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Essay: Confederate monument remembering local dead is a piece of Virginia Beach and Princess Anne County history we should preserve

A statue of a Confederate soldier stands atop the 1905 Princess Anne County Confederate Heroes monument at the site of the old courthouse near North Landing and Princess Anne roads at Virginia Beach’s municipal center. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

BY KENNETH R. HARRIS

VIRGINIA BEACH — With all the controversy surrounding our Confederate monuments as of late, I would like to enlighten you with a little history about the Confederate monument right here in Virginia Beach and the former Princess Anne County. 

I share this in the hope that it will help us understand the history that our monument and ones like it represent so we can protect these monuments for future generations.

The story of the monument has its roots in the Civil War, but it began in earnest in the spring of 1900 – still generations before our modern city – with a former Confederate officer. John Thomas Woodhouse and his wife, Virginia Woodhouse, were selected to head a committee in search of a stone carver to begin work on a Confederate monument that was to be erected at the Princess Anne Courthouse in memory of the county’s Confederate dead. 

The monument at the Virginia Beach city government’s municipal center shows a Confederate soldier. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

Charles Miller Walsh, the owner of Cockade Marble Works in Petersburg, Va., was commissioned for the job. Walsh was a renowned sculptor who had been hired by other municipalities throughout the Commonwealth for the very same reason – to sculpt Confederate soldiers for monuments. 

Sadly, Walsh died shortly after he began the carving for the Princess Anne monument. Walsh had two sons, Charles Richie Walsh and Everard Walsh, both renowned sculptors in their own right. Charles Richie Walsh would end up eventually completing the statue for the monument. 

All the while, the committee that was responsible for the erection of the monument was busy back in Princess Anne County petitioning the courts and appealing to its board of supervisors to appropriate no less than the sum of $500 from the county for the erection of said monument. On April 4, 1903, they indeed received the county’s approval. 

On Wednesday Oct. 19, 1904, Masons from Princess Anne County and Norfolk who were also Confederate veterans came together on the grounds of the Princess Anne Courthouse and began the laying of the pedestal upon which the statue was to be erected. 

A time capsule was placed in the cornerstone of the pedestal, according to a press account from the time. Items reportedly left there included rosters of the county’s Masonic lodge and the Princess Anne camps of the Confederate Veterans, Daughters of the Confederacy and Sons of Confederate Veterans – as well as for the Confederate Company G, 16th Virginia Infantry, organized by Woodhouse on April 17, 1861. Also deposited with the base were pictures, gloves, a newspaper from the time and Confederate bills and coins.

An image of the program for the placing of the cornerstone in October 1904, as shown in the author’s history, Princess Anne County, Virginia: Its Contributions and Sacrifices to the War Between the States. The statue was completed a year later. [Courtesy]

The monument was finally completed on or about Nov. 1, 1905. A headline in The Virginian-Pilot newspaper announced, “Confederate Monument sent to Courthouse.” Later that month, The Pilot wrote another article in anticipation of the monuments unveiling. Bright and early on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 1905, the unveiling ceremony commenced. There were 1,500 folks in attendance, some from neighboring cities. 

John J. Burroughs, or “Captain Jack,” spoke highly of his former comrades in arms. According to The Pilot’s account, he spoke of how the county received its name and complimented the committee on their work, an everlasting memorial to their Confederate dead. He characterized the soldiers of the Confederate Army as “unique figures in the history of the world.” Future generations, he declared, “will grow up to call the Confederate private blessed.” 

Burroughs closed with a tribute to the women of the Confederacy. 

“They were worthy companions of Lee and Jackson, Stewart and Mahone,” he said, according to The Pilot. “The soldiers were upheld on the wings of their hope and inspired by their encouraging sweet smiles. Without the women there would have been no Confederacy.”

His oration was “cheered to the echo,” the newspaper reported. 

There were several more orators that day, including the Rev. Dr. William M. Vines, pastor of the Freemason Street Baptist Church of Norfolk. He compared “Southern heroes with others in the world’s history … in generalship, in manhood and in piety,” The Pilot reported. He stated that “Lee, Jackson and a host of other Southern leaders were head and shoulders above” other historic leaders. 

It was also stated by one of the orators, Confederate Col. George C. Cabell, paraphrasing, “Greater love hath no man than this that he laid down his life for his country, and this the Southern soldier did.” 

The Pilot wrote the following headlines the next day, Nov. 16, 1905: “Confederate Monument Unveiled, with a rebel yell and three eloquent address, Princess Anne shaft was formally dedicated.” There were no protests or complaints that day, just tears of joy knowing that their Confederate dead had finally been honored. 

A detail of the monument. [The Princess Anne Independent News]

One-hundred years later, in November 2005, the Princess Anne Sons of Confederate Veterans Historical Honor Society in conjunction with the Princess Anne United Daughters of the Confederacy held a rededication ceremony at the monument. Again, there were no protestors or complaints. 

