Causing a stir, Lincoln returns to Richmond

Statue riles devotees of Confederate history

April 06, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

RICHMOND, Va. - Two ceremonies were taking place yesterday with purposes as different as day and night, or North and South. One was the unveiling of a statue of Abraham Lincoln, the other a vigil in protest at the grave of Jefferson Davis.

The statue of Lincoln, commissioned by the U.S. Historical Society, is in a park that was the site of Tredegar Ironworks, where tons of Confederate materiel were forged during the Civil War.

The protest, by about 100 members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, was at Hollywood Cemetery, where many of the Confederacy's politicians and civic leaders are buried, as well as 18,000 Civil War soldiers. Confederate battle flags were in abundance at the protest.

Bragdon Bowling, Virginia division commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, was among the speakers.

"They have no concept of history and how it might be the wrong place to put the statue," said Bowling, whose great-grandfather John Stephen Cannon fought for the Confederacy. "As a Southerner, I'm offended. You wouldn't put a statue of Winston Churchill in downtown Berlin, would you? What's next, a statue of Sherman in Atlanta?"

Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy, eventually falling after a second siege in April 1865.

Since late last year, when plans for the statue were announced, Confederate sympathizers, including hundreds of re-enactors and scores of Sons of Confederate Veterans members, have denounced the statue of Lincoln and his son, Tad, overlooking the city vanquished in April 1865 after its residents burned it rather than give ground to Union troops.

Robert H. Kline, chairman of the historical society, the Richmond-based nonprofit company that commissioned the statue, said the society was donating the statue to the National Park Service as a symbol of reconciliation and unity. The City Council backed the action with a $45,000 donation to the $250,000 cost of the statue.

"I'm delighted that it's finally happening, that Lincoln is in Richmond again," Kline said. "He came on a mission of peace and reconciliation, and I think the statue will serve that purpose for a very long time.

Yet opponents of the statue have a different view of that day. The life-size statue, they say, commemorates the day 138 years ago when Lincoln came as proud victor.

There has been heated discussion since Dec. 26, when plans were announced to put the statue in the downtown park.

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