Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Dick Dowling, Kirby Smith, and the Future of Confederate Monuments

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on March 13, 2016

Dowling Statue 13 March 2016 720


Sunday afternoon I attended the annual Dick Dowling Statue Ceremony in Houston. I had the pleasure of speaking at this event two years ago, with an essay called, Dick Dowling and the Immigrant’s Call to Arms.” The weather was a lot nicer on Sunday than it was in 2014.

The keynote address this year, “Apologies, Amnesia, and Forgiveness: The Irish, the Brits, and the Confederates,” was written by Judge Mark Davidson, who currently oversees asbestos litigation cases around the state. (Judge Davidson wasn’t able to attend in person, and the address was presented very ably by his wife and son.) As you might surmise from the title, it took on the current pushback against Confederate iconography, and used the 2011 state visit by Queen Elizabeth to the Irish Republic as an example of reconciliation between parties with a fraught and violent history. It was a novel argument, but more disappointing was rest of the address, which jumped from one worn cliché to another — erasing history, most soldiers didn’t own slaves, political correctness run amok, and so on. When it did get into specific historical detail, there were problems; the judge asserted that census records showed that Dowling didn’t own slaves, which is true in only the narrowest sense; the census shows that Dowling actually hired someone else’s slaves to work for him (see here and here).

I really do wish that the judge had made a stronger, affirmative argument for Dowling, specifically. As I said in a post a couple of months back, Dick Dowling was deeply embedded in the civic and cultural life of Houston in the 1860s, entirely apart his wartime service and the Battle of Sabine Pass. The volatile, contentious discussions we’re having now in this country about Confederate monuments are, in my view, a good and healthy thing; it’s worth taking a step back every couple of generations and asking, is this what we really honor?, does this person’s life reflect values we hold dear? There is no single answer, of course; the answer in every case must necessarily be different. One community will reach a different answer than the next one, and that’s fine. But we should never be afraid to ask those questions, or to challenge long-held assumptions.

This is where, I believe, the Confederate Heritage™ community has come unmoored and is completely adrift. They demand that no one ask such questions, or challenge those assumptions. The move to replace the statue of E. Kirby Smith in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol is a good example. Instead of making an affirmative case in support of retaining Smith’s likeness by citing why he is — and should be — relevant to Floridians in 2016, the “defense” of Smith’s statue was reduced to carping about “HEROS and VILLANS,” and screaming about how the removal of the statue “dishonors” American veterans. It’s funny how, when it’s a Confederate monument under consideration, they want Confederates to be thought of as U.S. veterans, but go absolutely out of their ever-lovin’ minds when someone proposes placing a battlefield monument to actual U.S. veterans — at least when those U.S. veterans were mostly African Americans.

So here’s my suggestion — if you want to save Confederate monuments, take them one by one and make an actual case that will convince the general public in that community — people who are skeptical or indifferent to the nonsense that passes for “truth” in heritage circles. Do your research, and get after it.




5 Responses

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  1. Leo said, on March 14, 2016 at 8:42 am

    I wholeheartedly agree with what you have written here regarding Confederate monuments and the current debate surrounding their place in society today. I am not opposed to monuments and do feel a fact-based discussion is a healthy and good thing in the long term. My personal choice for compromise is the placement of contextual plaques to help foster a better understanding in the limited space plaques provide. However, it is clear to me now that those with agendas and egos will always find fault and launch criticisms toward those attempting to bridge the divide. For example, the University of Mississippi placed such a plaque at the base of a Confederate monument on campus. The SCV and other heritage groups immediately attacked the university and the chancellor for “heritage violations” and “attempting to change history”. The vitriolic reaction from the heritage crowd was expected, but some of the opposite end of the spectrum also criticized the plaque. Kevin Levin, for example, felt the words “ rebellious mob” didn’t go far enough. Others object because the plaque didn’t mention slavery. It seems we have shifted from a debate about monuments to one over plaques.

  2. Pat Young said, on March 14, 2016 at 7:00 pm

    Great post.

    The Confederados could also reach out to black groups to support government funding for memorialization of black history.

    After encountering a lot of lies about this topic over at the Civil War Talk message board, I looked into the funding of Confederate monuments great and obscure and found a lot got substantial government bucks.

    If Confederate Heritage Inc was serious about preserving the Southern past it would set a goal of 1000 black heritage monuments by 2050 to match the existing monuments to white armed resistance.

    • Leo said, on March 14, 2016 at 8:23 pm

      Anthony Hervey already tried the black confederate monument thing. It was a scam back then too. 🙂

      • Andy Hall said, on March 14, 2016 at 8:28 pm

        What a convoluted mess.

        For those who don’t know, Neill Payne is the odious Kirk Lyons’ brother-in-law. Here is (l. to r.) Lyons, H. K. Edgerton, and Payne hamming it up as klansmen in a restaurant in 1998. Edgerton was president of the local NAACP chapter at the time, and its publication in the Asheville Citizen-Times in March 1998 apparently raised serious doubts about his judgement. (Ya think?) Lyons and Payne were at that time principals in the soon-to-be-shuttered white-identity CAUSE Foundation (Canada, Australia, United States, South Africa, Europe). The restaurant photo was one of a number of issues that caused the state NAACP organization to push Edgerton out the next year, in 1999, and in January 2000 he embarked on his current career as a performance artist/beard.

  3. Leo said, on March 14, 2016 at 7:56 pm

    Andy, to update my previous post, the UM NAACP has released a statement reguarding the wording on the contextual plaque.

    This is the best criticism I have seen thus far of the current wording. Given this, and the fact the heritage crowd will never be happy with the plaque, I think the university needs to revisit the wording.

    Even if it is changed, the argument still only shifts from the monument to the plaque.

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