WASHINGTON, Dec. 26 (UPI) -- The dream of a black professor who supports Confederate heritage groups for a statue of Abraham Lincoln in Richmond, Va., will be realized on April 5.
The bronze statue in the former Confederate capital will not memorialize Lincoln the conqueror, but rather Lincoln the restorer, whose mission to rebuild the South "with malice toward none and charity for all" was aborted by an assassin's bullet.
The life-sized study of the 16th president seated with his youngest child, Tad, betrays no trace of truimphalism, but rather parental love. Sculptor David Frech imagines a private moment between father and son during their historic visit of reconciliation at the beginning of April 1865, immediately after the city fell to Union forces and 10 days before Lincoln's slaying.
Edward C. Smith, director of the American Studies program at American University in Washington and a noted Civil War scholar, first publicly suggested such a memorial on April 28, 2001, in a Confederate Heritage Day speech at Pamplin Historical Park in Dinwiddie County, Va. In a Washington Times essay on June 2, 2001, Smith wrote that Lincoln had reminded Confederate officials who had not fled Richmond that he meant what he said in his Second Inaugural Address, and his assassination effectively destroyed a reconstruction policy based on reconciliation. Smith told United Press International that if Lincoln had lived and the South had been treated the way Germany and Japan were treated after World War II, "we wouldn't have all the residue of racial acrimony that we still have today."
On Thursday the United States Historical Society, which commissioned the statue, announced that dedication ceremonies would take place on April 5. Chairman Robert H. Kline said that Smith's words "have encouraged all of us to move ahead and see that the statue is created and located in Richmond."
The society is donating the statue to the Richmond National Battlefield Park Civil War Visitor Center of the National Park Service. The center is on the site of the Tredegar Iron Works, an important supplier of munitions to the Confederate army. The statue will be placed outdoors on a hillside in sight of the James River and the Richmond skyline.
Smith is an honorary member of the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. In 1999 he traveled to Richmond to protest the removal of the Robert E. Lee mural from the floodwall along the Canal Walk.
The reconciliation visit of Abraham and Tad Lincoln is little known even to those who have read widely about the Civil War.
On April 3, 1865, after four years of heavy fighting, Union troops entered Richmond. Fleeing Confederate troops torched warehouses and arsenals to prevent supplies from falling into Federal hands. Fires raged and explosions ripped through the waterfront district as the flames reached stores of munitions.
For more than a week, Lincoln had been visiting City Point, Va., the Union's huge advance supply base at the confluence of the James and Appomattox rivers about 20 miles southeast of the Confederate capital. Upon hearing the news of Richmond's fall, Lincoln -- accompanied by Tad -- boarded the flagship of Rear Adm. David Dixon Porter and sailed for the city. On the morning of April 4, Tad's 12th birthday, the vessel docked at Rockett's Landing.
As soon as the ship was made fast, the Lincolns disembarked and "without ceremony" walked into town. The Marine escort Porter sent after them never caught up. Abraham Lincoln was particularly interested in seeing the house of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who had recently fled.
Lincoln and Tad stayed through April 5. In an interview, Smith set the scene: "The city is still engulfed in flames. He's risking his life and that of his young son one month to the day after his second inaugural. In that address he lets it be known that he will pardon the South 'with malice toward none and charity for all.'
"And nothing happens to him for those two days. He meets with some of the members of the Confederate government who didn't abandon the city and go to Danville (Va.) with Davis, and they realize that it would not be as bad as they thought. "
History records that Union Gen. Godfrey Weitzel asked Lincoln for guidance in how to handle the conquered people. The president replied that he didn't want to issue orders on that subject but, he told Weitzel, "If I were in your place, I'd let 'em up easy -- let 'em up easy."
Smith said that when the radical Republicans heard Lincoln's words "with malice toward none, with charity for all" in the second inaugural address, "they must be livid, because they know exactly what that means. And so when (John Wilkes) Booth assassinates Lincoln, he effectively kills a man who was about to become the South's best friend.
"And, of course, the radical Republicans wanted to humiliate the South. So how do you do that? You turn the society upside down. Which is exactly what they did. And, of course, there were no Ku Klux Klans or White Citizens' Councils or any other kind of racist, terrorist organizations before Reconstruction. All that happens as a consequence," Smith said.
In fact, the retribution began even before Lincoln's death. On April 6, Weitzel received a telegram from Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton questioning his authority to distribute food to the hungry populace, even though most of it was captured Confederate rations or the contributions of religious charities.
Weitzel also displeased the radical Republicans by failing to order the people of Richmond to pray for the federal president at Sunday church services. "I left it pretty much to themselves who they should pray for," Weitzel wrote later. The general was reassigned on April 13.
"The only image of Lincoln that is seen in the 11 states that left the Union is on the $5 bill and the penny," Smith said. "As long as Lincoln is viewed in the South as the invader and conqueror and not the restorer, then I don't think the war will ever be truly over."
But Henry Kidd, a former commander of the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, thinks a Lincoln statue in Richmond "is not a good idea." He said it would be one thing "if everyone were on the same playing field," where reconciliation held sway and "people would stop attacking" the Confederate heritage. "But that's not the real world," he added, where "a larger political movement wants to do as much damage as it can to the memory and the history of the Confederate States of America."
Kidd expressed "the utmost respect for Professor Smith" who, he said, tries to tell truth regardless of whether it is politically correct. "He is in my opinion a great man. But I don't think this is a good idea right now." Too many Virginians would not understand where Smith is coming from, Kidd said.