You have to ask yourself where has this country come in the past twelve or so years? There are laws that protect these monuments, and are listed under Virginia Code 15.2-1812. Until these laws are changed, it is illegal to damage, deface or remove these war monuments dedicated to the Southern soldier. Please, let’s try to respect the law. We are a civil society, and we need to act accordingly. 

These monuments – not just here in Virginia Beach, but throughout the entire South – weren’t erected to intimidate or insult anyone. They weren’t erected as signs of racism or hate towards anyone. They were erected for one reason and one reason only – to honor the South’s Confederate dead.

Thousands of soldiers perished on the battlefields and were buried where they fell, some in mass graves. These monuments — including the ones in the North honoring the Union soldiers — represent closure to the many families that never saw the return of their loved ones and who never received a proper funeral.


Harris is a lifelong resident of Princess Anne County, now Virginia Beach, and he has specialized in historic research about the Civil War and its impact on the county. He is the recipient of the Military Order of the Stars & Bars Literary Achievement Award and the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s Jefferson Davis Historical Gold Medal Award, among other awards for his book Princess Anne County, Virginia: Its Contributions and Sacrifices to the War Between the States and efforts to preserve history. He regularly speaks and gives lectures about the war and its impact on the county.


© 2017 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC/Used with permission

The Independent News

10 Comments

  1. The lost loved ones such monuments represent were no less American than those who died fighting for the Union, and the grief their families experienced was no less real. Trying to erase history will never erase the past. Thank you for a thoughtful and moving essay.

  2. I love the article. Those who fought openly for their beliefs are our history and not knowing your history only dooms one to repeat it. Today we are faced with those who disrespect the Republic We are. This is a Nation of Law, not personal or group opinion. What these groups are doing is not even democratic as they are not a majority. We are seeing the rise of a large group oligarchy funded and promoted by those who are the true oligarchy desiring to be kings and dictators. DO NOT TREAD ON ME.
    This is more than the current popular story. This is a direct attack on our system of government. Plant your feet and stand tall!

    • The Union was a “Nation of Laws” too, Mike, and Johnny Reb rose against it even though his beliefs were the minority opinion. Yall never should have gotten that participation trophy in the first place!

  3. Tens of thousands of slaves lived and died in Hampton Roads. Many were auctioned off on the grass where the confederate monument now sits. Planning any memorials for their lives? Why was it OK to erase that history?

  4. Don’t worry if they ever do decide to take it down I will chain myself to it. As long as someone brings me some water and food.

    • Don’t worry Will, my Union ancestors are too dead and gone to come down and whip that rebel scum twice! That’s probably why they waited until 1900 to build it – afraid of another USA beat down!

  5. Tell the history the way histoy occurred. Don’t tell his story, don’t be ashamed of the real story, like you said is history, tell it , but tell the entire story so you children, grand children, and great grand children will know the truth. Just saying

  6. Quick note from John, the editor. I understand this topic inspires passionate responses. I don’t babysit comments here, but I hope readers will please address issues but avoid personal attacks.

  7. To say the monuments we’re erected in memory of Confederate dead is true; to say these monuments were not erected in memory of all the other skeletons and baggage that accompany the Confederacy is naive.

  8. I too believe in preserving history, I do not want to see our City, State or Nation begin tearing down or destroying statues. However, I do not think we have done our due diligence in telling our history completely accurately, and that is the desired outcome I would like to see. By 1920, Princess Anne County had three memorials to veterans who lost their lives during the Civil War; one in front of the Princess Anne County Courthouse (1905), one in the center of commerce and trade in what is now Norfolk (1907) and a third erected in Elmwood Cemetery honor of African Americans who lost their lives in the Civil and Spanish American wars (1920). If all three are simply meant to commemorate the lives lost in battle then why don’t all three sit in a cemetery? Why were two, erected in places of economical or judicial prominence and power? Why weren’t they placed on the battlefields were the soldiers fell, or next to their headstones or at the very least in a cemetery? The statue is not in contention, not for me at least, but it’s placement is very much a source of concern. The image of African Americans having to walk past that statue on their way into a courtroom filed with people (exclusively or mostly white) who may have to decide their fate; along with a judicial system that by 1905 was supposed to extend rights to African Americans as citizens of this country, would be a sobering image. And frankly would not make any African American feel that the very court house that had just a mere 40 years prior bought and sold people as property, had any intention of dispensing fair or impartial justice on their behalf. Likewise, Waterside, where slave ships docked and slave auctions were common place before 1865, was just a stones throw from the economic center where the Norfolk confederate monument was erected in 1907. The placement of these statues meant something then, and clearly they still do, as so many are opposed to having them moved to an alternate location. IF Virginia Beach citizens do not want to have the statue moved, then it behooves us to set the history book straight, tell the story of how and why the statue was placed there, place the names of the men that it is meant to commemorate on a plaque and include a plaque which tells the truth about how people were bought and sold on the steps of that courthouse. We have a responsibility to ourselves and future generations to be honest with the actions and decisions of our past. So by all means preserve history, but make certain that history is complete and accurate.

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