Tag Archives: Donald Smith

“Too Thin”

The Jackson Arch — before sandblasting

by Donald Smith

The Virginia Military Institute’s hands were tied, it seems. It tried for months to justify leaving an inscription of Stonewall Jackson’s name on an arch at the Old Barracks on VMI’s Main Post. But the school’s leadership couldn’t find a way, so it chose… to take a sandblaster to the  National Historic Landmark.

That’s the conclusion I draw from VMI’s explanation of its decision to expunge Stonewall Jackson’s name from the formerly named Jackson Arch. (See “Retained and Contextualized At VMI” for the full explanation.)

According to the chair of VMI’s Commemorations and Memorials Naming and Review Committee (CMNRC), the original intent of installing a statue of Thomas Jonathan Jackson on the Main Post and inscribing his name on the Post chapel and upon the arch was to honor “Stonewall” Jackson, the brilliant Confederate general. However, only “most compelling” reasons would allow his name to  remain on Jackson Arch today. “The Committee spent months analyzing reasons that might allow the continued display of the Jackson tributes,” said the committee chair, but could not find sufficient justification.

I think Lucky Ned Pepper, the villain in the movie True Grit said it best: “Too thin!” Continue reading

“Retained and Contextualized” at VMI

The Jackson Arch — pre-retention and contextualization. Photo credit: Yelp

by Donald Smith

The Stonewall-Jackson-statue-at-VMI controversy is one of many, both in Virginia and across the country, where communities and their elected/appointed representatives have grappled with tough questions: how do we honor past heroes in modern times? Do we continue to honor them at all?  When do the feelings of a minority of a community outweigh the desires of the majority?  VMI, and Virginia, are just now really starting to deal with these questions, when it comes to the state’s history, up to and including the Civil War.

After removing the statue of Stonewall Jackson from the Main Post and his name from the Post chapel, Virginia Military Institute officials arranged for the inscription of the Confederate general’s name to be sandblasted off an arch, commonly known as “Jackson Arch,” of the Old Barracks during the 2021-22 Christmas break.

Four months later, on April 30th, the Commemorations and Memorials Naming and Review Committee (CMNRC), created to review all Confederate iconography on the Lexington campus, concluded its business. “[T]he VMI Board of Visitors,” said the committee in a public announcement, “voted to retain all the remaining statues and building names. Additionally, the vast majority of the other commemorative items, artwork, and memorials that had been the subject of the committee’s scrutiny because of the item’s association, however indirectly, with the Civil War, slavery, and the Confederacy will remain.” Some of the items that remain will be “retained and contextualized.” Continue reading

No Clear and Compelling Justification

by Donald Smith

Governor Northam’s November speech to the VMI cadet corps has been widely panned for many reasons. Here I offer a new reason: The speech violated a cardinal principle of American leadership: you must be able to articulate compelling reasons for your decisions and actions.

When Northam spoke to the assembled Corps of Cadets, his previous treatment of VMI hung over his head like a dark cloud. Among the many animosities he had inspired was the banishment of Stonewall Jackson’s statue from Main Post, followed by an assault on the general’s legacy at VMI. Statues are symbols — of people, events or traditions we want to honor. They reflect upon the people who create and honor them — and also on those who tear them down.

With his speech, Northam had a chance to confidently and compellingly explain why Jackson’s statue had to go and why his legacy should be erased from the military academy. Continue reading

A Theme for Youngkin: Lend Us Your Vote

Boris Johnson.

by Donald Smith

To all those who will vote in November, especially those who are thinking of voting Republican for the first time.

You may only lend us your vote. You may not see yourself as a natural Republican.

Your hand may quiver over the ballot, as you debate whether to put your mark in the Republican box—quite likely, for the very first time in your life.

And you may be determined to return to the Democrat Party next time around. If that is the case, I am humbled that, this November, you put your trust in me, that you have put your trust in us. I and we will never take your support for granted.

We will be grateful that you recognized that, sometimes, you have to base your vote on matters much bigger than normal partisan politics.

