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Erasing Confederate items from U.S. military will cost $62 million, panel says

The Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. (Calla Kessler/The Washington Post)
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Removing the last vestiges of Confederate history from the U.S. military, including renaming nine Army posts, will cost more than $62 million, a congressional commission said Tuesday.

The cost was summarized by the group tasked with a sweeping audit of the Defense Department to identify, rename, modify or remove assets that commemorate the battlefield exploits of those who fought during the Civil War to preserve slavery. There are 1,100 such items across the military, the commission found.

The project underscores how deeply rooted Confederate symbology is within the armed forces, a tradition-bound institution where some units still trace their lineage to key Confederate victories and commanders.

The nine installations to be renamed, all in former rebel states, have been a discussion point for years. But those talks reached a crescendo after the 2020 police murder of George Floyd, which prompted a vast reexamination of race and racism in the United States. The commission was created in the next year’s defense policy bill.

The commissioners said in a call with reporters that, at Arlington National Cemetery, they recommended removing a statue atop a Confederate monument that depicts enslaved people, strip its bronze and leave the granite base and foundation. The commission previously decided that Fort Belvoir in Virginia, named after an 18th-century plantation on the same grounds, was out of its purview, deferring to the Pentagon to decide whether it should be renamed.

Bases named for Confederates should honor women, minorities instead, panel says

While the commission made specific recommendations on what to rename the nine Army posts, it declined to select candidates for reflagging two naval ships, saying that should fall to the Navy secretary instead.

USS Chancellorsville, a guided-missile cruiser named for a significant victory under Robert E. Lee, once had pictures of Lee and Stonewall Jackson in the boardroom, said Ty Seidule, the commission’s co-chair and a retired one-star general.

The USNS Maury, an oceanographic survey ship, also should be renamed by the Navy secretary, the commission said. The vessel is named after Matthew Fontaine Maury, who resigned his U.S. Navy commission to join the Confederate sea service.

Fort Fisher Recreation Area in North Carolina, which is overseen by the Air Force, should be renamed, too, the commission said. Its name is derived from a Confederate fortification named for a soldier killed in 1861.

Why are some Army bases named for Confederates?

The many other items are relegated to military installations where few outsiders see them. For the base names, the changes will require a complete overhaul for items big and small, from signs outside the main gates to the stamps used to process paperwork for new and departing soldiers.

Some of the items, such as signs, may be absorbed into military museums, Seidule said, while others may be trashed.

“The Army or the military has a process for disposing of equipment,” he noted.

About one-third of estimated cost will be dedicated to base name changes, the commission said. The vast majority of the remaining cost, nearly $41 million, will address items found throughout the military. It will cost just under a half-million dollars to address Confederate items at the military academies at West Point and Annapolis, the commission said.

The name changes at the nine bases will mark the first time Army installations are named after women and Black soldiers rather than White men.

Last year, The Washington Post found that three National Guard units honored their Confederate heritage using radio call signs and slogans with Civil War significance. Some individual units made changes in the wake of Floyd’s murder while others said they would wait for the results of the commission’s work.

While the commission briefed its findings on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, the final part of its report will not be released publicly until it is delivered to lawmakers, said Stephen Baker, a commission spokesman. Final approval authority rests with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.