James McMurtry

Wasteland Bait & Tackle: Statues

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By James McMurtry

Our President cares an awful lot about statues commemorating officers of the losing side of our civil war, a conflict that occurred before either side of his immigrant family reached our shores. He’s not known for admiring those he calls LOSERS!, and he has no roots in the conflict.

My father and I moved from Houston Texas to Loudoun County Virginia in 1969. My parents had been divorced for some years, but as luck would have it, earlier that year, my mother had secured a job teaching English Literature at Westhampton College, later folded into the University of Richmond, in Richmond Virginia. Leesburg, County seat of Loudoun County, had one of those generic statues of a brave young rebel infantryman on the courthouse lawn. Richmond, where I went to visit my mother every other weekend, had Monument Avenue, a street with statues at the end of every block. I was most fond of the statue of Jeb Stuart, because Stuart wore a cool wide brimmed hat and his horse was raring up. I think the horse with two feet off the ground meant Stuart had died in battle. Stonewall Jackson’s horse, “Traveler,” I think his name was, had one foot raised, signifying that Jackson had died of battle wounds. Robert E. Lee’s statue bored me, horse at a walk, all four feet on the ground. I had ridden from a young age and I knew my gaits. It never occurred to me to even ask why the losers of the war had been awarded posthumous monuments.

My father’s family left Missouri for Texas in the late nineteenth century, in part to get away from the violence on the fringes of the war, which in Missouri, continued for a while after Appomattox. They mostly favored the southern cause, but Missouri had many splintered factions and North/South affiliation often had little to do with who shot at whom. McMurtrys fared poorly. Some of them were shot up in guerrilla skirmishes. Some were shot up in family feuds. My Great Grandfather McMurtry was raised mostly by his maternal grandmother because both his father and paternal grandfather were shot dead in separate gunfights. At least that’s one of the stories my father tells.

Among my mother’s people there were regular soldiers on both sides of the conflict. They were all southern, but at least one, my great great grandfather (I might be one “great” shy, not sure) fought for the Union. His surname was DeLosier, I believe, and he was from the hills of East Tennessee. I don’t know that he was any less racist than any of my ancestors. He may have seen the conflict as a class war. Many hill southerners saw no reason to fight to help flat land cotton planters get any richer than they already were. I think I heard that West Virginia split off from old Virginia for that reason.

My mother says Mr. DeLosier was saved by an infection. He had been captured by Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Army of Tennessee and sent to some horrible prison camp in Mississippi, maybe Andersonville. Prisoner exchanges had been curtailed by then, because the rebels refused to trade black prisoners for their white officers. So the camps turned to hell for lack of provisions, prisoners digging worms for food if they could find worms. Mr. DeLosier was lucky in that he contracted a weird infection and the rebel doctors took notice. They wanted to study the infection, so they took him across the river to a hospital in Arkansas, where he was recovering when the war ended. He wasn’t yet well enough to travel, so he missed the steam boat that took the remaining survivors of his camp upriver a ways before the boiler blew up and sent the boat and all its passengers and crew to the bottom of the Mississippi. Mr. DeLosier was presumed dead, his transfer to the hospital having gone unrecorded. He made it back to East Tennessee after a while and found that his daughter had married a rebel’s son, hard not to do in that region, if a girl wished to marry. Mr. DeLosier never set foot in his daughter’s and son and law’s house. If he wanted to talk to his daughter, he would stand in the street and yell until she came out.

Mr. Trump’s people had no part in the civil war. His lineage doesn’t make him unfit to be President, his character and basic incompetence do that. But I must wonder why he reveres the rebels so much. Why must their statues stand where they offend so many? Why must we have military bases named after traitors? Why does Trump care so much for statues and so little for living Americans? We living Americans face the greatest health crisis of our time, and the President protects statues.

P.S. Regardless of when it was put there, that thing pictured hanging in Bubba Wallace’s garage is a noose. You don’t need thirteen wraps to make a loop for a pull rope.




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