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Lee monument dedicated

June 22, 2003|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

The last time Gen. Robert E. Lee came to Sharpsburg, the distant roar came from muskets and cannon.

This time, the noise was only thunder.

Civil War buffs huddled Saturday evening on the porch of the new Newcomer Museum on Md. 34 east of Sharpsburg to dedicate a controversial monument to the Confederate general. On a rise to the left of the building, the 24-foot statue of Lee astride his legendary mount, Traveller, cut a solitary figure in the rain.

"I wish we could have had a little better weather," said John Howard, superintendent of the Antietam National Battlefield. "But why should today be any different than any other day?"

The nasty weather was appropriate, Howard said, because "nothing about this has been easy."

Lothian, Md., resident William F. Chaney ran into difficulty almost from the time he purchased and restored the historic farmstead where the statue was erected. Local officials and historians objected to his use of the 18th-century Newcomer house as a museum and gift shop and to his plans to put up statues of Lee and other Confederate military leaders.

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Last December, the Washington County Historic District Commission voted 3-2 to deny Chaney permission to erect the Lee statue on the property.

But Chaney appealed the decision, and despite the soggy weather, reveled in the dedication ceremony.

"I feel good!" he said.

Sculptor Ron Moore of Mountain Home, Ark., said the bronze and granite statue weighed 2,200 pounds and took two years to complete. He couldn't yet say how the finished work affected him, he said, because it's too fresh.

"When you work on something a long time, you lose your perspective," he said. "I have to go away for a while and then look at it again in a year or so."

Visitors gathered to hear remarks from Chaney, Moore and former Maryland Transportation Secretary James Lighthizer, now president of the Civil War Preservation Trust. Confederate re-enactors - a color guard from the Maryland division of the Sons of the Confederacy - mingled among them.

"We started three years ago with the idea that restoring the farm would be a good idea," Chaney told the group.

Then he discovered that battlefield monuments dedicated to the Union outnumbered the Confederates by 99 to 3, he said, and he wanted to "even that up a little bit."

As to the contention that placing a statue of Lee on a portion of the battlefield held by the North was "historically incorrect," Chaney countered that Lee had ridden down that road before the battle.

Courting controversy may be a family trait.

Despite his impeccable personal reputation, Lee, a distant uncle to Chaney, sparked a little controversy himself. While historians say he despised both slavery and secession, he despised the thought of taking up arms against Virginia even more.

But "people after the war, North and South, admired and loved him," Chaney said.

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