Category Archives: Virginia history

The Purge Comes for Edwin Alderman

by James A. Bacon

As President of the University of Virginia between 1904 and 1931, Edwin Anderson Alderman led Thomas Jefferson’s university into the 20th century. A self-proclaimed “progressive” of the Woodrow Wilson stamp, he advocated higher taxes to support public education, admitted the first women into UVA graduate programs, boosted enrollment and faculty hiring, established the university’s endowment, reformed governance and gave UVA its modern organizational structure. Most memorably to Wahoos of the current era, he built a state-of-the-art facility, named Alderman Library in his honor, to further the pursuit of knowledge.

Like many other “progressives” of the era, Alderman also promoted the science (now known to be a pseudo-science) of eugenics, and he held racist views that  have been roundly rejected in the 21st century.

A movement has burgeoned at UVA to remove Alderman’s name from the library. The Ryan administration was poised in December to ask for Board of Visitors approval to take that step by renaming the newly-renovated facility after former President Edgar Shannon. The administration withdrew the proposal after determining it did not have a majority vote. But Team Ryan could resurrect the name change at the February/March meeting of the Board, as suggested in the flier seen above. Continue reading

Rep. Bob Good Calls for Hearing on Naming Commission

Rep. Bob Good

by Donald Smith

The Virginia congressman who represents Appomattox, where the Civil War started to end,* wants the House of Representatives to examine the impacts of Congress’ attempt to grapple with the legacy of that war — an attempt that could lay the groundwork for the legacies of Confederate generals and soldiers to be deemed unworthy of public respect in American heritage and in modern-day American society.

Bob Good, representative from Virginia’s 5th Congressional District and chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, issued this press release on Friday, February 2.  It calls for the House Oversight Committee to convene a hearing to review the operations and decisions of the Naming Commission. 

Congress should conduct a thorough review to determine the true nature of the efforts to remove historic statues and memorials. Historical sites are meant to preserve moments that are critical to the growth and healing of our nation and should not be subject to the destructive ruse of political wokeness. I am calling for a full accounting of the actions taken by the Naming Commission so the American people can see for themselves how the Biden Administration used their tax dollars, and if they did so to arbitrarily erase our history.

Good said that the “need for proper accountability and oversight regarding the rationale behind the Commission’s deliberations” warranted a hearing. Continue reading

RVA HISTORY: Strides of Strength

by Jon Baliles

Richmond unveiled a new sculpture last week on the site of the old Westhampton School (near St. Mary’s Hospital) that marked the desegregation of the West-End school in 1961. The 12-foot piece, entitled “Strides,” marks that day when 12-year old student Daisy Jane Cooper (now Jane Cooper Johnson) arrived as the first African American student following a three-year legal battle that took a U.S. District Court’s intervention. (Photo courtesy of Bon Secours.)

At age 9, Jane was having to travel five miles to get to the segregated Carver Elementary School. In 1958, civil rights attorney Oliver Hill submitted an application to the Richmond City School Board on behalf of Jane’s mother to transfer Jane to the all-white Westhampton School. The State Pupil Placement Board rejected the request, which led to the lawsuit that lasted three years and resulted in a groundbreaking victory in 1961. It impacted not only Richmond City schools but other localities as well — and the ruling meant that African-American students no longer required permission from the State Board to attend a white school.

A year after first walking through the doors of Westhampton, Cooper also became the first African-American student to integrate Thomas Jefferson High School in September 1962, after deciding she wanted to go there instead of the all-black Maggie Walker High School. Continue reading

What Do You Do If There Are No Statues Left to Tear Down?

Can of worms

Step #1: Reinterpret the Confederate statues;

Step #2: Remove the Confederate statues from the public square;

Step #3: Prevent those who want the statues from having them. Decapitate the statues, melt them down, or desecrate them in art and museum displays.

What’s left? Where else is there to go?

Step #4: Take away tax-exempt status from a prominent organization dedicated to preserving the statues.

SB517 and HB 568 would eliminate the exemption from state recordation taxes for the Virginia Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) as well as the tax exemption for real and personal property owned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The House Bill passed the House Finance Committee in a 12 to 10 (presumably party-line) vote. Continue reading

Rebellion Within the Rebellion: The Wayward Militiamen of Rockingham

by Karl Rhodes

Thomas Jefferson once wrote thata little rebellion now and then is a good thing; as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical. Unsuccessful rebellions indeed generally establish the encroachments on the rights of the people which have produced them.”

