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The Confederate General commemorated by the statue at the heart of the deadly Charlottesville violence would actually have wanted it removed, historians have claimed.
A white-supremacist protest against the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue turned violent when clashes broke out with anti-fascist activists at the weekend.
It culminated in the death of Heather Heyer, 32, after a far-right supporter’s car crashed into a group of demonstrators.
The US has since been gripped in debate over whether Confederate statues should be removed. President Donald Trump waded in to ask: “This week, it is Robert E. Lee and this week, Stonewall Jackson. Is it George Washington next? You have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”
But now historians are claiming that Lee himself, known for commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the Civil War, specifically opposed such statues.
Jonathan Horn, a Lee biographer, told PBS: “It’s often forgotten that Lee himself, after the Civil War, opposed monuments, specifically Confederate war monuments.”
In a 1866 letter to fellow Confederate Gen. Thomas L. Rosser, Lee wrote, “As regards the erection of such a monument as is contemplated, my conviction is, that however grateful it would be to the feelings of the South, the attempt … would have the effect of … continuing, if not adding to, the difficulties under which the Southern people labour.”
Three years later he declined an invitation to the unveiling of a memorial honouring those who fought in the battle of Gettysburg.
He wrote: “I think it wiser not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.”
He also reportedly supported getting rid of the Confederate flag after the end of the Civil War.
“Lee did not want such divisive symbols following him to the grave,” Horn wrote. “At his funeral in 1870, flags were notably absent from the procession. Former Confederate soldiers marching did not don their old military uniforms, and neither did the body they buried.”
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