George Washington Statue a Spoil of War
Below, Northern General Hunter alleged that Virginians were “disloyal,” yet he was the military emissary of a Northern regime which unconstitutionally formed a new political entity within Virginia without the consent of its people. The political malcontents who formed the illegal Wheeling cabal were guilty of treason against Virginia, as was John Brown. Had Virginian George Washington been alive, Hunter would have been in irons along with his master, Lincoln. It is again noteworthy that West Virginia entered the Northern Union as a slave State, the same Union which claimed to be waging a war of emancipation against slave-holding States.
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
George Washington Statue a Spoil of War:
“In 1856 the Virginia Assembly authorized $10,000 for a bronze copy of the [Jean Antoine] Houdon marble [statue] for V.M.I. William J. Hobard made two unsuccessful casts before a perfect likeness emerged from the mold. On July 23, 1856, Governor Henry A. Wise dedicated the statue with a lengthy address. During the oratory the corps of 134 cadets sweltered under the attention of Major Thomas J. Jackson, their instructor and future Confederate general. A standing order, August 30, 1856, directed “the Commandant of Cadets will see that a member of the guard is always on duty to protect the statue of Washington from abuse by strangers or others…”
In June 1864 Major General David Hunter marched South with 8,000 troops…Hunter’s artillery on Shaner’s Hill shelled the Institute [and] entered Lexington [June 11] to find the Institute and town intact, despite his orders to destroy all military installations…then ordered the burning of the school and Governor Letcher’s nearby home. The 18th Connecticut Regiment, bloodied by the V.M.I. Cadet Corps at New Market less than a month before, watched the fire enthusiastically. Two future presidents…marched past General Washington. They were Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes…and Lieutenant William McKinley…
General Hunter considered him a legitimate spoil of war, and intended to ship the statue to the US Military Academy at West Point. [Persuaded otherwise], Hunter directed “transfer this noble and historic work from the keeping of a disloyal people to the State of West Virginia to the State of West Virginia to which it properly belongs.”
On June 14 the Union army marched south after plundering Lexington and the Rockbridge countryside…[Washington’s] statue lay ignominiously in a supply wagon. On July 4 the Wheeling Daily Register reported “the statue of George Washington which was stolen at Lexington the other day will be place in the [Sanitary] Fair Building today.” The Democratic Daily Register…condemned Hunter for “a theft that nothing can palliate – disgraceful to the age and double to the country that will suffer such sacrilege to go unwhipped of justice.” On July 10 [Hunter ordered the] arrest of [the] owners of the Daily Register.
The [West Virginia] Legislature resolved on January 23 …”to turn over to the State of Virginia…the bronze statue of George Washington, formerly belonging to the State of Virginia.”
Wheeling [Radical Republican] Intelligencer editor Archibald Campbell fired a parting shot on June 26 . “The removal of the statue of George Washington was commenced yesterday. It will be moved to Lexington, Virginia, where R.E. Lee and the balance of the unreconstructed can look at it and pray for forgiveness.”
The re-inauguration of the statue at the Virginia Military Institute on September 10, 1866 [was attended by]…The cadet corps of 150 included some veterans of the New Market battle and the retreat from Lexington in 1864 [and] Robert E. Lee, president of nearby Washington College.”
(George Washington – Prisoner of War (edited), Emmett W. MacCorkle, Civil War Times, March, 1984, pp. 31-35)