Glenn Youngkin should give that speech. Or put it in an ad. Because there’s an audience for it in Virginia right now. Many Democrats and moderates are troubled by progressive antics in Washington and Richmond. Those folks will listen to a pitch like this.

If the pitch sounds familiar, it is revised version of Boris Johnson’s victory speech on December 2019 after the last British general election. Continue reading

Save the Jackson Arch

By Donald Smith

This past summer, Washington and Lee University decided to keep Robert E. Lee’s name as part of the college’s name. Sentiment to keep Lee’s name was strong in and around Lexington.  “Retain The Name” signs were commonplace.  It’s not too late to trot those signs out again, to retain — or save, actually — another prominent name in Lexington and Virginia’s history — Stonewall Jackson.

Jackson’s name is carved into one of the arches at the Virginia Military Institute’s Old Barracks. The arch is commonly referred to as “Jackson Arch.” This past May, the VMI superintendent recommended that Jackson’s name be removed from the arch, and the Board of Visitors concurred. The stated reason: “certain venerations to the ‘Stonewall’ persona were overstated within the context of his contributions to VMI.”

Removing a sign is one thing — as long as you can remove it intact and undamaged. But what if you can’t remove it intact? Continue reading

Understanding the Jackson Statue Controversy

by Donald Smith

Perhaps you’ve noticed the discussion over the past year about the banishment… er, sorry, removal… of Stonewall Jackson’s statue from the Virginia Military Institute’s Main Post. Well, here’s another contribution. I will make the case that the powers-that-be behind the excision of Jackson’s memory from VMI weren’t trying to help the institute. They wanted to humiliate it.

The Barnes and Thornburgh analysts who studied the racial climate at VMI noted that many people attend VMI because they want a military experience.  Men and women who enroll at the academy are a lot like cadets or midshipmen at West Point, Annapolis, the Air Force Academy, the Citadel and Norwich.

Military schools, and military men and women, honor leaders who showed courage, determination and excellence in battle. Military schools are normally proud of the great generals and admirals they produced. Continue reading

Paperwork Is for the Little People


by Donald Smith

This is a story of two political candidates, from two different parties, and the standard that should –but almost assuredly won’t — be applied to both.

The candidates are Terry McAuliffe, Democrat, running for governor of Virginia in 2021, and Nick Freitas, Republican, running for the House of Delegates in 2019.

The standard is that candidates in Virginia elections have to satisfy state requirements for filling out key paperwork.

In 2019, Nick Freitas didn’t. From the Washington Post, July 26th 2019.

State election officials said his local Republican legislative committee never submitted a required form indicating Freitas was the party’s nominee. The state said another form, which Freitas personally should have filed, was also missing.

Freitas was forced to run as a write-in candidate. (He won).

Apparently, in 2021, Terry McAuliffe has his own paperwork problems. From the AP: Continue reading

Monuments to Bravery and Sacrifice, Not White Supremacy

Statue of Confederate soldier in Winchester, Va.

by Donald Smith

My family has lived in western Virginia since the mid-1800s. Six relatives — my great-grandfather, four great-uncles and great-great grandfather — served in the Confederate Army. Five were in the same unit, the 14th Virginia Cavalry. The sixth was in the 25th Virginia Infantry. (We suspect he couldn’t find a horse.)

In the early 1900s, the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) and other groups erected statues around the South to honor the sacrifices and service of a passing generation of soldiers and sailors like my ancestors — just as their counterparts did in countless towns and cities across the North.

In the past year, having succeeded in taking down the statues to Confederate icons like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, America’s cultural cleansers want to expunge the memory of anyone who fought for the Confederacy — no matter their rank or their reason for fighting. They claim the statues the UDC and others erected were meant to glorify the “Lost Cause” and romanticize the Confederacy. In some cases that’s probably true. It’s undeniable that the UDC glorified the Confederate cause for decades.

But some statue opponents offer another reason for pulling down all the Confederate statues: they are, and were meant to be, monuments to white supremacy. Continue reading

Out of Many, Weakness

The Stonewall Jackson Shrine, recently renamed the Stonewall Jackson death site.

by Donald Smith

John Hay, Abraham Lincoln’s press secretary, wrote that Stonewall Jackson’s temperament and personality reminded him of John Brown. Hay didn’t mean that as a complement. But he did have a point. Jackson was an eccentric. At times he looked silly — sucking a lemon, wearing a beaten uniform, losing control of his VMI classroom, holding his arm up in the air so his blood would flow properly.

