In 1911, on the 50th anniversary of the battle of Manassas—the first major encounter of the Civil War—a crowd of about 10,000 people gathered on the Virginia battlefield to celebrate what was called the “Peace Jubilee.” Confederate and Union veterans attended. President William Howard Taft gave the keynote address. An air of camaraderie enveloped the crowd, and former enemies shook hands, smiled and laughed.
It was the beginning of a shift in America’s attitude toward the conflict. For many years after the war, decorating the graves of the Confederate dead in Arlington National Cemetery was forbidden. While today there is a backlash against Confederate symbols, in the early 1900s monuments to the fallen were accepted as recognition of a soldier’s value. “Splendid valor,” as President Woodrow Wilson called it, was celebrated in town squares and cemeteries across the South. Everyone understood the evil of slavery on which the Confederacy was founded. But the nation could no longer deny the death of the 258,000 men who fought for “the lost cause.”
Here in Montgomery County, a new chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the Elijah Veirs White Chapter, was formed in 1911. It was founded in honor of the hundreds of county residents who crossed the Potomac River to join the Southern cause, and the cavalry captain who led the men in battle. In all, around 25,000 Marylanders joined the Confederacy.
The chapter spearheaded a movement to have a monument placed in the courthouse yard in Rockville “to be an inspiration to the youth of our land to hold principle, honor, and a firm trust in God above all else.” The statue was unveiled on June 3, 1913—the birthday of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America. Atop a granite pedestal, a lone Confederate soldier stared into the distance.
The Damascus Coronet Band regaled 3,000 spectators with the playing of “Maryland, My Maryland,” a favorite at public gatherings for years. The lyrics, written by Marylander James Ryder Randall, memorialized the Baltimore riot of 1861, when Southern sympathizers fired upon Union troops marching through town to catch a southbound train—resulting in the first death of the Civil War. The song contains the rousing line, “Huzza! she spurns the Northern scum!” It was adopted as the official song of Maryland in 1939.
The Elijah Veirs White chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy had erected another monument west of Rockville, heading out Route 28, in 1911. The stone tablet listed the names of 32 Confederate veterans buried in Monocacy Cemetery. In 1915, the chapter laid the cornerstone for a stone chapel nearby as a larger memorial at the cemetery; the chapel is now used for burials. The E.V. White chapter no longer exists. Today, inside the chapel, a stained glass window of Christ is flanked on one side by an American flag beside a picture of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. On the other side is a Confederate flag next to a picture of Gen. Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson.
As for the Rockville statue, it was moved to a less conspicuous place—the side of the old brick courthouse—during urban renewal in 1971. Today, bushes and trees obscure the statue, but the soldier still stares, southward—for now. County Executive Ike Leggett announced July 17 that the statue will be removed.
Editor’s Note: This story will appear in the September/October 2015 issue of Bethesda Magazine. Mark Walston is an author and historian raised in Bethesda and living in Olney.