A Confederate monument slated for removal from Arlington National Cemetery will be placed at a Civil War site owned by Virginia Military Institute.
The state military college’s board of visitors voted unanimously Wednesday to accept the memorial as the federal government works to jettison all elements of Confederate history from its property — a task that ranges from removing monuments to renaming military bases.
The Confederate Memorial, unveiled in 1914, will be moved to the Virginia Museum of the Civil War at New Market Battlefield State Historical Park. The site, about 77 miles from VMI’s campus in Lexington, is where 257 cadets were involved in the battle of New Market in May 1864.
For years, VMI commemorated the battle and the 10 cadets who died there by hosting an annual New Market Day parade. In 2021, it was renamed the Memorial Parade to honor all alumni who died in battle.
The monument was designed by Moses Ezekiel, the first Jewish cadet to attend VMI. He fought with the Confederates at the Battle of New Market before graduating in 1867.
Atop a 32-foot-tall pedestal stands the bronze figure of a woman wearing a crown of olive leaves. Fourteen shields (for the 13 Confederate states and border state Maryland) are depicted on the pedestal, along with various human figures, including that of an enslaved man and woman. The enslaved woman holds a Confederate soldier’s white baby.
VMI Board of Visitors member Hugh Fain, head of the external relations committee that discussed the matter before bringing it to the board, said ahead of the vote that the monument was created “as a reconciliation effort” after the Civil War.
Arlington National Cemetery’s description of the monument states: “The elaborately designed monument offers a nostalgic, mythologized vision of the Confederacy, including highly sanitized depictions of slavery.”
The remains of more than 400 Confederate soldiers, including Ezekiel, are buried around the memorial. The base of the monument will not be moved in order to preserve the graves around it.
The timing of the move, which will be paid for with state and federal funding, is unclear. Fain said the federal Naming Commission originally had planned to remove the statue by the end of 2023.
Across the country, hundreds of Confederate memorials and symbols have been removed in recent years. The movement of this particular memorial is part of an effort by the Department of Defense — ordered by Congress — to purge Confederate relics such as landmarks and military base names in the wake of the 2020 racial justice movement.
Fain said that Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s office had opposed the removal of the monument. But when the Defense Department solidified plans to remove the monument from the national cemetery, Youngkin’s office asked VMI’s superintendent, Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Cedric Wins, for the school to take it.
“The Governor believes that the Newmarket battlefield will provide a fitting backdrop to Ezekiel’s legacy even though he disagrees with the Biden administration that the statue should have been slated for removal,” Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter said in a statement Wednesday evening.
VMI did not respond Wednesday afternoon when asked for more details about the decision.
A number of groups have spoken out against moving Confederate monuments. One, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, sued the Defense Department and the Army in March in an attempt to block the removal of the Confederate Memorial, claiming that it represents reunification of the North and South after the Civil War. The case is pending in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
But in 2017, 22 members of the Ezekiel family wrote to The Washington Post calling for the Confederate Memorial to be removed from the national cemetery.
“Like most such monuments, this statue intended to rewrite history to justify the Confederacy and the subsequent racist Jim Crow laws,” the letter reads, later imploring: “Take it out of its honored spot in Arlington National Cemetery and put it in a museum that makes clear its oppressive history.”
That letter was signed days after Heather Heyer, a counterprotester at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, was killed.
In December 2020, following allegations of widespread racism at the school and the resignation of its last superintendent, Gen. (Ret.) Binford Peay, VMI removed a statue of Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson from its place in front of barracks.
That statue, also designed by Ezekiel, was moved to New Market Battlefield State Historical Park.