Will USS Chancellorsville Keep Its Civil War Battle Name?

rebel names.jpg

A federal commission reviewing Confederate symbols on US military property recommended that the Confederate Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery be torn down and two Navy ships be renamed, including the USS Chancellorsville. Photo by Arlington National Cemetery. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joseph M. Buliavac.

Photo by Arlington National Cemetery. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joseph M. Buliavac.

One of the Navy’s most advanced warships may need a new name, and a 32-foot Civil War memorial statue at Arlington National Cemetery could soon be removed under recommendations made by the federal committee charged with finding pro-Confederacy memorabilia and names in the Defense Department.

The same federal board, known as the Naming Commission, recommended changing the names of nine Army bases earlier this year, all named after generals in the Confederate army.

The commission announced Tuesday, Sept. 13, that it will recommend to Congress that two current Navy ships be renamed. Both were christened with pro-Confederacy names. The USS Chancellorsville, a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser commissioned in 1989, was named after the Confederate army’s victory at Chancellorsville, Virginia. In a weeklong campaign there in 1863, Gen. Robert E. Lee’s forces won a decisive series of battles that ended in more than 17,000 Union casualties and 12,000 Confederate casualties, including the death of Lt. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

USS Chancellorsville

The USS Chancellorsville arrives at Commander Fleet Activities Yokosuka in Japan. US Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Peter Burghart.

US Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Peter Burghart.

The commission also cited the USNS Maury, a Pathfinder-class survey ship, named for Confederate officer Matthew Maury. Maury, whose scientific work led to him being referred to as the “Father of Modern Oceanography and Naval Meteorology,” resigned his commission in the US Navy at the beginning of the Civil War, trading it for one in the Confederacy.

The decision to rename a ship legally sits with the Secretary of the Navy, Carlos Del Toro, though Republican members of Congress have said in the past that they would pursue legislation to give Congress a say in names as well. A Navy spokesperson did not say whether Del Toro was likely to act on the two names, saying only that no new names were yet picked.

“Secretary Del Toro appreciates the Commission’s work on this effort and has not yet decided on new names for the ships,” said the spokesperson.

USNS Maury

The USNS Maury passes the Statue of Liberty on the way into port as part of Fleet Week New York in 2018. US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Annika Moody.

US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Annika Moody.

The Navy’s ship naming process begins with the the Naval History and Heritage Command, which develops a list of names and forwards them to the chief of naval operations, or CNO, the service’s top admiral. The CNO then sends his recommendations to the secretary of the Navy.

The commission, which has already provided recommendations for renaming military installations such as Fort Bragg, is tasked with identifying Confederate names, monuments, and other symbols from Department of Defense property.

The latest recommendations will be included in Part III of a report the commission will submit to Congress in October. Part I addressed the names of Army bases like Bragg and Polk, named for Confederate generals. Part II addressed names and memorabilia at the US naval and military academies.

The commission also recommended the removal of the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. The monument, which dates to 1914, sits at the center of a section dedicated to Confederate dead. About 400 Confederate soldiers are buried at Arlington, according to the cemetery’s website.

Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery

Officials at Arlington National Cemetery say the Confederate Memorial, which features 32 figures, presents “a nostalgic, mythologized vision of the Confederacy, including highly sanitized depictions of slavery.” Arlington National Cemetery photo.

Arlington National Cemetery photo.

The memorial was designed by sculptor Moses Jacob Ezekiel, a Confederate veteran. The Arlington National Cemetery’s website says the memorial presents “a nostalgic, mythologized vision of the Confederacy, including highly sanitized depictions of slavery.” At 32 feet, it is as tall as the figures in the more famous Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington. It depicts 32 figures of gods, Confederate soldiers and civilians, and Black slaves, and is topped with “a bronze, classical female figure, crowned with olive leaves, [who] represents the American South. She holds a laurel wreath, a plow stock and a pruning hook, with a Biblical inscription at her feet: ‘They have beat their swords into plough-shares and their spears into pruning hooks.’”

The only two Black figures on the memorial, according to Arlington, are “an enslaved woman depicted as a ‘Mammy,’ holding the infant child of a white officer, and an enslaved man following his owner to war.”

The commission drew criticism for its depiction in Part II of artwork at West Point depicting a Ku Klux Klan member. Although the Naming Commission felt the plaque fell out of its purview, it recommended that the Department of Defense “address” the issue. “There are clearly ties in the KKK to the Confederacy. The Commission encourages the Secretary of Defense to address DoD assets that highlight the KKK,” the commission’s report says. The plaque, part of a sweeping brass mural named The History of the United States of America, appears to reference the KKK as a historical wrong. The artist who created the mural left notes with West Point that refer to the Klan as “an organization of white people who hid their criminal activities behind a mask and sheet.”

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Tom Wyatt is an intern at Coffee or Die Magazine. He is an active duty Naval Special Warfare Boat Operator and a proud father living in San Diego, California. Tom is a budding reporter, looking to pursue journalism and fiction writing upon exiting the Navy.
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