Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

On Washington and Lee

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on July 8, 2014

My colleague Kevin Levin has the rundown on the official response by Washington and Lee University over the presence of Confederate flags in the Lee Chapel. It’s a positive move, I think, that the current replica flags — how many visitors understood they are modern reproductions, dating only from 1995, I wonder? — that had no identification or explanation, will be replaced with actual historic flags, displayed in rotation  in correct environmental conditions and with appropriate labeling.

The usual suspects are responding in the usual way, of course, including making a threat of arson in response to the “dark students” whose complaint started this process. (Carl liked that one, BTW.)

TraditionsOne common whinge that we’ve heard for a while now is the W&L has somehow turned its back on the legacy of Robert E. Lee. That’s funny, since anyone with the slightest knowledge of the school knows otherwise. As it happens, my household has been fairly inundated lately with university recruiting materials, including multiple mailings from W&L. One of them is a short brochure called “Traditions of Honor.” When you open it, the very first lines begin,


In 1865, a young man from Tennessee approached his school’s president, Robert E. Lee, to ask for a copy of the rules. “We have no printed rules,” Lee replied kindly. “We have but one rule here, and it is that every student must be a gentleman.” More than a century later, the essence of that simple statement still holds true.


Robert E. Lee not only figures prominently in the school’s public image, but present-day Washington and Lee considers him and his reputation to be an effective recruiting tool.

Everything I’ve read about Robert E. Lee’s five-year tenure in Lexington — a longer period, it should be noted, than he wore a Confederate gray uniform — indicates that he gave everything he had to Washington College, with the intent of making it the best possible school he could. He did not, as far as I know, intend for it to become Confederate Candyland or a reliquary to the Lost Cause, as some seem to want it to be. The focus of the present-day Washington and Lee University is exactly where it should be, on Lee’s contributions and legacy to the school. I have no doubt whatever that, were he here today, like Jefferson before him Lee would be more proud of the university he helped build than anything else he did in his public life.





10 Responses

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  1. Andy Hall said, on July 8, 2014 at 7:41 pm

    I should also point out that Texas A&M University has a not-dissimilar history to W&L, in that its most famous former president, the one who is most credited with its early success and (ultimately) growth into a major institution, was also a former Confederate general, Sul Ross. There are few campuses anywhere that hew more closely to tradition and heritage that TAMU, nor many that are more conservative, yet A&M doesn’t feel the need to wraps itself in the Confederate flag, nor does anyone demand that it do.

    Gig ’em!

  2. M.D. Blough said, on July 8, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    Andy-I totally LOVE the letter that is allegedly being sent to Washington and Lee. It begins with “Dear sirs,Im deleting my application to this school,,,,for the bigots of saying the confederate flag is a hate symbol,knowing what Washington and lee college is and what it was about,now to this? because of 7 dark students who sees the flag as hate? ” If there is an application to Washington and Lee (which I sincerely doubt), I’m positive it would be rejected on the basis of the letter alone. The grammar is atrocious. The spelling is worse. The punctuation is abysmal. The content is racist.

    • Andy Hall said, on July 8, 2014 at 7:51 pm

      To be fair, the writer does gets called out on all those points. I’m somewhat doubtful that that person was ever really an applicant, though. It reminds me of another angry letter a True Southron claims to have sent to the Lexington Chamber of Commerce after the flag ordinace, that started off something like, “I’ve never been to your town, but I was thinking about it but now I won’t.”

      That’ll show ’em!

    • Betty Giragosian said, on July 8, 2014 at 11:30 pm

      This is the first I have read of ltis letter, which i believe is not written by a student seeking admission to the school. It is an ugly letter, one that i do not for one moment believe will ever mailed to W and L. I found nothing about it to totslly love; I am ashamed of it

      • M.D. Blough said, on July 9, 2014 at 5:46 am

        Betty-That was sarcasm, which Andy recognized. My remark dealt with the fact that the letter demonstrated that this is someone who W & L would NEVER consider as a student even if there were a real application.

