Seeing the cranes lifting the Robert E. Lee monument in New Orleans is a little distressing for me. Not every county in Texas has a monument to the Confederate soldier, but many do. And, almost every county from Louisiana to Virginia has at least one monument to the Confederate soldier. The monuments do not commemorate the Confederacy. They commemorate the Confederate soldier. Right or wrong, the Confederate soldier believed he was defending his home and his country from Yankee invasion.
I am not an expert on Civil War history, but I have read a great many Civil War histories and many first person accounts by Southern participants. I have yet to read a diary or a letter home in which any Confederate soldier bemoaned the loss of slavery. Instead, they always talk about keeping their families safe and protecting their communities. When they express fear, their fear always concern family and community. Most soldiers did not fight to maintain slavery. By one account some 750,000 to 1 million Southerners and a few Northerners served in the Confederate military. I find it hard to believe that 750,000 souls from any group of Americans were any more racist than any other group of Americans living at the time. Yes, the South as a whole sought to maintain slavery. A great many Southerners lost lives and limbs in the four year conflict. Yet, they often persisted in their cause not for one battle, not for one month, not for one year, but for years.
It appears now in 2017 that the nation is moving toward a view that the Southerners who supported the Confederacy were racist. Certainly, those Southerners did advocate a system that enslaved others. Sitting here in 2017, we cannot survey citizens long deceased. But, we know from the most personal, intimate correspondence, letters and diaries, that few Southerners pledged their lives and the lives of their families to maintain a most cruel system.
My ancestor, of whom I am quite proud, 1LT George P. Crane, served on a committee to erect that Robert E. Lee monument that is now being removed from its 133 year old perch. 1LT Crane served all four years of the war. After the war, he retained his uniform and sword. He died 13 years after the war. Our family has no tradition of hating the Yankees or rejecting the outcome of the war. Many years ago, I asked an elderly aunt if we had any “bad” stories about the Civil War. She told me a long story that culminated in something she would do in the 1930’s in New York: if someone wanted to discuss the Civil War, she would invite them to her parent’s home in New Orleans for dinner. In 1869, just a few years after the end of the war, George’s mother, an Irish immigrant, created a river barge with the motto, “Union and peace” as a fund-raiser for an orphanage. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, whose statute was removed last week, attended that same fund-raiser. The Cranes did not whine about the outcome of the war.
The Cranes and their first cousins, the Agars, the Walshes, the Rice’s, all good Irish families, participated in the fabric of the city. All these families helped support various charities, generally for the Catholic Church, such as orphanages and churches. I researched another branch of my family, the Byrnes and Heaslips. They did not serve in the war. They did not support charities, at least not according to any available source. Based on my limited research, the people who served in the Civl War were the same persons who generally supported their community.
As I have researched my family’s history, I was mildly surprised to see that many red-blooded Southern males chose to avoid service in New Orleans and in various Louisiana parishes. Many, on the other hand, like 1LT Crane served all four years of the war. As a young man, George P. Crane visited the then ignored George Washington tomb. Yet, he also said Robert E. Lee was the greatest man this country ever produced.
I never knew George P. Crane. But, I have known family who knew family who knew him. I have read his diaries. I have researched his life and times in substantial detail. I tend to think he would be okay with the removal of the statute he helped erect. Because, I think, he would recognize that a substantial portion of the New Orleans population view that precious memorial as offensive. The Geo. P. Crane I feel I have come to know would not want to memorialize someone, no matter how admirable that person might be to some, who causes offense to so many others. It is just not the Southern way to offend others without a very good reason.
It is ironic that the New Orleans statues are removed just weeks and days before Memorial Day. Before there was a Memorial Day, there was Decoration Day, honored across the South. The Confederate widows and families would go decorate the graves of the fallen soldiers.