Fredericksburg SCV Camp Goes To Court To Prevent Monument’s Move
By Scott C. Boyd
(April 2010 Civil War News)
FREDERICKSBURG, Va. – Last year, 148 years after the city council set aside land in the Potter’s Field to bury Confederate soldiers, a privately-funded monument to honor them was placed on nearby city property with the assistance of city officials.
Now the city council wants to move the monument. A lawsuit to prevent the city from doing so has survived its first court challenge.
Judge Gordon F. Willis on March 8 in Fredericksburg Circuit Court rejected the city’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Matthew Fontaine Maury Camp 1722, Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), to prevent the city from moving the monument that honors 51 Confederate soldiers who were buried in the unmarked downtown cemetery.
Before the campaign that culminated in the bloody Battle of Fredericksburg on Dec. 13, 1862, the city was uncomfortably close to the front lines between Union and Confederate forces in central Virginia.
Nominal Confederate forces garrisoned the area. Most casualties those forces suffered were from disease rather than enemy action.
Those dead garrison troops had to be buried somewhere. The minutes of the Fredericksburg City Council meeting on Nov. 1, 1861, record how a section of the city-owned Potter’s Field cemetery for indigents would be set aside “as a burying ground, exclusively for the remains of soldiers of the Army, and of such white persons, as their friends may wish to inter there.”
The Confederate section was equal to the cemetery’s length along Barton Street and ran back 100 feet from the street.
The parish register for nearby St. George’s Episcopal Church records the burials that the Rev. Beverly M. Randolph conducted for 51 Confederate soldiers from seven states in the public cemetery from Oct. 27, 1861, to March 19, 1862.
There is no record of the bodies being reinterred elsewhere, according to Roy B. Perry Jr., who led Camp 1722’s project to erect a monument to the men.
Perry said that wooden posts would probably have marked the graves. Over the decades they presumably deteriorated and were never replaced.
The burial ground is now partly covered by the parking lot in front of Maury Commons, an old school named for Camp 1722’s namesake and now luxury condos.
According to the complaint document Perry consulted with city officials in the summer of 2007 about the possible use of city property for the monument.
Senior city planner Erik F. Nelson worked with the city manager and with city councilman Matthew J. Kelly to respond to the SCV group’s request.
“The location for the monument at the intersection of Barton Street and George Street was established by the City in 2008,” according to the complaint. The address was given as 531 George St. and the property owner listed as the city.
The monument’s site was the corner of the same downtown traffic island as the huge, six-columned Fredericksburg Area War Memorial. This corner of the traffic island faces the original Confederate burial ground just yards away. The island also has smaller, older memorials to World War I and II.
The city waived the building permit fee. Perry received a building permit on Jan. 14, 2009, to place the footer, which was done on Feb. 21.
The monument, a 3-1/2-foot high granite block topped by a bronze plaque inscribed with the names of the 51 soldiers, was installed last April 16.
The dedication ceremony was held on April 18. The seven city council members received invitations delivered to city hall 10 days earlier. City police blocked several streets for a few hours to facilitate the ceremony. (See coverage in June 2009 CWN.)
Some local veterans were not pleased that the city allowed the Confederate monument to be placed on the same site as the Fredericksburg Area War Memorial.
That memorial, a 10-year project sponsored by the Fredericksburg Area Veterans’ Council (FAVC), was dedicated on Sept. 13, 2008, to local men and women who died during the conflicts of the 20th and 21st centuries.
“In my view, the monument is in the wrong place,” said David Ellis, a retired Air Force colonel and FAVC member.
“We wanted to make sure
Ironically, the Fredericksburg Area Veterans’ Council was formed in 1998 to prevent city removal of a neglected World War I monument, something the FAVC termed a “desecration,” according to an archived copy of a Web site for the group.
At the urging of the FAVC, the city council unanimously passed a resolution last Sept. 8 authorizing the city manager to execute a memorandum of understanding with the FAVC declaring the Fredericksburg War Memorial comprises the entire traffic island.
The memorandum specifically excluded the Confederate monument and stated without further elaboration that it would be “re-located off-site.”
Camp 1722 was not consulted while the city council debated the Confederate monument’s fate last August and September.
The prospect of the Confederate monument being moved is what triggered legal action by the camp, which filed suit on Nov. 19.
City Attorney Kathleen Dooley argued before the court on March 8 that only the city council could authorize the placement of the Confederate monument on city property, and that was not done.
“This is an unfortunate situation involving a group who dealt with city officials in good faith, but the officials were well outside the bounds of their authority” when they issued the building permit to Camp 1722, Dooley said.
Judge Willis clarified that if there were no authorization for that building permit, then the city would be allowed to move the monument. However, he did not rule on the matter.
After rejecting the city’s motion to dismiss the case, and just before adjourning, the judge suggested that both sides consider a Judicial Settlement Conference, a program through which parties meet with a retired judge to explore options for settling their disputes.