In painting of Confederate soldier, a Vermont artist portrayed dignity in defeat. Can we?

WEST WARDSBORO — I was recently in Washington, D.C. at the National Portrait Gallery. While walking through the various rooms I came across a painting, “Surrender of a Confederate Soldier,” by Vermont-born artist Julian Scott.

The placard read: “At the age of fifteen, Julian Scott lied about his age to enlist in the Union army. He rose from drummer boy to infantryman, and for his service he earned the Congressional Medal of Honor.”

“After his discharge he became an artist, initially focusing on images of heroic moments of sacrifice during the war. He painted this Confederate soldier with dignity. The raised white flag is simultaneously a surrender of the individual, his family, the Confederate cause, and the Southern way of life.

“The soldier's wife cradles their infant child, while the enslaved man with them looks away, perhaps envisioning the changes in his own future. Scott imbued this work with respect for his Confederate counterpart, sounding a hopeful note for the future.”

When I read this, I was reminded of the Nov. 19, 2021 article in the Brattleboro Reformer by Tristan Roberts about the Civil War monument on the Brattleboro Common. Mr. Roberts is attempting to teach his son about racism by placing “googly eyes” on the Union soldier, the Confederate soldier, and the newly freed slave.

It just seems to me that if Julian Scott, our Johnson, Vt., hero of the Civil War, who had personally felt the sting and horror of combat far from home for this most noble cause, can feel fit to extend to his defeated enemy dignity, then we can, too.

This is quite the contrast to Mr. Roberts, who would prefer that the Confederate soldier be “cowering at gunpoint.” It is very doubtful that statues like that would have helped to reunite the States.

I would like to remind people that there was an enemy in a more-recent war that was made to cower at gunpoint. That would be Germany after World War I. The draconian terms of surrender imposed upon Germany by the Allies were the seeds of World War II and the death of over 20 million people in Europe, including more than 100,000 American soldiers.

That being said, it is clear that the historical record of the brave soldiers from that era that fought for the Union cause from the Brattleboro area must be corrected to include their names on the monument.

It is as undeniable that progress in civil rights has been made since the Civil War as it is undeniable that much more must be done. Perhaps we must, as our Civil War hero and artist Julian Scott had done with his brilliant painting, look to the future.

And oh, yes: {lease leave the “googly eyes” at home in the arts and crafts box, where they belong.

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