Seven days, two months and 134 years after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union forces, his army is on the march again. But now his troops are fighting by phone, fax and e-mail. And this time, the rebels just might win.
The fracas here in the capital of the old Confederacy is over the giant picture of Lee that was hung from a downtown flood wall, then quickly removed after protests from African American leaders.
The picture was to be part of a larger "rotating gallery" of images at Richmond's new Canal Walk, a history-themed park that city leaders hope will spur the downtown's renewal. Instead, the fight revealed a city still at war over the past.
That was two weeks ago. And passions are still running high as civic leaders begin inching gingerly toward returning the picture -- or some compromise version of it -- to the flood wall. A 19-member, multiracial committee stocked with ministers, politicians and bigwigs from some of Richmond's largest businesses is meeting privately in search of a solution.
The latest proposal from City Council member Sa'ad El-Amin, whose objections and threatened boycott of the Canal Walk started the fight, is this: Lee's picture can return if the image is of the general at Appomattox Court House, surrendering to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.
Such a picture, El-Amin said, would symbolize that "the attempt by the Confederates to enslave African Americans was thwarted."
It is not a suggestion that sits well with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the most vocal of the pro-Lee groups.
"That did not happen in Richmond," said Collin Pulley, chief of Heritage Defense. "It has nothing to do with the defense of Richmond. That would not be appropriate."
The pro-Lee groups, which have called for a boycott of Canal Walk, are holding out for the return of the original portrait, showing Lee looking dour but unbowed. There are angry letters and hurt feelings all around.
Confederate Web sites have devoted cyber pages to the issue. The United Daughters of the Confederacy, based in Richmond, has a speech posted on its Web site decrying the removal of Lee's portrait as an affront to "Confederate-Americans." It declares they "will see that the Confederacy lives forever. It lives not only in the hearts of our members, but in the hearts of millions of Americans. And the more you try to suppress us, the more determined we become."
The Sons of Confederate Veterans have run a full-page ad in the Richmond Times-Dispatch urging Lee's return and saying: "Lee was a man of duty, principle and integrity. He chose to defend his homeland rather than lead forces against it. He felt malice toward no one and was the embodiment of post-war reconciliation."
Lee backers have filled newspaper mailbags with letters to the editor. And 200 e-mails, almost all pro-Lee, have reached Richmond Mayor Tim Kaine. He said most are from addresses outside the city, but the issue remains the talk of the town here.
"I think we're a community in search of equipoise on the role the Civil War plays in the city's history," said Kaine, a member of the committee. "If it was just a matter of the past, I think people would just not care."
Other images on the original display included black soldiers from World War I, a picture of Richmond burning as Confederate forces evacuated and Powhatan, legendary chief of a local Indian tribe. The theme was Richmond at war. And despite this effort at political correctness, war was the result.
Lurking just below the surface is Richmond's painful racial legacy. It was long a slave port and leading city of the South. And for a century after the Civil War, Richmond remained segregated. Even now, many here contend, the old legal divisions have been replaced by economic and social ones. Most neighborhoods are considered either "black" or "white."
Demographic shifts have left Richmond a majority-black city, but it's also the home to what may be the nation's densest concentration of Confederate monuments and other images. There's a Robert E. Lee bridge, school and statues. And Richmond also is a mecca for confederate devotees who contend the Civil War had little or nothing to do with slavery.
"There's some people who refuse to accept the fact that the war was lost," said former governor L. Douglas Wilder, who grew up in segregated Richmond and became the nation's first African American elected governor. "What purpose is served by continuing to flaunt those images?"
But to show just how complex the issue becomes, Wilder very publicly saluted a Confederate flag at the opening of the Canal Walk. He favors Lee's return to the flood wall but only "with equity, with balance, with parity."
Such is the task of the 19-member committee, which met Monday morning and has no apparent plans to debate the issue in public. It is so sensitive that some members of the committee were reluctant to discuss their feelings with a newspaper reporter who called.
Whatever the committee decides -- Lee, no Lee or some compromise -- expect more public consternation with the issue Richmonders love to hate to talk about.
"We need to vent in Richmond," said state Del. Viola O. Baskerville (D-Richmond), a member of the committee. "We apparently still have issues below the surface that haven't healed."
CAPTION: A portrait of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was removed from a new Richmond display after protests from African American leaders.
CAPTION: Kenny Britton, left, and Jim Campbell, right, join others at Canal Walk in Richmond to protest removal of a portrait of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
CAPTION: City Council member Sa'ad El-Amin objected to the display.
CAPTION: The portrait of Lee was affixed to a flood wall along the new Canal Walk. The debate has resurrected some of the city's racial tension.