The neo-Confederate “Talbot Boys” statue in front of the Talbot County courthouse in Easton, Md., was dedicated in 1916, a half-century after Lee’s surrender to Grant and in the middle of the virulent Jim Crow era.
Atop its granite pedestal, the statue depicts a young Caucasian soldier with “C.S.A.” on his belt buckle. With truculence, he grips a battle flag that’s clearly the secessionist Stars-and-Bars. The pedestal proclaims, “To the Talbot Boys / 1861-1865 / C.S.A.,” and memorializes local men who enlisted in the Confederate army to defend slavery.
It’s just one of many such statues erected in the early 1900s to glorify the Confederacy 50 years after Appomattox. Manufactured by the W.H. Mullins Co. of Salem, Ohio. Easton’s statue had an identical, Mullins-made twin in Lake Charles, La., until that one toppled during a hurricane. That twin of Talbot’s was entitled “The South’s Defenders,” leaving no doubt as to the fervent intent of the Louisianans who put it up.
As the banner at the Juneteenth demonstration at the Easton courthouse succinctly stated, the Talbot Boys were “TRAITORS TO OUR NATION.” American citizens all, they volunteered to fight for the Confederate States of America against the United States of America. They betrayed our nation, pure and simple.
Local apologists for their county’s testimonial to white supremacy and chattel slavery are quick to fire up the gas lamps. You just don’t understand, they say. You just haven’t been taught the true history of this statue. You need an explanation.
They claim that in 1913, a second monument was also planned to honor the Talbot citizens who were loyal to their nation and who fought for the Union. But, they say, funds for this were never raised. They also claim they want to now build a pro-Union monument and erect it on the courthouse grounds, as if so doing would somehow achieve moral equivalency between the CSA and the USA, between slavery and freedom.
Local apologists also propose that a county-wide referendum should be conducted, as if a majority vote to preserve the monument would magically render the South’s slavery and the Confederacy’s treason somehow moral and righteous.
Citing the ACLU’s current lawsuit to have the statue removed, apologists even raise this phantasmic boogeyman, that a “national pressure group will come in to take over local government.” What nonsense!
Our nation is 21 years into the 21st Century. We are past 200 years of slavery and past 100 years of racial segregation. Many Americans are taking steps to ensure our nation doesn’t return to those eras, but instead moves forward to forge a new one. No longer a Black versus White argument, the new civil rights movement has clearly become Blacks-and-Whites-together against those Whites who just don’t want to listen.
Millions of Americans have family going back to the Civil War era. Many have forebears who fought in the war. I am one; two great-great uncles of mine served in the Union Army.
A traitor from Talbot County could have taken aim many times at Capt. May Stacey, at Gaines Mills, or Antietam, or Spotsylvania Courthouse, or Five Forks. My Uncle May’s war diary and letters have been passed down; he fought as a U.S. regular in those battles and others, and by luck and pluck survived the war.
And Lt. Col. Joseph Curtis’ voluminous letters to his mother, Julia Bowen Curtis, my great-great grandmother, have also been preserved. Uncle Joe led his Rhode Island troops in battle at Roanoke Island and at Antietam. It could have been a traitor from Talbot County who shot him off his horse, dead as he rallied his troops through Fredericksburg.
Talbot County’s controversy over its rebel statue is part of the national debate over Confederate relics, a war which the “Lost Cause” is clearly losing again. Monuments such as the Talbot Boys are being removed, one by one, state after state, including Maryland.
State flags have been altered to excise the “Stars and Bars” motif, and schools, streets, and military bases are being renamed. This past winter, Maryland’s General Assembly voted to deep-six “Maryland, My Maryland” as the state song (it attacked Abe Lincoln). Governor Hogan has signed it.
In support of removing the Talbot Boys statue, Maryland’s Sen. Chris J. Van Hollen said, “We have an obligation to build a more perfect union, not honor those who fought to dissolve it.”
Easton’s courthouse lawn — which once served as an auction pen for enslaved people — may soon witness the decamping of the Talbot Boys.
Gren Whitman has been a leader in neighborhood, umbrella, public interest, and political groups and committees, and worked for civil rights and anti-war organizations. He is now retired and lives in Rock Hall, MD.