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Good Bye, Johnny Reb

The last Confederate statue on public land in Maryland is to be removed to a private park. The Talbot County council voted to remove the vestige of honoring those who fought for the Confederacy, and relocate the statue. Talbot County is a bit over an hour’s drive from Anne Arundel County, on the Eastern Shore.


My feeling about removing historic monuments many find offensive has evolved over recent years. After first observing the movement, I felt that it was an attack on American history. That removing artifacts from the past was something an exercise in ignorance.

Erasing those recognized by our ancestors doesn’t mean that they and the events surrounding them didn’t happen. They existed, but perhaps our memories will only be a little dimmer.

After all, those who forget the past will be condemned to repeat it, right?

But then a black friend reached out to me and explained to me how many people of color look at Confederate monuments—a present endorsement of an ancient evil—slavery.

I hadn’t been thinking of it from that perspective, because I’m white. I can see now how viewing such monuments, seeing them accepted by your neighbors, either actively or complicity, would be a thorn in your side, and a discouragement.

I do not endorse slavery or racism and reject any thoughts of white supremacy.

And then there’s what General Robert E. Lee thought. He’s on record as saying he rejected the idea of statues being put up to honor him after the civil war. He rejected the notion that there should be monuments to the Confederacy, only saying those who had fallen should have markers.

So it appears I was the one who was exercising ignorance. There is no reason for any community in the United States to endorse monuments that commemorate and perhaps celebrate members of the Confederacy, which rebelled against the United States of America..

America split in half over a century and a half ago, because we couldn’t agree on the issue of slavery. The final decision was settled through an untold amount of blood, sweat and tears, by the collective American people.

The Union won. The Confederacy lost. About as many soldiers died as have died as citizens during our pandemic.

Slavery was abolished. The country moved on.

But the monuments didn’t. Nor has racism.

There’s a caveat for me. For us today to inexorably connect the existence of those monuments to an angry condemnation of the sins of our fathers is also somewhat ignorant.

I don’t know if the average Confederate soldier was a proponent of slavery, or more a loyal defender of his own family and friends—his community and his state. A despicable wretch or a heroic guardian of the South? Which was it?

Johnny Reb is dead. He can’t tell me.

Most Southern soldiers were farm boys. They had more in common with the farm-boy soldiers in the Union they were fighting than with some of the well-heeled plantation owners that were leading them.

They were not born monsters. And they probably didn’t die monsters either.

I do think is good and logical to take the Confederate monuments down. It is an exercise in logic, compassion, and perhaps a measure of justice.

But that’s where it ends. I have a problem with judging or condemning the dead.

Everybody has their own trail to ride while they’re in this world. Their own character, their own flaws, their own gifts, their own triumphs. I will not judge you Johnny Reb.

Calvin Swift, my great-great-great grandfather may have fought you as a Union artilleryman on the battlefields of Tennessee, but he, ultimately was not your Judge, and neither am I.

I expect you loved your mom and dad like I did. Loved your lover like I do, and worried about your kids while you were away from home, if you had the chance to have any. You probably worked hard behind a horse and plow most of your young days, a much physically harder work than most of us do today.

You may have died, but you left your Christian Faith to those who came after you. Those of that Faith from the North and South, both then and now endure.

They believe among other commandments that only He who is without sin should cast the first stone.

I will not judge or condemn you Johnny Reb, I have no stone to cast at you. But I don’t want to look at your Confederacy either. You lost the war. And that is a very good thing.

So I, and your other progenitors, will take your soldier’s monument down in Talbot County Maryland. And I won't shed any tears.

The cause you fought for stood for an institution that condemned millions of Americans to a life of subjective cruelty. They are free now. Those chains are broken. We all ride on.

--Rest in Peace, Johnny Reb