Don’t forget the past — just hide it
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.