Don’t for­get the past — just hide it

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - EU­GENE L. MEYER SIL­VER SPRING Eu­gene L. Meyer is a former Post re­porter and edi­tor and au­thor of “Mary­land Lost and Found . . . Again” and “Chea­s­peake Coun­try.”

The civil war over the Con­fed­er­ate Civil War sol­dier whose gran­ite like­ness has stood for more than a cen­tury out­side the Rockville court­house ap­pears to be over. Hav­ing been sheathed in ply­wood for two years — ei­ther to pro­tect it from van­dals or to pro­tect view­ers from its of­fen­sive sight — the sol­dier is mov­ing, fi­nally, to a new lo­ca­tion at White’s Ferry on the Po­tomac River. That seems as fit­ting a place as any, since the cable car ferry, the Jubal A. Early, is named for a Con­fed­er­ate gen­eral who came close to cap­tur­ing the na­tion’s cap­i­tal in July 1864.

As Early’s in­va­sion was turned back, so, too, has this tan­gi­ble re­minder of his lost cause.

The “White” in White’s Ferry refers to Eli­jah Viers White, who owned mills and ware­houses af­ter the war with his bat­tal­ion sur­geon, Ed­ward Woot­ton of Poolesville. A na­tive of Dick­er­son, E.V. White moved in 1857 across the river to Loudoun County. Dur­ing the war, then-Col. White com­manded the Con­fed­er­ate 35th Bat­tal­ion of Vir­ginia Cav­alry. From Mont­gomery County, Ge­orge Chiswell led a group of South­ern-sym­pa­thiz­ing men across the river to fight un­der him. Those who re­turned went on to be­come county com­mis­sion­ers, judges and state sen­a­tors. A tablet in Mono­cacy Ceme­tery, in tiny Beallsville, lists 32 names of the men who joined what was known as “Chiswell’s Ex­ile Band” un­der “Lige” White. The lo­cal chap­ter of the United Daugh­ters of the Con­fed­er­acy was named for him, and it con­tin­ued right up to 1947.

When the Con­fed­er­ate statue was first pro­posed, a lead­ing vet­eran thought it should be lo­cated at Mono­cacy Ceme­tery, just a few miles in­land from White’s Ferry. But its sym­bolic im­por­tance in the county seat could not be de­nied. At the ded­i­ca­tion, in 1913, 3,000 peo­ple showed up, in a county that then had only 30,000 peo­ple. That would be the equiv­a­lent to­day of 100,000 cit­i­zens turn­ing out for a sim­i­lar event in the county that now contains 1 mil­lion res­i­dents.

This de­ci­sion to move the statue fell to Mont­gomery County Ex­ec­u­tive Isiah Leggett (D) af­ter Rockville city of­fi­cials re­jected a pro­posal to move it to the front lawn of the an­te­bel­lum Beall-Daw­son house, also in Rockville and the head­quar­ters of the Mont­gomery County His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety. A prop­erty owner at White’s Ferry agreed to pro­vide the old sol­dier with a new home on his land.

The sol­dier had already been moved once, back in 1971, from a promi­nent spot in front of the old court­house to one side, where it was vir­tu­ally hid­den be­hind a grove of trees that blocked the view. For the sec­ond time now, re­vi­sion­ism and re­con­struc­tion have marched hand in hand to, if not erase, then at least to hide any ev­i­dence in the county of “the late un­pleas­ant­ness.”

As we re­write or at least rel­e­gate un­pleas­ant his­tory from a cen­tral site to an out­ly­ing lo­ca­tion, far from the mad and mad­den­ing crowd, it seems “the lost cause” has lost again. So now, only a few fer­ry­boat com­muters will have to con­front the ugly part of the county’s his­tory.

The rest of us can buy into the more pleas­ing nar­ra­tive of our mul­ti­cul­tural present and pre­tend the whole dirty busi­ness of slav­ery and the county’s role in try­ing to pre­serve it never hap­pened.


A bronze statue of a Con­fed­er­ate sol­dier out­side the Rockville court­house.

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