The Destruction of Reconciliation Plaza at West Point
Updated: Oct 11, 2022
Every soldier's grave made during our unfortunate Civil War is a tribute to American valor. [Applause.] And while, when those graves were made, we differed widely about the future of this government, those differences were long ago settled by the arbitrament of arms; and the time has now come, in the evolution of sentiment and feeling under the providence of God, when in the spirit of fraternity we should share with you in the care of the graves of the Confederate soldiers. [Tremendous applause and long-continued cheering.]
A Union Veteran such as William McKinley could stand in front of the nation and speak about the need for reunion and the valor of the men he once fought. Why would the United States government, now generations removed from the hostilities, not be able to do the same? In the report, despite much wiggle room, The Naming Commission has decided that they can destroy Reconciliation Plaza and its symbolism of reunion.
On page 9 of Part II the report admits that the class of 1961 stated its intent to a memorial was: to “...commemorate the reconciliation between North and South and dedicate this memorial to our
classmates who died in service to our nation.” Like in every part of the report, The Naming Commission never reveals the true details of its research and how it reached its conclusions. In reality, most of these markers are not a tribute to the Confederacy or individuals that voluntarily served in the Confederate forces, which the law mandates the Naming Commission must review.
The report states on page 10:
The Commission unanimously finds that the Reconciliation Plaza at West Point falls within the remit of the Commission. The Commission recommends the Plaza should be reviewed by West Point to remove the engraved images that commemorate individuals who voluntarily served in the Confederacy. In addition, West Point should remove or modify monuments within the plaza that commemorate the Confederacy. Modifications of the plaza should contextualize historical aspects.
The Naming Commission has given a blank recommendation to start tearing up memorials that were established by former classes at the Military Academy and historical markers that describe the actions of former graduates in a neutral manner. The fact that upsets them most seems to be its neutrality.
For example, the next paragraph lists the marker that, the Commission describes: "P.G.T. Beauregard leading Confederate forces in insurrection against Fort Sumter"
There is a reason why the report doesn't include pictures: looking at the marker reveals that the marker does not honor anyone---it merely points out that men from different West Point classes fought each other on a particular date and at a particular time. The concept of the plaza is not to pick sides: but merely to advocate for reconciliation. It is clear that this falls outside the remit of The Naming Commission, as do the other items on the Plaza. The biased words that the report writers use demonstrate that they simply cannot accept the concept of reconciliation. To add insult to injury, their mischaracterization of the event is in direct conflict with the laws of the United States as of April, 1861.
Marker 3 is also characterized as a "memorial to Confederates," as the report describes the marker as "Confederate BG Lewis Armistead’s last words as relayed to his close friend, U.S. Army MG Winfield Hancock. Armistead was killed invading Pennsylvania and attacking U.S. Soldiers." But what are the actual words that are not cited or pictured? It is Lewis Armistead of the CSA saying : "Tell Hancock I have done him and my country a great injustice which I shall never cease to regret ..." This is a famous scene that is also portrayed in memorials at Gettysburg. This quote representsa deathbed confession & the words are about reconciliation and forgiveness--they do not honor the man or the Confederacy. The marker (seen above) even makes the intent of the quote clear: "Once divided...now United."
Some of what The Naming Commission includes in the report can only be described as bonkers, such as a complaint that Marker 4 portrays a "Confederate soldier providing water to a U.S. Soldier wounded by Confederate guns." Rather, the marker tells the story of a Confederate soldier putting himself in danger to help a suffering man, who happened to be a Federal soldier. The story is quoted from the book Antietam: The Soldiers’ Battle by John M. Priest. Is The Naming Commission really talking about removing book quotes from memorials advocating reconciliation? The answer to that question is precisely why every single part of this report needs to be questioned.
"Marker 6 commemorates MG Stephen Ramseur and two U.S. Army classmates from West Point who comforted him as he lay dying after a surprise attack by Ramseur’s army failed." But does it commemorate Ramseur or the Union soldiers who came to his aid? Here is the text of Marker 6:
Major General Stephen Dodson Ramseur, CSA, USMA Class of 1860, mortally wounded during the Battle of Cedar Creek, was carried from the field to Belle Grove, a nearby country home. His Union friends, whom he had met at West Point, Major General George Armstrong Custer, USMA Class of June 1861, Colonel Wesley Merritt, USMA Class of 1860, and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander C. Pennington, USMA Class of 1860, joined him and sat through the night comforting him as he lay dying.
Considering that marker 6 is on Reconciliation Plaza, it is clearly demonstrating the noble actions of Federal soldiers. Once again, The Naming Commission leaves out pictures and text to ensure the public is unaware their conclusions are outside the boundaries of what is specified by Congress.
The Department of Defense and Congress must leave Reconciliation Plaza untouched. Any other action would disgrace all the cadets that contributed to the plaza and the nation they serve,. Most importantly for our government: any action to destroy Reconciliation Plaza would violate the law.