It’s a cemetery. Nothing less, nothing more
The issue of Confederate statues — whether they should be removed or should ever have been erected in the first place — rushed to the forefront after the protest and counterprotest in Charlottesville, Va., earlier this month over a monument to Robert E. Lee. A woman was killed there when a white supremacist drove into a crowd, injuring at least 19 others. Two Virginia state troopers responding to the scene were also killed when their helicopter malfunctioned and crashed.
On the heels of that tragedy, a number of statues and monuments recalling the Civil War era also have been called into question this month. Some Confederate monuments in Baltimore were removed. And in the most publicized development of all in Maryland, a statue of Roger B. Taney, a Southern Maryland native, was ordered to be taken down from the lawn of the State House in Annapolis. Taney, a 19th century chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, authored the Dred Scott decision, which held that slaves were property and not citizens.
In this area, attention turned to the Point Lookout Confederate Cemeter y, at the southernmost tip of the county. Some have wondered out loud what should be done about Point Lookout.
Here’s what should be done: Nothing.
No matter where you might stand on whether a statue of a Confederate general belongs where it was erected, in a museum or in a landfill, it has nothing to do with Point Lookout. It’s not a valid comparison.
Point Lookout is a cemetery, a mass grave for Confederate dead. It’s marked with a pair of obelisks, an 80-foot federal monument and a 25-foot state one. They’re not statues of generals on horses. They are tombstones, marking the final resting place for prisoners of war whose bodies had been buried and disinterred twice before over the past 150 years.
Those men had been held at the Union POW camp and hospital. Between 1863 and 1865, more than 50,000 Confederate prisoners passed through Camp Hoffman at Point Lookout. Approximately 4,000 died there, but the federal monument lists the names of 3,382 Confederate soldiers and sailors and 44 civilians.
In light of all the attention on what’s proper and what’s not with regard to monuments from the Civil War era, apparently the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs got a little nervous last week. The VA hired security guards from a private firm to watch over the Point Lookout cemetery. Two were on duty at its gate last Wednesday afternoon. The VA has not said how long security would be required there, or what the cost will be.
“I think it’s a sad state of affairs that we’re in that we’ve lost all civility to the point where we have to have security over monuments and graveyards,” St. Mary’s County Commissioner John O’Connor (R) said last week.
Thankfully, no problems have been reported at or near the cemetery, even before the security guards showed up.
In fact, the only problem regarding that area happened online. A link to a private park commemorating the Confederacy, near the entrance to Point Lookout State Park, was taken down from the St. Mary’s County tourism website last week, upon the request of a citizen, without the county commissioners’ knowing about it. When the commissioners learned that the online page for the private park was taken down, the board had it restored to the site last week.
And it’s important to point out that the private park is just that. The display, which includes the flags of the states that seceded, has nothing to do with the cemetery except its geography.
As for Confederate memorials on public lands in modern-day America, Maryland Heritage Scholar Henry Miller recently wrote a letter to a member of the St. Mary’s County Historical Society in response to the controversy. “History happened and we cannot change it,” Miller wrote. “It is better to study and remember it in its fullness — the glory and the pain, the wrong and the right — than select only the parts we happen to like or dislike at a particular time.”
So no matter what happens to statues from the wrong side of the Civil War going forward, let’s leave the Confederate cemetery at Point Lookout out of the discussion.