Confederate Museum Ball Raises Some Hackles: Pride vs. Resentment in Richmond

By Cain, Andrew | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 23, 1996 | Go to article overview

Confederate Museum Ball Raises Some Hackles: Pride vs. Resentment in Richmond


Cain, Andrew, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


RICHMOND - Neil Stout will wear the gray dress uniform of a Confederate officer tomorrow night to honor his warrior ancestors, all to help preserve the heart of Richmond's history.

Putting on the Confederate gray "represents the sacrifice of Southern soldiers," Mr. Stout says. "I'm proud of my ancestors who served on both sides."

But the ball, sold out in the wake of the controversy, has ignited a debate over how a city in which more than half the residents are black should portray a tumultuous period of its history that some Richmonders associate with slavery.

This reading of history infuriates many residents, who note that few Confederate soldiers owned slaves - historians put the number at about 1 in 20 - and that Thomas Jefferson, the state's most celebrated son, owned slaves but Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, like most of the men in their armies, did not. And in any case, they say, honoring the Confederacy honors not slavery but the men who defended it against invasion from the north and the shared sacrifice of those at home.

"I think Richmond is struggling at its core with how we deal with our history," says Mr. Stout, 32, whose forbears from Vermont and North Carolina fought in both the blue and the gray.

The "Bonnie Blue Centennial Ball," named for one of the flags of the Confederacy, was planned to raise money for and attract new interest to the Museum of the Confederacy in honor of its 100th anniversary.

Some Richmonders, black and white, "feel it's insulting to continue to glorify the greatest period of dehumanization in America's history," says L. Douglas Wilder, Virginia's former governor, the first black person to be elected governor of any state.

Mr. Wilder's harsh denunciation of the city's Confederate heritage - he derided the "magnolia mentality" of ball-goers and likened the Confederates to "jackbooted Nazis" - surprised some of his friends, who recall that he made a point of retaining the paintings of Lee and Jackson in their traditional places on the walls of the governor's office.

The 500 tickets to the ball, priced at $40 per person or $75 per couple, sold out quickly after Mr. Wilder's remarks.

The Museum of the Confederacy opened Feb. 22, 1896, 34 years to the day after Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as president of the Confederate States of America in Richmond's Capitol Square.

The museum's displays include the plumed hat of cavalry commander J.E.B. Stuart, the "amputation kit" used to sever Jackson's left arm after he was shot at Chancellorsville, and the uniform coat and sword Lee wore when he surrendered at Appomattox Court House.

In addition to commemorating the museum's centennial, the ball - to be held in downtown Richmond at Tredegar Iron Works, which produced Confederate artillery and the iron plate for the warship Merrimack - was planned to encourage young professionals to contribute to the museum.

A fife and drum corps will play period tunes as guests nibble between war-era turns on the dance floor from a menu that includes smoked turkey, watermelon rind preserves, sweet-potato biscuits, black-eyed pea salsa, and oysters simmering in cast-iron chafers.

A Confederate re-enactment group will present the five flags of the Confederacy, including the familiar Stars and Bars.

Marc Ramsey, 47, a Pennsylvania native who runs a Richmond book store with his wife, Jill, will dress in the Confederate gray of his adopted state even though his great-great grandfather, Augustus Ferber, fought in the blue at Gettysburg.

"Not a one of us that I know saw the ball as any kind of celebration of all of the horrors of slavery," says Mr. …

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