FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — Fredericksburg’s City Council approved a historic marker from the Sons of Confederate Veterans this week despite cautions from the city attorney, opposition from the Memorials Advisory Commission and objections from a council member.
The city memorials commission met twice last year to consider the request and then voted unanimously to recommend rejection of the SCV marker.
The SCV wants to erect a marker on city property off Cowan Boulevard to commemorate the May 4, 1863 battle near Smith Run that was part of the Chancellorsville campaign. The group, made up of male descendants of Confederate forces, seeks to preserve the history and legacy of those who fought for the South, according to the SCV website.
“While commending the SCV for seeking to bring greater public attention to this important but little-known battle, the commission believes the city should not allow the erection of a Civil War monument by a private organization that espouses a particular perspective on the fighting that occurred on this site,” Vice Chairman Nancy Moore wrote to the council on behalf of the commission in an Oct. 16 letter.
The commission recommended the city should instead erect its own marker.
That step would have resolved the concerns of City Attorney Kathleen Dooley and Councilwoman Kerry Devine.
Dooley informed the council that Virginia law says a memorial “shall not be moved” once erected. She also reminded council members that the SCV sued the city of Fredericksburg in 2009 when the city asked to move an SCV marker 100 yards at city expense.
After much discussion Tuesday night, the City Council voted 6–1 to approve the SCV marker, if the group donates it to the city.
The resolution also stated that the city would have authority to move it as long as it stays on the Smith Run battlefield.
The proposed marker describes the battle and lists the numbers of Confederate soldiers killed and wounded on May 4, 1863.
Senior Planner Erik Nelson reviewed its wording, and, after minor changes, approved its contents. The information would be placed on a bronze plaque measuring 2 feet by 3 feet or less. The plaque would be mounted on a slab of stone and placed on a stone pedestal.
The group’s name is to be etched into the stone pedestal, he said. The marker would be placed along the Cowan Boulevard Trail.
The city also plans to erect exhibit panels along the trail, which is located between Cowan Boulevard and State Route 3.
Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw asked Nelson if the planned location is the best one.
Nelson, who wrote an article for Blue & Gray magazine about the Second Battle of Fredericksburg, which includes the Smith Run action, noted that a better location would be on an 11-acre parcel the city owns but there’s no timetable on when it would be accessible.
Eventually, Gateway Boulevard will be extended from Route 3 to Cowan, and that would allow access to that property, which is near Smith Run and preserves part of the battle site.
A developer would build the road but there’s no immediate plan to move forward, Nelson said.
Councilman Matt Kelly, who is a Civil War re-enactor, was adamant on Tuesday that the city should accept the SCV marker and made the motion to accept it.
“There is nothing from this marker of the SCV that is nasty, inflammatory,” he said. “I think we should be taking the opportunity to say, ‘Thank you.’”
Devine cast the sole vote against the resolution because of her experience with the previous lawsuit. She also wanted to give the Memorials Advisory Commission time to craft a policy first.
Moore said Friday that the commission has begun drafting a policy for the erection of monuments on city property. It will be forwarded to the council for consideration once it’s finished.
In the meantime, Nelson said he’s been in contact with the SCV since the meeting and that the group is willing to donate the marker.