Soldier Statue Has Lost Its Luster

The Confederate statue in Leesburg is showing signs of
The Confederate statue in Leesburg is showing signs of "bronze disease." (Larry Morris/twp - Twp)
By Lila de Tantillo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 8, 2005

For 97 years the bronze soldier known as "Loudoun's silent sentinel" has stood watch over the county courthouse as a monument to Civil War veterans. He stands more than six feet tall, rifle in hand, awaiting Union troops one season after another. But although the brim of the soldier's hat has protected his face from the worst of the elements, rough spots of green corrosion have gradually broken out on his legs and body.

Becky Fleming of Purcellville said the decay on the Loudoun Confederate monument fits the classic symptoms of "bronze disease." Fleming, as president of the Lee chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, is trying to raise $30,000 to diagnose and treat the problem.

"Many people think the green patina looks nice, but he shouldn't be green. He should be brown," said Fleming, 45, who joined the Daughters, an association of women with a Confederate soldier ancestor, two years ago. Her great-great-grandfather was Ellis Franklin Jarrell, a North Carolinian who fought in Loudoun County.

Fleming said the expertise of a certified conservator is needed to determine how to keep the decay from eating through the metal and creating cavities. Otherwise, she said, the community risks losing a symbol whose image appears on such local souvenirs as mugs, postcards and coasters, and has a special meaning both as a work of art and as part of Loudoun's history.

But Peter Burnett, a Leesburg lawyer and chairman of the Loudoun County Courthouse Facilities and Grounds Task Force, questions whether the green bumps are a threat.

"If you go to Rome, you'll see a lot of statues that way. In fact, D.C. has a lot like that," he said. "Many artists chose their material knowing full well this would happen."

Burnett said the intent of the artist in this case is unknown. The statue was erected in 1908 after a seven-year fundraising effort by the Daughters and several Confederate veterans. Loudoun County, which owns the monument, gave $500 toward what was at least a $3,000 statue. It was crafted by Frederick William Sievers, a relatively unknown artist who went on to create several famous sculptures, including monuments in Richmond to Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson and in Gettysburg, Pa., of Gen. Robert E. Lee.

The county government has agreed to contribute money toward an evaluation of the statue's condition. Burnett said the assessment would influence the county's decision.

In the meantime, the Daughters, along with the Clinton Hatcher Camp Sons of the Confederate Veterans, have raised about $4,000, mostly from chapter members and local businesses, including Kelly Insurance Agency in Leesburg, where Fleming is an office manager. She said the money would go toward a public awareness campaign such as a Civil War festival to raise money for restoration.

Fleming said there had been no public opposition to the fundraising efforts. She said, however, that the statue would be restored on the courthouse lawn rather than removed for work by the conservator. Removing it could prompt opposition to the statue being returned to public display, she said.

"These days and times, I don't know if some organization would come out of the woodwork and say it's politically incorrect" to place a statue on the courthouse lawn memorializing the Confederate army, Fleming said.

Burnett said that under Virginia law, the statue cannot be moved or altered.

The courthouse lawn also features memorials to veterans of World Wars I and II and the Korean and Vietnam wars. A separate campaign is raising money to build a statue on the grounds to honor Loudoun soldiers who fought in the American Revolution. Although the war never reached county soil, about 1,700 men from Loudoun, more than from any other Virginia county, joined militias on behalf of the Colonies.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company