Perhaps this was the principle at work in March 1862, when a significant number of Virginians in Rockingham County refused to comply with Gov. John Letcher’s declaration that all militiamen in the Shenandoah Valley must answer the bell for round two of the Civil War.

The first inkling of this little-known rebellion within the rebellion came from the pen of Jedediah Hotchkiss, who would become Stonewall Jackson’s topographer. “The Rockingham militia has been released for 10 days,” he wrote on March 18, as he passed through the county on his way to Jackson’s headquarters at Winchester. “They are quite averse to going.”

It was certainly no surprise to Hotchkiss or to Jackson that groups of Mennonites and Dunkers (German Baptist Brethren) were captured in mid-March as they tried to flee through the mountains of Western Virginia. But these nonviolent deserters were not alone in their refusal to return to the war. Jackson’s 10-day grace period had ended, and quite a few Rockingham militiamen were still AWOL. Some of these men had volunteered for military service at the start of the war, and under Virginia law, their one-year military obligation was about to expire. More disgruntled men joined the Rockingham Rebellion after March 29, when Governor Letcher proclaimed that all Virginia militiamen would be inducted as privates into “volunteer companies” of the Confederate ranks.

There is much uproar among the militia,” Hotchkiss wrote. “I am glad that I have made my escape from the militia [onto Jacksons staff] before this proclamation.” Continue reading

The War Over Robert E. Lee Never Ends

by James A. Bacon

First they came for the equestrian statues of Robert E. Lee.

Then they removed his name from Lee Chapel at Washington & Lee University, where he is buried.

Then they came for the memorial to his horse Traveller.

Now they want to remove him from Virginia license plates.

A bill introduced by Del. Candi King, D-Woodbridge would direct the Department of Motor Vehicles to prohibit the issuance of license plates that make reference to the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, or any other prominent Confederate leader. Continue reading

Congress, Commission Renounce Reconciliation

The Confederate Memorial in Arlington.
(Arlington National Cemetery photo by Rachel Larue)

by Donald Smith

‘In passing the 2021 William M. “Mac” Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act, the United States Congress determined that Confederates and the Confederacy no longer warrant commemoration through Department of Defense assets.’

***

At such a time and under such conditions I thought it eminently fitting to show some token of our feeling, and I therefore instructed my subordinate officers to come to the position of ‘salute’ in the manual of arms as each body of the Confederates passed before us.

The first statement is from the Naming Commission, the body Congress created to review Confederate names and iconography on DOD installations. It appears to be the commissioners’ interpretation of Congress’ intent behind Section 370 of the FY 2021 National Defense Appropriations Act (NDAA), which established the Naming Commission and outlined its mission.

The second is from Union General Joshua Chamberlain. Chamberlain commanded the detachments of the Union Armies of the Potomac and James which received the surrender of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. The “such a time and under such conditions” Chamberlain found himself confronted with, was the approach of the surrendering Confederate infantry on April 12th, 1865, at Appomattox Court House.

Apparently, Congress has chosen to agree with the Naming Commission, instead of Chamberlain. In so doing, it has chosen to play Jenga with American heritage and culture. Continue reading

The Fighting Editor

Alexander, Ann Field. Race Man:  The Rise and Fall of the “Fighting Editor” John Mitchell Jr., University of Virginia Press, 2002

Review by Dick Hall-Sizemore

John Mitchell, Jr. was a major figure in Richmond and Virginia public affairs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Over the course of this career, he was a nationally known newspaper editor, a member of Richmond City Council, president of a bank, and a gubernatorial candidate.

In her well-researched biography, Ann Alexander tells Mitchell’s story in fascinating detail. In the course of following the life of Mitchell, the book provides insight into the political and social lives of middle-class Blacks in Richmond’s Jackson Ward in the late 19th century. There is also a discussion of the effects of the Readjuster movement and the subsequent defeat of the Readjusters and rise of the Democratic party in the city and state.

