Atlanta has removed its Confederate monuments. Richmond has removed its Confederate monuments. Birmingham has removed its Confederate monuments. New Orleans has removed its Confederate monuments.
It’s time for Victoria to do the same.
“The Last Stand,” a bronze statue of an idealized Confederate soldier, sculpted by Pompeo Coppini, looms over the southeast corner of De Leon Plaza. The city dedicated the memorial on July 10, 1912. Thousands attended the ceremony. Decorated automobiles paraded. Organizers prepared a massive barbecue. A brass band played for the crowd.
The mayor and other prominent Victorians gave speeches. Minni Pridham, president of the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, praised “Coppinni’s comprehensive and sympathetic conception of the glory and loftiness of the Confederate cause.” Another speaker likewise praised “The Last Stand” for symbolizing Confederate soldiers’ “undying love for the glorious flag that is furled and the sacred cause it represents.”
In its “Declaration of Causes,” Texas explained that it seceded from the United States because the country had turned upon the South by “proclaiming the debasing doctrine of the equality of all men, irrespective of race or color – a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of the Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and the negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States.” Out with “All men are created equal.” Instead, Texas proclaimed, “the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race … that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race.”
General Felix H. Robertson, commander of the Texas Confederate Veterans Association, spoke at the dedication of “The Last Stand.” Robertson had, in the aftermath of the 1864 Battle of Saltville, allowed his Confederate troops to slaughter as many as 50 wounded black soldiers who lay on the battlefield and in hospital beds. He bragged the next day to a Kentucky Cavalry officer that “he had killed nearly all the Negroes.” Forty-eight years later, Robertson came to Victoria to dedicate the monument. “That statue will withstand the ages and will tell in bronze the thrilling stories of the ‘60s to our ‘children’s children,’” he told the crowd.
But what stories?
Robertson didn’t mince words. “After all the whys and wherefores are weighed the ultimate cause of the war was the race question, and the boys in grey fought valiantly to make this what it is – A White Man’s Country.”
The Victoria Advocate said the speeches made that day were “among the finest utterances ever heard in Victoria.”
Few Victorians give the statue much thought today. Most visitors to De Leon Plaza probably ignore it. But monuments such as “The Last Stand” signify a community’s values and beliefs. Those who dedicated our monument knew that. And they were clear about what statement our monument was intended to make, and what cause it was meant to defend.
Calls to take down Confederate monuments are often met with protests of “historical revisionism” or defenses of “heritage.” But declaring our monument a memorial to white supremacy is instead only to take the words of the men and women who dedicated it at face value. The Victorians who gathered in 1912 to dedicate “The Last Stand” were clear about what the statue symbolized: the “sacred cause” of establishing “a white man’s country.”
As professional historians trained in the history of the U.S. South, and as proud residents of this city, we recommend that Victoria follow its southern sister cities and immediately remove “The Last Stand” from De Leon Plaza, and deposit it for historical contemplation – with proper contextualization – in a local historical institution, such as the Museum of the Coastal Bend or the UHV Regional History Center.
In 1912, Victorians dedicated a monument to white supremacy.
In 2020, we can rectify that mistake.