Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Beating a Dead Traveller

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on July 13, 2014

You had to know that Brandon Dorsey, the local Confederate Heritage™ guy in Lexington, would be all over the Washington and Lee flag business, calling for the university to “return the mausoleum to the ownership of the Lee Memorial Association.” I’m not sure who Dorsey is talking about, as the Lee Memorial Association that originally funded the mausoleum appears to have furled its banner decades ago. There’s a present-day Robert E. Lee Memorial Association that operates Stratford Hall, that was begun in New York state and adopted its current name when it moved to Virginia in the 1970s, but that’s (1) clearly not the same group as in the 1880s, and (2) is one that has no claim, legal or otherwise, to the site at W&L.

Dorsey, who calls W&L President Ken Ruscio “the nations [sic.] most notorious grave robber,” has a pretty abysmal track record as a coordinator of protests going back to the Lexington flag ordinance in 2011. That ordinance passed easily, despite Dorsey’s efforts to bring in dozens of people from out of town to tell the Lexington City Council how to run their little city; his campaign to oust Mayor Mimi Elrod, that also relied heavily on people not actually from Lexington, came to naught in 2012 when Elrod won re-election by a wider margin than before; the lawsuit against the city he encouraged in federal court was a complete bust, and his ongoing boycott of the city has had no observable effect on the local tourist economy.

He did successfully coordinate the installation of a fiberglass statue of Stonewall Jackson with a sword in one hand and a golden cross in the other, by the same sculptor who did the dinosaurs-eating-Yankees amusement park, so there’s that.

Interestingly, in making his call for W&L to turn over the mausoleum to a private organization that appears not to exist, Dorsey cites the wording of the original 1882 agreement transferring the mausoleum to the school:

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That upon the completion of the mausoleum and its inauguration under the auspices of this Association the title to, and the care and custody of, both the mausoleum and the marble statue of General Lee shall be vested in the corporation of Washington and Lee University, upon the sacred trust that the mausoleum shall be preserved as a perpetual place of sepulture for the remains of Gen. R. E. Lee, and of Mrs. Lee, and of such other members of their family as it maybe the pleasure of the family to have interred there, and that the building and statue shall receive from the authorities of the University such care and attention from time to time as shall be needful for their preservation; and upon the further trust that neither the mausoleum, nor the ground upon which it is erected, nor the statue and appurtenances of the mausoleum, shall ever be in any way, or to any extent, liable for any claim against, or debt of said University, or be charged with any mortgage, deed of trust, or other encumbrance.

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Dorsey doesn’t explain why this particular passage is important, perhaps because it isn’t.  Nothing Washington and Lee has done violates this agreement. They haven’t mortgaged the mausoleum, or put it up as collateral, or interfered with the interments of Lee and his family. They removed decorative flags that wouldn’t be added for almost another fifty years, as is their prerogative as owners of the Washington and Lee Chapel.

Everything I’ve read about Lee suggests to me that he abhorred flashy showmanship, and was more than a little uncomfortable with the fame and renown he achieved during his lifetime. As I said last week, he didn’t use his five years as president of Washington College to turn the school  into the Confederate shrine some people today want it to be, and I genuinely believe he would be embarrassed by the desire by some to make his and his family’s resting place a shrine of quasi-religious veneration, a sort of Confederate Lourdes or a Dixified version of the Kaaba. I certainly don’t believe he would have any patience with the hair-on-fire shriekers who use his memory as an excuse to engage in the most vile sort of threats, name-calling and accusation in defense of Confederate Heritage. The real, live Robert Edward Lee, a Virginia patrician first and last, wouldn’t have had those people in his front parlor.

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10 Responses

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  1. Al Mackey said, on July 13, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    Maybe I’m missing something that Mr. Dorsey sees there, Andy, but I don’t see anything about the school having to keep cheap, knock-off replica flags hanging.

    • Andy Hall said, on July 13, 2014 at 4:51 pm

      There’s nothing about flags, period, or even verbiage about maintaining it in its original state in perpetuity.

      You will also note that, in contrast to claims that the flags in question couldn’t be seen from the main sanctuary, the photo above shows otherwise. Whether or not they’re visible depends on the position in the audience.

      • Betty Giragosian said, on July 13, 2014 at 6:04 pm

        Andy, I must say, this is a good article. You have summed up the General very well, IMHO. I don’t give you many compliments, but had to this time.

      • John Betts said, on July 14, 2014 at 5:24 pm

        Exactly as I remember it when last I visited years ago. Truth be told I had actually forgotten about flags being in the crypt area so was really puzzled what the fuss was about when this controversy first started. I did recall the flags after looking it up online and from what I remember they weren’t visible in many areas of the chapel. You’d have to intentionally be looking for them to notice. Or is my memory faulty in this?

        • Andy Hall said, on July 14, 2014 at 8:07 pm

          I think it depends on where you’re sitting. From the center of the chapel at the back, or in the gallery, they’re not visible. People sitting near the front can probably see them just fine.The image embedded in the post is small, but they’re clearly visible there.

    • Betty Giragosian said, on July 13, 2014 at 5:58 pm

      Mr. Mackey, the replica flags were neither cheap in appearand nor generic knock offs. They were custom made by a respectable firm, and were very costly. No, the University had every right to remove them. We are looking forward to the same excellent working relationship with the University and Lee Chapel that we have always had. Visit it sometime,and you will see the Virginia Division UDC is recognized for its contributions to the chapel. The recumbent statue of Lee can stand on its own. My divison gave those flags
      and were very proud to have them in the chapel. However, nothing can replace the original flags, and we are so pleased that they will once again grace the chapel in its museum, to be seen by all who visit there. There will be others, closely connected to Lexington and the surrouding area to be seen in the future.

