Commemorating sacrifice, not cause

Thanks for the fair and balanced piece, providing a valuable start point for dialogue. It calls attention to the hazards of “painting all (memorials) with the same brush,” as the phrase goes. In that vein we have, on the one hand, the Lee statue of New Orleans — now removed — with the man facing defiantly northward, arms folded. Robert E. Lee had never set foot in Louisiana. Of another category altogether is the Washington, Va. monument commemorating the county’s war dead during the Civil War.

Frank Masi of Norfolk, a distant relative whose direct ancestors (like my own) emigrated from Italy to America in search of a better life, well over a century ago, would sign on with the Norfolk Blues Artillery, Grandy’s Battery, and fight with Mahone’s Brigade of Anderson’s Division, at Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg (encamped at the high school in late June 1863) during that war. I located his records in the Virginia State Library in Richmond some years ago, and to the end of the Civil War, and his parole, he signed his name “Cadet (a title of which he was evidently proud; the only he would ever have) F.J. Masi.” At Gettysburg his artillery battery supported the 7th Virginia Infantry comprised of quite a number of Rappahannock County soldiers under Heth’s Division, AP Hill’s Corps. Frank Masi was not a man of means, and died not long after the war of his wounds. (An uncle of his, a silversmith, designed the official U.S. Seal).

Masi resigned from West Point in 1861. By May, most of the Southern cadets were gone. Out of a total Corps of 278, there were 86 Southerners, of whom 65 resigned. They felt it was their duty, to do so, and fight for their native state — as he did — period. When I arrived in Washington, D.C., in 1994, one of the very first things we did was locate Frank Masi’s record at the Virginia State Library in Richmond.

The monument outside the Rappahannock County Courthouse memorializing the county’s Civil War dead from the Confederate side commemorates for me, as for others, service and sacrifice — neither of which were for fame, nor riches, nor loyalty to the causes that tore the country apart, but for the sake of duty. Period. And the same can be said for most if not all American war memorials commemorating the dead.

As an aside, West Point produced 445 Civil War generals, and 294 fought for the Union and 151 for the Confederacy. Most were on active duty with the U.S. Army when the war began. The side those officers chose, with some exceptions, was driven largely by their state of residence. As for the soldiers themselves, they had no say whatsoever, with respect to whose side they would choose, with some 500,000 of over 2 million Union soldiers coming directly from Europe, and conscripted as a condition for immigration; the final point being, ideology, or cause, is not what we commemorate — but service and sacrifice, instead.

Ralph Masi

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