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County has a mixed record of honoring Confederacy

Memorial to Robert E. Lee was moved to the backyard of the Historic Courthouse in 2008. Memorial to Robert E. Lee was moved to the backyard of the Historic Courthouse in 2008.

Unlike many county seats in the South, Hendersonville does not have a Confederate monument that dominates its courthouse square. Few Southern towns have banished their Robert E. Lee memorial to a backyard corner of the public space, as Henderson County did seven years ago. And there can’t be many that display a monument to Union soldiers alongside one honoring the boys in gray.

Clearly, Henderson County’s relationship with the Civil War is more nuanced than that of many towns in the old Confederacy.
The violent protest and death of an anti-racism demonstrator in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend has cast Confederate monuments in Southern cities into the news. Since Charlottesville, protesters have toppled a Confederate monument in downtown Durham, defaced a statue of Robert E. Lee at Duke University and draped a black cover over Confederate soldier Silent Sam at UNC at Chapel Hill.
No one spoke about Confederate monuments at Wednesday’s regular meeting of the Board of Commissioners and no one has requested a place on the agenda to talk about the memorials, County Manager Steve Wyatt said.
“We have statues to both the Union and Confederate soldiers,” he said. “We’re in Western North Carolina. My mother’s folks fought for the Union. My Dad’s folks wore the gray.”
Any discussion to remove either Confederate monument would be academic because a state law enacted in 2015 bars local governments from scrapping monuments without approval of the Legislature.

Two legislators from Hendersonville said they’re hearing little comment about the issue from local constituents and don’t favor taking up legislation on the matter.

“I work on things that have some expectation that we would actually be taking action,” said Rep. Chuck McGrady, a high-ranking member of the House. “I have no expectation that my leadership or my colleagues have any interest in weighing in on this subject.”
“The majority of people from Henderson County went off to war on the Confederate side but some number of them were on the Union side. I mean, do we really have to fight these battles again?”
McGrady said he had gotten emails from organized groups — “mostly protect our monuments” but some from others who want Confederate monuments removed.
Sen. Chuck Edwards, who represents all of Henderson County and part of Buncombe County, also said he had heard from both sides.
“I have gotten quite a bit of feedback from folks that are frustrated with the damage done to public property in Durham,” he said, plus emails from people who want Confederate monuments taken down.
“I’m certainly not supportive of making any change” to the state law, he said. “I believe that monuments are intended to immortalize our history and help us recall the great things we’ve accomplished as well as the mistakes we’ve made. I think it would be an injustice to try to pretend that some of these mistakes didn’t happen.”
In a lengthy commentary his office released on Thursday Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger condemned the Charlottesville alt-right violence as “repulsive and horrific” and lamented the subsequent rioting and vandalism as “discouraging and sad.” He made it clear he was not ready to support repeal of the bill the Legislature passed overwhelmingly two years ago.
“Personally, I do not think an impulsive decision to pull down every Confederate monument in North Carolina is wise,” he said. “In my opinion, rewriting history is a fool’s errand, and those trying to rewrite history unfortunately are likely taking a first step toward repeating it. Two years ago, the state Senate unanimously passed a bill that tried to reduce the politics in making these decisions. I believe many current members of the Senate would be hesitant to begin erasing our state and country’s history by replacing that process with a unilateral removal of all monuments with no public discourse.”

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The courthouse square contains a granite obelisk honoring Confederate soldiers — one of nine war monuments that stretch from the Revolutionary War to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (See slideshow for images of all of them.)
The obelisk, inscribed “To the Confederate Soldier,” is next to a monument that’s also uncommon for many courthouse squares in the South. It honors Henderson County citizens who served in the Union Army “for the preservation of the United States of America.”
You can find the Gen. Lee memorial beneath the leafy canopy of a large hardwood tree on the southeastern corner of the Historic Courthouse but you’d have to be looking for it.
“Erected and dedicated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and Friends in Loving Memory of Robert E. Lee and to Mark the Route of the Dixie Highway,” the marker says below an oft-reproduced image of the uniformed Confederate leader astride a horse.
The monument was quietly moved to the back yard of the Historic Courthouse in 2008, and sits in obscurity under a large shade tree on Church Street at First Avenue West.
In his book “Measured in Blood,” which challenges the view that Union support in Henderson County was widespread, historian Terry Garren reported on a behind-the-scenes battle between the strong-willed historian George A. Jones and the Sons of Confederate Veterans on where the Confederate monument would sit when the renovated Historic Courthouse reopened in 2008.
Bill Moyer, then the chair of the Henderson County Board of Commissioners, brokered a compromise to move the Robert E. Lee memorial from the front of the Historic Courthouse to the back. Jones wanted to discard Gen. Lee entirely, Garren writes in “Measured in Blood.”
In an interview with the Hendersonville Lightning in December 2012, Jones steadfastly stood by his position.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans “wanted to put it in the middle of the sidewalk,” he said. “We wouldn’t do it. It’s that simple.”
The last time the Board of Commissioners took any action on the Confederate monument was in September 2012, during the Civil War sesquicentennial, when it unanimously approved a request from the George Mills Camp 70 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans to add an iron Southern Cross at the base of the obelisk.