John Mitchell, Jr., the child of slaves, was born July 11, 1863, at Laburnum, an estate in Henrico County on the outskirts of Richmond. His parents were house servants of James Lyons, a prominent Richmond attorney. After Laburnum burned to the ground less than a year after Mitchell’s birth (the result of suspected arson by a disgruntled slave), the Lyons family eventually relocated to one of Richmond’s finest houses, a Greek Revival mansion on Grace Street near Capitol Square. Continue reading

Virginia Army National Guard Switches from Red to Blue


by Thomas. M. Moncure Jr.

Confederate statues have come down and in some cases – to assure they will never rise again – have been melted down. Schools and roads have been purged of Confederate references. Army bases likewise are renamed in this cultural cleansing. This rewriting of history – Soviet style – would make Joseph Stalin proud. This eradication of one of the most significant events in American history – the formation of the Confederate States of America – has been done more swiftly and with greater success than even George Orwell might have envisioned.

Even symbols must be dispatched down the memory hole. The old unit patch of the Virginia Army National Guard (above left) showed a spear cutting thru the chain of tyranny in a St. Andrews Cross on a field of red. This is a subtle but somewhat obvious nod to the Confederate Battle Flag; any vague resemblance to anything Confederate must be purged.

The new National Guard patch shows Virtue over the dead body of Tyranny, imitating the Seal of Virginia on a blue field. Symbols do underlie and emphasize political realities. In addition to removing Confederate taint, the Guard has -intentionally or not – fallen in with the transition of the partisan makeup of the General Assembly. As Virginia has gone from Red to Blue, so has the Guard.

Thomas Moncure lives in Colonial Beach. He is an attorney and former Republican member of the Virginia House of Delegates. 

Daughter of Heroines

Roanoke College women’s swim team (front row) and supporters at press conference at Hotel Roanoke, Oct. 5. (photo/Scott Dreyer)

by Margot Heffernan

The year is 2023 but it feels as if the calendar has rolled back a hundred years for women and girls in Virginia, and just about anywhere else in the Western world. Hyperbolic? Over the top?

Sadly, no.

Each day women are censored, denigrated, and erased; called bigots for speaking biological fact; losing to men in female sports; redefined with terms like “chest feeders” and “uterus havers.” Violent male felons are routinely housed in women’s prisons in at least four states because they “identify” as women. And private female spaces are ceded to biological men in schools and other public places.

Virginia is a microcosm of the problem writ large. Remember the scandalous sexual assault of two Loudoun County girls over two years ago that were perpetrated by a male who gained access to girls’ restrooms. Recall the recent Roanoke College attempt to hijack the women’s swim team by allowing a man to join. Then, on September 27th, at a Turner Ashby High cheerleading event in Rockingham County, several males entered the female locker room without consent from the girls. Some cheerleaders felt compelled to change in the shower stalls or bathrooms of their female-only locker room. Continue reading

A Long Time Ago in a World Far Far Away

Mafic dike in wall of granite. Roadcut on VA Rt. 16 near Mouth of Wilson Baptist Church

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

This past weekend I went back in Virginia’s history. Waaaay back. Over a billion years back.

The occasion was the 2023 Virginia Geological Field Conference. This is an annual event staged by a group of leading geologists in the state. Attending were faculty members from several institutions, including one community college; geologists from the United States Geological Service; staff from several state agencies, such as the Department of Environmental Equality; college students, folks from the private sector; and one or two non-geologists (such as me) who nevertheless are keenly interested in the science.

We met in the Mt. Rogers area (the site of the conference rotates among Virginia’s five geographic regions). There we spent a day and a half traveling among sites that have been explored and mapped by USGS geologists over the past few years. We would go to a site, get a briefing from the lead USGS geologist and then go crawl over and around the rocks, with many using their geologist’s hammer to break off chunks for examination. As for me, I would stand in front of a wall of rock or hold a chunk in my hand and ask one of the USGS or other geologists, “Tell me what I am looking at.” Continue reading

A Native Virginian Hero

Lt. Gen. Lewis B. Puller (USMC)

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

A family plot in the cemetery of a church in the Northern Neck completed in 1714 is the final resting place of a Virginia native who was one of the United States’ modern heroes.

