Arlington Confederate Memorial Should Be Removed and USS Chancellorsville Renamed, Panel Says

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Confederate Memorial
The history of the Confederate Memorial embodies the complex and contested legacy of the Civil War at Arlington National Cemetery, and in American culture generally. (Arlington National Cemetery)

A towering bronze and granite monument to the Confederacy in Arlington National Cemetery depicts Southerners gallantly marching off to the Civil War -- and their Black slaves holding a white soldier's baby and following troops obediently.

Ringing the memorial, built in 1914, are shields listing the states that violently rebelled against the U.S. in an attempt to break away and keep about 4 million people in bondage.

"It is problematic from the top to the bottom," retired Brig. Gen. Ty Seidule, the vice chair of the Naming Commission, told a press gathering on Tuesday.

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The 108-year-old monument should be stripped and removed down to its granite base plate, the commission will tell Congress in a forthcoming report on its recommendations. The latest and final report by the Naming Commission, created by Congress to scrub Confederate tributes from military property, will also recommend renaming the Navy ship USS Chancellorsville, which takes its name from a Civil War battle.

The Navy guided-missile cruiser is named after the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863, which was a Confederate victory and a major win for Gen. Robert E. Lee, one of the South's most skilled military leaders. Confederate Lt. Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson was mortally wounded during the battle, according to the American Battlefield Trust.

"What did they say when they commissioned the ship? We looked at what used to be in the boardroom, and there were pictures of Lee and Jackson in the boardroom, and that's been taken out since then," Seidule said. "So we looked at the entire context and felt as though this commemorated the Confederacy, as a unanimous decision among the eight commissioners."

The USNS Maury, a Military Sealift Command oceanographic survey ship, should also be renamed, the panel concluded. The ship is named after a pioneer of oceanography and naval officer who later joined the Confederacy.

The commission has completed three reports since August with sweeping recommendations for the Pentagon, which include renaming Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Benning, Georgia; and six other military bases in the South. It also said West Point and the Naval Academy should strip the names of Confederate military leaders from buildings and property.

The entire initiative will cost about $62 million, but the renaming could be an arduous process for some of the nation's largest Army bases, which will require changes to maps, signs, websites and any other references, retired Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, a commission member, said during a briefing Tuesday on the latest recommendations.

"There's some places where the secretaries can move on fairly quickly," said Bostick, who also sat on the review panel that recommended the repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for gay troops in 2011. "Maybe the bases are going to take some time."

The changes are supposed to be in place by the beginning of 2024, according to the law passed by Congress in December 2020.

The push from Congress to create the panel came amid a national debate on race and civil rights, including how the country remembers the Southern states that fought against the union for the cause of slavery. Many of the Confederate names and memorials were created in the 1900s as part of a movement to promote the Lost Cause mythology, which seeks to whitewash the South's motivations in the war and the suffering of slaves.

The debate is still politically charged. Former President Donald Trump vetoed the must-pass annual defense bill that included the creation of the Naming Commission over his opposition to removing Confederate names from military bases. But he was overridden by Congress.

The Arlington Confederate Memorial perpetuates the myths about the South, particularly one about how slaves were devoted to their masters, and is "perhaps the most egregious loyal slave monument," according to an article in Smithsonian Magazine in 2017.

The memorial was created after white Southern troops who died in the Civil War were reinterred at the national cemetery beginning in 1900. The graves were segregated for whites only and Black troops were "buried alongside former slaves and poor whites" until the cemetery was desegregated in 1948 by an executive order of President Harry Truman, according to Arlington National Cemetery.

-- Travis Tritten can be reached at travis.tritten@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Tritten.

Related: West Point and Naval Academy Should Scrub Names of Confederate Officers, Panel Tells Congress

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