace and reconciliation hoped for in the decades following a civil war that tore families and the country apart.

Proponents of dismantling the monument argue that the monument depicts an ahistorical version of the Confederacy and sanitized portrayal of slavery in the South.

The memorial includes a statue of a woman who represents the “American South” and holds a laurel wreath, a plow stock and pruning hook encircled by 14 shields representing the 11 Confederate states and border states Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri. There are 32 figures engraved into the pedestal, two of which appear as slaves, and an inscription pays tribute to the idea of the Southern states’ war as a “lost cause.”

Virginian Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin plans to relocate the memorial New Market Battlefield State Historical Park in the Shenandoah Valley, spokesperson Macaulay Porter told The Washington Post, adding that the governor disagrees with the Army’s decision.

Arlington Cemetery said leaving the statue’s granite base in place will ensure the graves, headstones and grounds remain undisturbed throughout the removal process, according to the Post.

“We want to make sure that it is situated within an appropriate historical context,” a senior Army official told the Post.

Security around the cemetery will remain in a heightened state in the coming days, the Post reported. It will cost roughly $3 million to move the monument.

Confederate Memorial in Section 16 of Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, July 13, 2020d

Confederate Memorial in Section 16 of Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, July 13, 2020. (U.S. Army photo by Elizabeth Fraser / Arlington National Cemetery / released)

A provision in the House’s defense appropriations bill for fiscal year 2024 would halt the memorial’s removal. However, the House is out of session and Congress has punted deliberations over spending bills until January.

The 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) gave a commission comprised of civilian authorities and retired and current defense officials, known as the Naming Commission, the task of identifying “all names, symbols, displays, monuments, and paraphernalia that honor or commemorate the Confederate States of America” and recommending ways to remove or rename the assets.

The Army has renamed nine bases in the U.S. to comply with the commission’s report.

The DOD did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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