Recent events got me rethinking our family trip to Manassas National Battlefield Park back in the summer of 2010. I have enjoyed military history as long as I can remember. As a kid growing up in Maryland, I visited all the battlefields in the area. As a parent, I've taken my own kids to those battlefields. When we saw this statue of Stonewall Jackson, I do not remember thinking about Jackson as a symbol of the horrors of slavery. To me, Jackson was a skilled cavalry tactician, on par Generals Casimir Pulaski in the American Revolution and George Patton in World War II.
Now, with the attention brought to the issue of commemorative Civil War statues, I've learned more about this particular statue. The artist was Joseph Pollia, a Sicilian immigrant to Boston in 1896. I don't see any connection to southern slavery in his past. So, I looked for information on the origin of the statue. I found an article by a Texas historian. She explained how the Sons of Confederate Veterans transferred ownership of the battlefield property to the National Park Service, on condition that the monument to Jackson be constructed. The State of Virginia paid $25,000 for the statue in 1938, and the park opened in 1940. In the opinion of the author, which seems reasonable to me, during the Great Depression, people were looking to the past for heroes, and Stonewall Jackson was one they found. According to Dr. James Robertson, an historical expert on Jackson, the general has a mixed record with regard to slavery. Jackson's family owned six slaves, but he advocated for their education and he was well-liked by his slaves and by free blacks in Lexington, VA. Jackson's views on slavery seem to based more strongly on religion than on race.
So, I'm left wondering what this statue means. As a work of art, I have no problem with the artist, although I prefer a more realistic style than the gloried version offered here. One of my favorite artists of military history is Polish painter, Wojciech Kossak. His portrait of Marshall Pilsudski is one of my favorites. Can I criticize the motives of the Sons of Confederate Veterans? That's easy to do. But, without their donation of land, the Manassas battlefield would be nothing but more suburban sprawl in Northern Virginia by now. Can I object to Jackson himself? He seems no worse than the average Civil War general, on either side. There were plenty of Northern officers who were far more racist than Jackson. Or, does this statue simply represent a destination for a family trip, which gave me an opportunity to talk with my kids about a serious period of American history?
I am a Baltimore-based photographer, capturing life around me and sharing my observations with you.