      • John Betts said, on July 14, 2014 at 5:25 pm

        Just out of curiosity, what is going to happen to the replicas? Does anyone know?

  2. Jimmy Dick said, on July 13, 2014 at 7:15 pm

    I ran across an interesting file today that explored the origins of the chapel and Lee’s death. Apparently Lee had no flags in the chapel at all while he was alive. He made no plans for his final repose other than to be buried beneath the chapel. That was obviously in keeping with his way of life. It was the actions of other people, not Lee, that transformed the chapel into a shrine to Lee. Even then there were no flags present for years.

    It is really sad to see what is going on with the heritage crowd. They shamelessly use Lee in this situation in a manner he would have rejected out of hand. There is absolutely nothing historical in the way they caterwaul on about the flags. Lee himself rejected being a martyr for the Confederacy during and after the war. For that matter, the university was something Lee developed into a fine institution of higher education in five short years. Nothing about the university was connected to the Confederacy.

    The Flaggers and the Lost Cause crowd are an embarrassment to the memory of Robert E. Lee.

  3. OhioGuy said, on July 13, 2014 at 10:34 pm

    As a young man back in the mid-1960s I used to travel through Lexington, Va., on a fairly regularly basis going to and from Ohio when I was on leave from the U.S. Navy. I was stationed in Norfolk, Va., at the time. I always thought it was a very pretty college town and enjoyed my stops there. I would often walk around one or the other of the two college campuses in town as I liked to rub shoulders with college age folks. The impetus for my two-year stint on active duty between my sophomore and junior years in college was my sophomore grade slump that had the draft board breathing down my neck, so I joined the Naval Reserve and went on immediate active duty. There’s actually bit more to the story, which is not germane to the topic at hand. Also, the sister of a good friend of mine taught at W&L. The point here is that I developed a fondness for Lexington and have nice memories of my brief stays there a half-century ago. This makes me even more appalled at Andy’s reports of the brainless antics of the neo-Confederate set than I would be if this was happening in some random southern town that I knew nothing much about. I agree with the above comments that R.E.L., if he was alive today, would reject these guys and gals for the loons that they are. From what I’ve read of Lee he tried very hard to put the war behind him after the conflict was over. He rejected guerrilla warfare, which unfortunately the KKK element in the South did not, and tried very hard to be an American (not a Confederate-American) for the remainder of his days. It was men like Jubal Early, a prime mover in starting the Lost Cause mythology, who made Lee into some kind of saint (or even Christ-like figure) and Longstreet into a Judas. Of course, neither portrayal is an accurate description of the man in question. Lee, while an unusually good man, was no saint. Longstreet, a loyal lieutenant to Lee during the war, was a supporter of the rights of the newly freed slaves after the war — a position while not unique was certainly unusual for a former CSA general. It seems to me that the neo-Confederate movement is the intellectual,philosophical and spiritual progeny of Jubal Early and even Nathan Bedford Forrest rather than Robert E. Lee or James Longstreet.. To my Yankee way of thinking that’s a real shame..

  4. Steve Echard Musgrave said, on July 17, 2014 at 12:43 am

    First of all I am a member of the Sons of Confederate veterans and do not we agree with everything Scv Neo conservatives hey believe n,i neither do many of the guys in our local group. Many of our members members are also the Sons of Union veterans of the Civil War, or SOB’s as they are called sons of both, Many are Sons of the American Revolution, society the war of 1812, etc. and so on. The charges that are made by some that were all racists are just ridiculous. I’m sure there are quite a few people who are prejudiced but I can pretty much tell you about the same percentage as those members of the local Elks Club in Cicero

    As for the Washington and Lee episode of our ready spoken about that. While the students on that so-called Committee have some points to make it also takes some Chutspah, to take several hundred thousand dollars in free tuition and then decide that you don’t like the guy the school is named after?. They should make good lawyers, yuck yuck. These discussions about the Civil War run from intelligent and objective to belligerent and emotional. The wars over it was a bad war, neither side was justified in fighting it in my opinion. My opinion is colored by the fact that I don’t believe that you resolve anything by means of war. Simply using the term lost causer, or neo-Confederate as an epithet is an ad hominem argument. Certainly there are people whose worldview fits the classic description, but there are others might adhere to some arguments and not to others. I myself am one of those I’m a Jeffersonian Democrats who believes that the states had the right to secede. Over having a right to do something doesn’t necessarily mean you should do it. it’s hard to argue states rights you denied human rights, it is hard to argue secessionist reason when your forefathers did essentially the same thing to Great Britain.

    As Robert E Lee, he was by no means particularly happy with what occurred in reconstruction. He is allegedly to have said. Gov. of Texas shortly before he died that e.g. he had known what the Republicans were going to do with their victory he would have died with his sword in hand this brave man at Appomattox.

    So I don’t think Robert E Lee would be happy with the flaggers but he would also not be happy with those that called the Confederate flag a Nazi swastika and as bad as slavery was to equate it to the genocide of the Jews. I had ancestors of both the federal Army and the Confederate Army I can assure you that probably all of them were white supremacists as was Lincoln and Lee the vast majority of people at that time. From my perspective both the over Glorification of the Confederate cause and the myth of the Noble and just war fought to end slavery are both falling into the category that Napoleon described as, history as a pack of lies. All this talk of black Confederates also shows the unwillingness of people to examine the situation.

    My sympathies are with people who try to heal old wounds not reopen them or try to glorify war whether it’s the name of Lincoln or Lee. There’s too much condescension and pompous language in the extreme partisans of both sides you don’t answer questions by simply ridiculing the opposition, well given the political state that makes me almost un-American. So be it I’m a human first in American probably third behind my Anglo Irish heritage.


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