GETTYSBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – General Robert E. Lee sits tall in his saddle high above the Gettysburg Battlefield.
The commander of the Army of Northern Virginia has literally been placed on a pedestal.
“Statues like this get to communicate this message of glorifying them as heroes, as American heroes, when they weren’t American heroes. They were Confederate heroes,” said Scott Hancock, a history professor at Gettysburg College and a resident of the borough.
Hancock loves history but also understands its harsh reality.
“There’s no way around the fact that they (Confederates) were fighting to maintain a society that depended on enslaving black people,” Hancock said while standing at the base of the impressive statue of Lee on Thursday.
There are dozens of Southern statues and monuments sprinkled about in Gettysburg.
“What’s the story that’s told? It’s a story that noblizes the Confederacy. They lost. They lost. They lost here in what may have been the defining battle of the war,” Hancock said.
Bob Garven, a tourist from Kansas, was walking the battlefield. He has an ancestor from Texas who was on that losing team.
“My great, great, great, grandfather,” said Garven, himself a U.S. Army veteran. He understands the national conversation and the angst over Confederate statues in various town squares.
“But,” he says while leaning on the wheel of a Confederate cannon, “it’s fitting that they would stay here (Gettysburg Battlefield) because this is a museum.”
Gettysburg National Military Park officials say there have been no complaints or calls for removing the statues. In a statement, the park said its job is to preserve and protect them. It added, “these memorials, erected predominantly in the early and mid-20th century, are an important part of the cultural landscape.”
One of the most beautiful statues on the entire battlefield has a mythical angel-like being floating above a fallen soldier. It glorifies and pays tribute to a unit from Louisiana. But it wasn’t placed on the battlefield until 1971.
A few feet away is the Mississippi memorial, which arrived in 1973. Hancock says the cultural landscape in the South in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s was unrest over the civil rights movement. It’s possible, he suggests, that this monument is a protest to the direction the rest of the nation seems to be heading. He also says the Mississippi monument has the most controversial inscription etched in its marble base.
It reads in part, “On this ground our brave soldiers fought for their righteous cause.”
Hancock bristles a bit.
“I would argue their cause was absolutely not righteous,” he said.
The clash over Confederate statues has thus far missed Gettysburg, but this history professor thinks it possible that Gen. Lee and the horse he rode in on are someday asked to leave.
“I’m not saying we should tear these down,” he said, “but I don’t think they’re untouchable. A lot of historians would disagree with me, but I don’t think they’re untouchable.”