A highway historic marker caught my eye this weekend while I was exploring the Northern Neck on my way back home from a conference in the Newport News area and I decided to visit the grave site of a man whom I had heard much about:  Marine Lt. Gen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller.

Puller was the most decorated Marine in the history of the Corps. He was awarded five Navy Crosses (second only to the Congressional Medal of Honor for the Navy), the only person to receive that many. In addition to the Navy Crosses, he was awarded the Army equivalent, the Distinguished Service Medal, as well as the Army Silver Medal. Along with those medals and other awards, he was awarded a Purple Heart for being wounded in battle. Continue reading

Thunder in the Pulpits

by Michael Giere

“But this was not always so. In fact, for much of our history, it has been just the opposite. Godly men and women who were fearless, bold, strong, and savvy have been central to the American experience.”

There has never been anything in history like the US Constitution, signed on September 17, 1787. It is the crown jewel of human advancement and bids freedom not for some but for all. It stands alone, enshrining and paying homage to the core reality of man’s existence – that the dignity and rights of every person and their personal freedom don’t come from the word or works of an impermanent ruler, a mob, or government but from the permanent promise of the Creator.

The Constitution began with a convention and 55 delegates from the newly-free Colonies called to modify the Articles of Confederation. It became a convention that would reshape history. Influential members such as James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and George Washington, among others, were convicted that the Confederation needed a stronger national government, and the Convention settled on Mr. Madison’s Virginia Plan as a starting document to replace the Articles of Confederation. Continue reading

Revisiting the Intellectual Foundations of Conservatism — One Book at a Time

by Suzanne Munson

From time to time, members of every great movement such as American Conservatism need to stop, take a breath, and see where the movement is going. Great movements, founded by great individuals, can sometimes be hijacked by lesser minds.

Many of the founders of modern conservatism were intellectuals. William F. Buckley was able to criticize liberalism articulately from the foundation of a fine education, intellectual curiosity, and deep reading.

While there are knowledgeable thought-leaders in today’s conservative movement, there are others who call themselves conservatives who may be giving the movement an unfortunate image.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines conservatism as “a political philosophy based on tradition and social stability, stressing established institutions, and preferring gradual development to abrupt change.” Much more can be added to this definition, such as limited government, fiscal responsibility, and a belief in traditional, wholesome values.

It is interesting to examine a recent incident in Florida to see where some who term themselves “conservatives” have created an embarrassing situation. Members of a book club, reported to consist of conservative members, rescinded an invitation to a respected author to speak to their group.

The program was a book and author event at $100 a plate, so one would assume some level of education and sophistication. Rachel Beanland, a well-regarded Richmond, Virginia author and teacher, was invited to speak about her new novel, The House Is on Fire.

She had spent hundreds of hours researching the tragic theater fire of 1811 in which some of Virginia’s most prominent citizens perished. The book features individuals, real and imagined, who resided in Richmond at that time–tradesmen, theater workers, politicians, slaves, doctors, widows.

Yes, there are slaves in the book and yes, their lives were difficult, and yes, some white characters in the book treated them poorly. What else is new? There were white characters in the story who also had poor treatment at the hands of other whites. There is always plenty of trouble to go around in an interesting novel. Continue reading

The Enduring Value of Arlington’s Endangered Monument to Reconciliation

The Confederate Memorial in Arlington.
(Arlington National Cemetery; photo by Rachel Larue)

by Donald Smith

Jim Webb, former U.S. Senator from Virginia, former Navy Secretary, and certified badass (Navy Cross, Silver Star and two Purple Hearts from his service as a Marine officer in Vietnam) grabbed quite a bit of attention last week.  On August 18 he called for the Confederate Memorial at Arlington Cemetery to be spared.  You can read his commentary here, if you have a Wall Street Journal subscription (or have some free articles left.)  Here’s a link to a no-paywall article on Webb’s piece.  Here’s a link to the most prominent criticism I’ve seen of Webb’s piece, from Civil War historian Kevin Levin. 

Webb’s commentary points out an important and, until now, mostly ignored repercussion of Congress’ blanket approval of the Naming Commission’s recommendations:  it diminishes our nation’s soft power.  That makes it harder for our military and diplomats to achieve our nation’s goals overseas without having to resort to coercion or violence.  Continue reading