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Opinions vary on plans for statues

December 27, 1999|By BRENDAN KIRBY

SHARPSBURG - While local preservations Monday praised a Civil War buff's efforts to restore an ante-bellum farm near Antietam National Battlefield, some questioned his plan to erect statues of three Confederate generals.

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William F. Chaney, who lives in Anne Arundel County, Md., bought the 101-acre property in February and has hired a sculptor to work on a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Including the concrete base, the statue will be about 30 feet high.

Chaney, 53, said the project will probably take a year and a half. Smaller statues of J.E.B. Stuart and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson will follow. He said he is confident he can raise the $1 million that the entire project will cost.

"All three of those gentlemen were at the battle, and what I consider the turning point of the war," said Chaney, who traces his lineage back to Lee. "Those three certainly made a great contribution to the battle."

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Although he has not determined an exact spot for the monuments, Chaney said they probably will be built in the southwestern corner of the property where Richardson Avenue meets Shepherdstown Pike.

The plan puts some battlefield purists in an awkward position, however. While they laud Chaney for taking responsibility for an important piece of the battlefield, they said his plan for the monuments is a backdoor way to avoid the National Park Service's moratorium on new monuments.

"We think it sets a bad precedent. We think it leads to more degradation of the battlefield," said Tom Clemens, president of the Save Historic Antietam Foundation, which tried to secure funds for the farm's purchase. "Then what do you have? You have a marble forest."

The vast majority of the 104 monuments on the 3,245-acre battlefield were erected shortly after the Civil War by veterans of the battle. Clemens and other historians believe new memorials would spoil the site.

The National Park Service decided to close the battlefield to new monuments in the early 1990s but made an exception for a memorial to the famed Irish Brigade because permission had been granted earlier. That memorial was dedicated about two years ago.

Such restrictions would not apply to Chaney.

"It's his land, and I don't think there's probably too much we could do about it," said Dave Blackburn, the battlefield's administrative officer.

Chaney's farm straddles Shepherdstown Pike and is bordered on the east by Antietam Creek and on the west by Richardson and Rodman avenues.

The National Park Service expressed interest in the land but is restricted from spending more than 5 percent above the appraised value, Clemens said. Chaney spent about $290,000.

Local Civil War historian Dennis E. Frye said the statues would be a "major intrusion on the historical environment."

"I think it's a waste of money," he said. "We don't need 21st century people building memorials to 19th century icons. The battlefield, itself, is the best memorial to any men who fought there."

Chaney said he has consulted park Superintendent John W. Howard and has given the Park Service scale drawings of the statues, which would feature the Southern heroes on their horses.

Chaney said he merely wants to honor the Confederates, who currently have only two monuments in their honor at Antietam. He said he was unaware of opposition from some preservationists.

"I consider myself a purist," he said.

Chaney's farm sits next to what in 1862 was the Middle Bridge, one of three bridges used by Union forces.

Ted Alexander, the park's historian, said the area was used by Union cavalry and 5th Corps, which pressed against elements of Lee's army about a mile away where the national and Sharpsburg cemeteries are now.

The area, which was "no-man's land" for most of the battle, is close to the famed Bloody Lane, where some of the heaviest fighting occurred, Alexander said.

But the South never held the territory, and for that reason, some historians consider it inaccurate to place Confederate statues on the land.

"That's not the Confederate part of the battlefield. It would give people the wrong impression," Frye said.

Chaney brushed those concerns aside. He said that would be like thinking Abraham Lincoln sat at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

"Give me a break," he said. "People can be picky about anything."

Even Chaney's critics, however, credit him with restoring a farmhouse that sits on the farm.

The building has a new coat of white paint and Chaney said he has stabilized the foundation. He said he plans to turn it into a museum featuring items from his private collection of Civil War artifacts.

Chaney said he will next turn his attention to a crumbling barn on the other side of Shepherdstown Pike.

"We've got to get it back. It's a beautiful barn," he said. "I'm surprised it's lasted as long as it has."

Chaney said he was interested in buying land near the battlefield and called a Washington County Realtor. He said his first desire was to preserve the land and that he did not come up with the idea for the statues until after he bought it.

"The location was so perfect," he said.

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