Whatever Happened to ... the statue of Gen. Lee at Antietam


A statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee statue that was erected on private land became the property of the National Park Service when it acquired the land in 2005. (Katherine Frey/THE WASHINGTON POST)

The statue has not budged. And perhaps it never will. But it’s also just as likely that the likeness of Civil War Gen. Robert E. Lee that stands at Antietam National Battlefield will someday cause another fuss like the one that attended its creation.

More than a decade ago, William F. Chaney, an Anne Arundel millionaire, riled people on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line with plans to erect a giant monument to the Confederate general on privately owned land next to Antietam National Battlefield, the place where more Americans died in a single day of bloodshed than ever before or since.

Chaney, a Lothian resident who is very proud of his Southern heritage and claims distant family ties to Lee, said he wanted to even things up, what with dozens of Union monuments on the battlefield and scarcely any honoring Confederates who fell there.

So Chaney outbid the National Park Service for the historic Newcomer Farm and commissioned a 24-foot statue depicting the Army of Northern Virginia commander astride his horse Traveller, binoculars in hand, atop a granite base.

Some people objected to the scale of the monument and others to the symbolism of honoring a man who took up arms against his own government in a war that was very much about the injustice of slavery. Historians said the statue wasn’t quite accurate, either: Lee had injured his wrists at the time of the September 1862 battle and moved around in an ambulance.


This story was featured in The Washington Post Magazine’s Civil War issue. (Illustration by Nancy Harris Rouemy/Go for It Design Ltd.)

But, like Lee — who fought to a draw at Antietam, though outnumbered 2 to 1 — the statue stood its ground.

Then the National Park Service acquired the land and its statue in 2005. Rumors flew that the U.S. government might raze or move the statue, and many members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans were roused to action.

But there were never plans to remove the statue then, and there are none now, acting park superintendent Ed Wenschhof said recently.

This was reassuring to Brag Bowling, the former Army of Northern Virginia commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, but he still sounded wary. “There are people who will do anything to keep a Confederate monument from being put on national land,” said Bowling, an Arlington native who now lives in Richmond.

As for Chaney, he said recently that the last time he heard any fuss about a Civil War statue was during a visit to another Civil War battlefield up the road.

“At Gettysburg, I had one woman who said to me, ‘I don’t understand how they fought this battle with all these statues here,’ ” Chaney said.

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