How to Contextualize a Confederate Statue

Clarke County courthouse. Credit: Wikipedia

by James Wyatt Whitehead V

On March 18th, 2021, the Clarke County Board of Supervisors accepted the eight-member Monument Committee’s recommendations for the Berryville courthouse Confederate Monument. The six-point platform, approved by the committee in a seven-to-one vote, called for:

  1. Dedicating the Courthouse Green to memorials and education.  Efforts should be made to recognize the contributions of African Americans in the Civil War.
  2. Preserving the Confederate monument with contextualization added.
  3. Placing additional memorials to highlight the service of more than 90 African-American soldiers in the Union armed forces as well as the recognition of Thomas Laws, a slave and informant for the Union army.
  4. Renaming one of the courthouse buildings in honor of a noted African American from Clarke County’s past.
  5. Acquisition of the Confederate monument by Clarke County.
  6. Enlisting private groups and citizens to fund the Courthouse Green improvements.

The Confederate Monument, known as the “Son of Clarke,” was dedicated April, 26ta, 1880. The statue was inspired by a painting by Fredericksburg artist John Adams Elder, who painted “After Appomattox,” which also influenced the Alexandria and Mount Jackson memorials. Casper Burberl, a noted classical sculptor from Bohemia, made the statue. His works include monuments and architectural features that honor both sides from Gettysburg, Pa., to Mobile, Ala.

The memorial features a Confederate soldier head down, cap in hand, no weapons and, aside from the belt buckle, no Confederate symbols. The soldier’s expression is pensive, sorrowful, yet hopeful. The monument inscribes the names of fallen soldiers from various infantry, cavalry, and artillery units. The granite base was quarried from Petersburg near the spot where General A.P. Hill was killed on the last day of the Siege of Petersburg. A veteran soldier, the Honorable James Marshall, delivered an address to a large crowd at the dedication.

The memorial is owned by the Association of the Survivors of the Clarke County Cavalry. It is not known if any descendants have claimed the right of ownership.

In four short months, the Monument Committee moved from an assigned task to a recommendation that does not tear down a monument but finds a way to balance and reconcile Clarke County’s past on the Courthouse Green. The recommendations make an honest effort to preserve history, contextualize that history in the present, and add the missing story of African Americans at the same time. The work is far from finished. It is up to the Board of Supervisors, the Monument Committee, and the participation of citizens to carry forth the created vision.

James Wyatt Whitehead V is a retired Loudoun County history teacher.

Works Cited and Informative Links

An Illustrated Guide to Virginia’s Monuments by Timothy Sedore; 2011 Southern Illinois University Press

Monument Committee Recommendations:  Recommendation (

Artist John Adams Elder:  John Adams Elder: Fredericksburg’s Civil War Artist | Emerging Civil War

Sculptor Caspar Burberl:  Caspar Buberl – Wikipedia

Architectural Historians’ Presentation to the Board of Supervisors:  Clarke County’s Confederate Monument: A Brief History – YouTube