“Security guards were hired this week to watch over the federal monument and cemetery of Confederate dead near Point Lookout State Park. Those buried in the mass grave have been deceased for more than 150 years.
In addition, an online link to a private park commemorating the Confederacy, near the entrance to the park in Scotland, was removed from the St. Mary’s County tourism website this week, upon the request of a citizen, without the county commissioners’ knowing about it.
When the commissioners learned that the online page for the private park was taken down, the board instructed staff to put it back up on late Wednesday.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said it hired the local security firm Spaulding Security and Investigation to guard over the Point Lookout Confederate Cemetery this week.
The VA did not respond by deadline on Thursday to say how long security would be needed at the cemetery, or how much the service is costing.
St. Mary’s County Commissioner John O’Connor (R) said of the need for security at the cemetery, “I think it’s a sad state of affairs that we’re in that we’ve lost all civility to the point where we have to have security over monuments and graveyards, and that we’ve sunk so low that we’re removing Asian sportscasters because his name is Robert Lee,” referring to an on-air personnel change made by ESPN, which reassigned a broadcaster from working an upcoming University of Virginia football game in Charlottesville.
“That’s sad,” O’Connor said.
Joe Anderson, a former St. Mary’s County commissioner and chairman of the board of governors for the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center, sent an email to the St. Mary’s County
Department of Economic Development on Aug. 18 to request that its tourism website remove mention of the private Confederate Memorial Park.
“Given the terrible turn of events in our country over the last week, I don’t think anything more need[s] to be said,” Anderson wrote.
Anderson cited a post from Facebook that said, “I know that since the actual ‘Confederate Memorial Park’ is private property, not much can be done to remove it … but who can we talk to for it to be taken off of the St. Mary’s County tourism website?”
The privately maintained Confederate Memorial Park has a statue in the center of it of a Rebel soldier. The park is at the corner of Route 5 and Scotland Beach Road, owned by Confederate
Memorial Park Inc. with a mailing address in Friendswood, Texas. The 2-acre property was purchased in 2003 for $30,000. The park includes flags of the states that seceded from the Union in the
Civil War, and was dedicated in 2008.
Adjacent to that property is a 1-acre site owned by the United States government, with federal and state monuments to those Confederates who died at Point Lookout, which was a prisoner of war camp during the Civil War.
Between 1863 and 1865, more than 50,000 Confederate prisoners passed through Camp Hoffman at Point Lookout. Approximately 4,000 died there, but the federal monument lists the names of 3,382
Confederate soldiers and sailors and 44 civilians.
The site, which is home to the unmarked remains of the Confederate dead, is overseen by Baltimore National Cemetery. The site also is home to a state-erected, 25-foot obelisk to the
Confederate dead. That state monument was dedicated on July 4, 1876, on the edge of Tanner Creek, where the mass grave had been moved to in 1870 because of erosion from the Chesapeake Bay at the original site at Point Lookout.
David Lewis of North Carolina came to the Point Lookout Confederate Cemetery on Wednesday afternoon for the first time, looking for the name of his great-grandfather, Alexander Martin. Lewis learned from his family that his great-grandfather was drafted to fight in the Civil War and died at Point Lookout, but Lewis was disappointed that he couldn’t find his great-grandfather’s name on the obelisk. Noting the swarms of mosquitoes around the cemetery now, Lewis said it’s hard to imagine the conditions people lived through in the camp more than 150 years ago.
“That’s part of my heritage,” Lewis said, noting he lives close to Duke University, in Durham, N.C., where a damaged statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was recently removed from the entrance to Duke Chapel. “But I might feel differently if I were a descendant of a slave,” he said.
Lewis came to Southern Maryland on a business trip, and Jeff Guy of Clements took him to see the cemetery. “Just leave it alone,” Guy said of the controversies around the Confederate past.
“You can change the future, but you can’t change the past,” he said.
The federal 80-foot obelisk was completed in 1911 for $20,000 at the present-day site. The 25-foot state obelisk from 1876 was moved over to the federal monument site in 1938.
The remains of the Confederates were moved three times because of the threat from erosion before they came to their final resting place at the federal monument.
In response to removing the website reference to the private Confederate Memorial Park, O’Connor responded to Anderson in an email. “For me it is a matter of where do we draw the line in pacifying the feelings of groups of people and attempting to abolish our nation[‘]s history. It is a very fine line. We as a people can not just simply accept the history that makes us feel warm and fuzzy,” O’Connor said.
“It’s my personal opinion that if we are to remove the listing from the St. Mary’s County website of a monument to fallen soldiers then we would have to examine all museums and historic sites in the county for removal. Should we remove Historic St. Mary’s City from our website? What about [Sotterley] Plantation, St. Clement’s Island, or the African-American Civil War Memorial? (I am not advocating this),” O’Connor wrote.
“I have personally seen, first hand, a nation’s people destroy and remove its history during my service in the military. I watched in Kosovo and Iraq as monuments were destroyed, Christian statues destroyed, mosques destroyed, historical landmarks were blown up by radicals. All of this in an attempt to rewrite history, and/or remove pieces of history so the next generation would not know what happened,” he wrote.
The statue of a Confederate prisoner of war at the private Confederate Memorial Park was vandalized in September 2012, and the case was referred to the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office.
In 1870 at the original burial plot at Point Lookout, “some un-Christian hand” removed the surrounding fence and lit a fire which nearly burned away the markers, the St. Mary’s Beacon newspaper reported on July 21 of that year.”