  3. Bob Nelson said, on July 8, 2014 at 8:36 pm

    When I visited W&L around 1992, I had the distinct impression that the flags hanging on the stage around the “Recumbent Lee” statue were authentic. This would indicate that they were. Other CW battle flags have been treated in a similar fashion. For years and years, Michigan regimental flags were hung in display cases in the rotunda of the state capital. They finally began to fall apart — partly from the weight of the flags themselves, partly from humidity, partly from insect damage and partly from cigar smoke. The cases were not airtight and for years the rotunda was the designated smoking area for the building. They have now all been replaced with reproductions and the originals are now stored on horizontal trays in specially designed cases in a humidity/temperature controlled room in the State Historical Library. Some years ago, I ran into a fellow on a Christmas tour of the capital. I asked about the flags and he asked me if I would like to see them. OF COURSE!!! So several months later, I called him and arranged to see the originals. The first one he pulled out was the 24th Michigan. I cannot possibly explain the feeling I had standing there in the presence of an “Iron Brigade” flag. I will never forget it.

    • Andy Hall said, on July 8, 2014 at 8:39 pm

      They were original flags in 1992. But they belonged to the MoC, and were noticeably deteriorated. They were returned to the MoC in 1993, and replaced with modern replicas in 1995. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the reproductions, but they’re not authentic artifacts. More on the W&L flags here:

      The Texas State Library and Archives Commission has a small but important collection of old Confederate flags, including several originals from Hood’s Texas Brigade.

  4. Betty Giragosian said, on July 8, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    Andy, I have not been in the chapel for a number of years, but–I THINK there is something designating the flags as copies, presented by the Virginai Division, UDC. They weremade by Festiva Flags of Richmond, Virginia, according to specifications provided by Lee Chapel. The specs must have been prepared when the original falgs were presented to the chapel. They were most impressive. I am just so glad that the orginal flags will be displayed, one at a time, on a monthly rotating basis in the musem below the chapel.

  5. Christopher Shelley said, on July 9, 2014 at 12:12 am

    I was very impressed by the message the president sent the protesting students. What a measured, thoughtful note. I was especially impressed that he recommended, but did not dictate, that MLK Day be what we in my old service corps referred to as “a day on [meaning of service], not a day off.”

  6. Steve Echard Musgrave said, on July 11, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    From my perspective is a bit different from most people’s on this issue. First of all my great-grandfather fought in the 27th Virginia in the Stonewall Brigade and he was from Lexington. I also have had children who graduated with honors I might add from Washington and Lee. It is both that it hypocritical and hysterical for African-American students who accepted grants etc. to go to University which is named after George Washington(slave owner extraordinaire) and Robert E Lee to suddenly find one of those two offensive. Now remember they didn’t just want the flags removed they wanted the university to repudiate Robert E Lee. In some ways this reminds me of the person who enlists in the Army but then decides that the War he is sent to it is is against his conscience. In the meantime taking his military salary and benefits.

    I knew it was only a matter time until some sort of assault on Washington and Lee came about by some civil rights groups, just given that it’s a giant anachronism in politically correct American education. It has an honor code set up by ( according to the black community)”the dishonorable Robert E Lee.” Maybe I’m missing something here, maybe they thought school was named after Gene Washington the old 49er wide receiver and the crazy baseball pitcher Bill “Spaceman” Lee.

    The chapel as you all know, has a mausoleum right behind it. where is buried Robert E Lee his family and even Light Horse Harry Lee rests. This gives this whole situation a very different context not to mention the fact that it’s a historical monument. The most obvious thing to do is to elicit funds to build an auditorium and leave the chapel as a historical monument that people can visit. If President Ruscio believes this will resolve anything letting the camel half in the tent, he is sadly mistaken. These petulant law school students are going to have a diploma which says Washington and Lee this makes it even more ridiculous and amusing. Historical extremists on both sides are not going to admit any of their shortcomings. Why my great-grandfather spent time in Fort Delaware and Point Lookout those were really friendly and inviting places as only Andersonville was naughty. The war of course had nothing do with slavery Neo Confed arguemnt, or on the other hand all the arson, looting and so forth were completely justified because the south had slaves Wart Crime Federal apologists.

    The war was rebellion, rebellion was caused by the South seceding, the deep South seceded mostly because of the economic issues of slavery. The border states seceded mostly because of Lincoln’s decision to use force, and slavery played a role. IN spite what some would tell you,armies of blue clad soldiers did not go flowing into combat screaming free the slaves are Negro Brothers.”,nor Rebs “States Rights Forever”

    Lets scapegoat the entire South for slavery, those slave ships were all owned and sailed by Georgians, or on the other hand ,slavery was no worse than working in Walmart. My incredibly cynical grandfather and from what I heard his father would’ve found the whole thing hilarious. Oh yes did I mentioned that the Plains Indians all committed suicide while Sherman and Sheridan were trying to save them?

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