For all his quirks, Jackson was one of America’s great battlefield generals. He was also a man of character. He was devoted to the Virginia Military institute where he taught. And in creating a Sunday school for Black slaves, he defied the disapproval of the community. His legacy matters — at VMI and beyond.

The cities of Richmond and Charlottesville have pulled down statues to Jackson, Lee and many other Confederate figures. Progressives and SJWs are still celebrating in their parents’ basements. I find that less distressing than Jackson’s treatment at the hands of VMI. Continue reading

Extirpation of Memory

by Donald Smith

In deciding which Confederate iconography should remain visible at the Virginia Military Institute, the school’s Commemorations and Memorials Naming and Review sub-committee (CMNRC) identified four major items of commemoration to Stonewall Jackson at the Main Post. Most famously, there was the statue sculpted by VMI alumnus  and Battle of New Market veteran Moses Ezekiel, but Jackson’s name appears  on Memorial Hall, while his name is engraved on an arch at the Old Barracks, while a quote attributed to him is also displayed there.

This past November the Board of Visitors (B0V) voted to remove the statue. In May it approved the removal of drastic alteration of the other three items.

The criteria that drove these decisions appear in this document, Finding Meaning in the Landscape and Criteria By Which To Assess It.

A comparison of key passages from that CMNRC document and the Board of Visitors’ decision raises many questions. Continue reading

Disrespecting Stonewall Jackson Dishonors All Those Who Fought Under Him

Civil War reenactors as the Stonewall Brigade. Photo credit: Stonewallbrigade.net

by Donald Smith

When we think about wars, we often think of the great commanders who led the armies and navies that fought those wars. Mention World War II, and names like Eisenhower, Halsey, Rommel and Yamamoto come to mind. If you think of the American Revolution, quickly you’ll find yourself thinking of Washington, Cornwallis, Greene, etc… And, especially in Virginia, if you think about the Civil War, Stonewall Jackson will most likely cross your mind.

We remember generals for their leadership and decisions — but we also remember them for the armies they trained and led. It was the armies that won the great victories, not the generals. Patton didn’t rescue the 101st at Bastogne*; his Third Army did. Eisenhower didn’t take Omaha Beach; the survivors of the 29th Infantry Division (and many other troops) did. In that sense, the generals serve as symbols of the men who fought under them. The legacy of the general is intertwined with the legacies of the thousands of men and women he commanded.

One of the reasons that VMI’s handling of Stonewall Jackson’s legacy is so disappointing, is that it has impacts beyond Stonewall himself. Jackson has a personal legacy, as a person, a teacher and a battlefield titan. But he is also the most visible symbol of the army command he organized and led to victory after victory in the Civil War. A command which fought from First Manassas to Spotsylvania Court House, and is one of the most famous in American military history—the Stonewall Brigade. Continue reading

Why the Need to Slant Stonewall Jackson’s Legacy?

Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s mixed legacy — slaveholder, educator of slaves, rebel against the United States, and one of the greatest military commanders in U.S. history.

by Donald Smith

If you were asked to describe Stonewall Jackson in just a few words, what would you say? Apparently the Washington Post would say — an enslaver of six people.

Ian Shapira, a member of the Washington Post’s Metro section, is the paper’s most prolific writer on the ongoing controversy at VMI over allegations of systemic racism and controversies over Confederate symbols at the school. The Post’s biography of Shapira credits his work for having “prompted,” among other things, “the removal of the campus’ 108-year-old statue of Confederate statue Gen. Stonewall Jackson.”

Shapira has mentioned Jackson frequently. But, if you relied on his reporting to give you the information that you’d use to develop your perception of Jackson and his legacy, you’d end up with a shallow, one-sided view. What’s worse — and actually more troubling — your knowledge of the general would be missing some of the most important aspects of his life and legacy. Continue reading