"When a truck crashed into the statue in the late 1980s, a Confederate time capsule was discovered. Although the artifacts inside did not withstand the test of time, what remained immovable was the location. When the statue was taken down for repairs, political groups sounded off against its return. Virginia state law, however, protects the location.
“The veterans were very sharp, they knew the political climate would change, and so they helped pass a state law where the statue would remain forever at that spot,” said Don Hakenson, a local Alexandria historian and author of “This Forgotten Land.” “It’s very important to realize during the Civil War Alexandria voted over 80 percent to leave the Union. One hundred Alexandrians lost their lives, and their comrades placed the statue there so they would be remembered.”
“Some people take offense, it’s a Confederate statue, but it’s historically important,” said Gary Eyler, owner of the Old Colony Shop. “It’s an unusual obstacle, but adds a charm to the city.”" Alexandria Gazette
The baggage delivery truck incident was amusing in retrospect. Jim Moran, now a congressman, was mayor. He immediately "jumped on" the event and rallied various groups of northern immigrants (not all by any means), the local NAACP stalwarts (not all the Blacks by any means) and various malcontents to demand that the statue never return to its prideful place.
This was resisted by other Blacks who said that people should not molest the ancestors of other folks, and a few uncomprehending relative newcomers who wrote letters to the editor. Mine was published in the Washington Post.
I wondered at the time why it was that the "old timey" establishment of Alexandria reacted so little to the brouhaha. Here we speak of the layer of unchanging society in the city whose ancestors founded the place and who still have great influence in a number of subtle ways. Then, on an appropriate day when the sun was shining and the sky was blue, a lawyer from one of the traditional law firms in town arrived at state court to file a request for a restraining order on the city government regarding the statue. It was then revealed that the city had no power whatever to move the statue, ever. The law specifies that no future government of Alexandria will ever have such power. I felt foolish. This state law could be repealed in Richmond but not by the city.
The charming story told by the lady from the UDC is not exactly correct. In 1861, the commonwealth government knew it had no chance at all of holding Alexandria against the federal government. Washington is six miles away across the Potomac River. State forces in the town consisted of the 6th Battalion of Virginia Militia. These men were the town militia. They were perhaps six hundred in number, variously and gorgeously uniformed and armed with smooth bore muskets. This was an assembly of ordinary citizens commanded by community leaders. Many of the senior officers were bankers. Bankers seem to have been different then. Alexandria was their collective home and they knew that if they tried to fight for the city it would be severely damaged and their families and friends in the population would be in great danger. They placed a spy in Washington to watch troop movements. The day that Alexandria voted overwhelmingly to support the ordinance of secession the spy reported that Union troops were embarking across the river. The objective seemed obvious. That night a passenger train was brought to the roundhouse and rail yard at Henry and Duke streets. This was the terminus of the Manassas Gap Railroad. The next morning the militia battalion mustered at the spot on which the statue stands and marched to the train. At the same time, Union forces were landing at the river port in the center of Alexandria. The train steamed away to Manassas Junction where the Confederate forces were training and assembling for the purpose of resisting what they believed to be an unconstitutional invasion by the Northern states. The six companies of the militia battalion became six of the nine companies of the 17th Virginia Volunteer Infantry. The regiment fought well throughout the war. People at home smuggled "care packages" to the men and a steady trickle of reinforcements found their way from Alexandria to the regiment. Four years later the survivors came home to resume their civilian lives. The policy of the federal government in seeking a healing of the country rather than vengeance made that possible.
When the statue was dedicated long after the war, many of these men stood around it, gathered by the wheelchair of their blind leader, Montgomery Corse. In my mind's eye I see them; Arthur Herbert, Isaac Smoot, Willian Fowle leaning on his cane, and of course, Bill White. I see them all.
The pediment of the statue is now only six feet in diameter. Long may "Appomattox' stand there gazing south. pl