“And the Horse You Rode In On”: The Cancel Culture Comes for Robert E. Lee’s Horse

Yesterday, I posted a critical tweet about Washington and Lee University removing a plaque referring to the horse of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Traveller is one of the more famous horses in military history, an iconic animal associated with the Civil War. My tweet led to a few people objecting that Traveller had to go due to his association with the confederacy.

For years, a controversy has raged over the removal of historic statues and memorials from figures ranging from Lee to Columbus to Lincoln. Back in 2018, I was part of a discussion at the National Archives on the issue. Yet, there is little tolerance for any debate on campuses or even the suggestion that it is possible to preserve controversial historical pieces while learning from them. The same controversy has raged in other countries. Other universities from University of North Carolina to Notre Dame to Wisconsin have faced protests.  The ever lengthening list covers pioneer figures to William McKinley to Mission Bells.

I am not an absolutist on the question and have supported the removal of some statues.  However, I admit that my natural default is to preserve controversial memorials with the option of adding material to put the displays in a historical context.

The Board pushed back on the criticism and stated that the “campus is neither a museum nor an appropriate repository for Confederate artifacts.”

Perhaps this small squabble over a marker to a horse can offer an opportunity for a civil and substantive debate. Indeed, it would have been an educational opportunity for Washington & Lee University to hold a discussion or debate with a broader array of voices before ordering the changes.

In this case, the University (which is partially named for Robert E. Lee) removed a plaque to Traveller, who is buried on campus. The plaque read: The last home of Traveller. Through war and peace the faithful, devoted and beloved horse of General Robert Lee. Placed by the Virginia Division, United Daughters of the Confederacy.”

The Civil War is a major part of our history and Washington & Lee University is a prominent part of that history. The preserving of such memorials allows for the public to see the full historical continuum, including the painful chapters in that history.

For the public, and particularly for Civil War buffs, visiting such sites can offer a sense of authenticity and continuity to history. Universities have the added burden to not just preserve as much of this history as possible, but to place that history in a proper context. It can never be forgotten that Lee fought for the South in a struggle against slavery. The stain of slavery in our history is indelible and painful for all of us.

However, we can reflect that contextual history and preserve the history . . . and spare the horse.

70 thoughts on ““And the Horse You Rode In On”: The Cancel Culture Comes for Robert E. Lee’s Horse”

    1. Mr. Neale,

      “Obviously, I know that will not happen, because you are a committed Leftist. Therefore, Mr. McAlevey, do your damn job and fire President Dudley. ”

      Leftists live in a world of dreams and cannot work toward a realistic future. As you recognize, the educated leftist mindset destroys while those uneducated do the dirty work burning and killing.

      Thanks for being one of the few to act rather than complain.

  1. My tweet led to a few people objecting that Traveller had to go due to his association with the confederacy.

    Nations/people that destroy their past have no future.

  2. OT but not OT: When I was still a student, I went through a large library book, pictorial, of the Civil War.
    Loaded with photographs of war, battles, Southern homes burnt to the ground, corpses.
    I had never given a thought to horses until several photographs showed all the dead horses, everywhere–their large bodies grossly bloated, lying abandoned in the fields, (-the price they paid for loyalty and obedience). Of course, their riders were carried off with proper dignity and reverence.
    I’m not much of a weepy, but my eyes welled up, -and I still can see those images in my mind.
    Men understand disagreement, hatred, revenge, purpose, goal. Horses just want to please their riders/owners//trainers.

    1. I rarely comment and usually keep a relatively low profile online. However, I am tired of seeing yet another example of the shortsightedness of the “cancel culture”. I am Jewish and most of my family died in the Holocaust–you might ask, what does this have to do with poor, dead Traveler. Well, here goes. Auschwitz still stands. Most of my dad’s paternal family and part of my mom’s were murdered in that camp. I hate that camp and all it stands for. The individuals who conceived that monstrosoty, the European societies who stood by and allowed that camp to be, and those who governed it abhor me. They all bear some responsibility for robbing me and mine of our past. However, and this is my point, even though the Holocaust in general, and Auschwitz in particular, is a terrible part of our collective history, Auschwitz stands as silent witness to the atrocities performed there and as such, reminds us never, ever to go down that slippery slope again. Sometimes even the most hateful of memorials stand as a reminder of what we should never do again. They force us to pause and take note. I think that this is the point the cancel culture is missing.

  3. Turley: “The stain of slavery in our history is indelible and painful for all of us.”

    Not so much. We didn’t invent slavery, we inherited it from a tradition at least 6,000 years old, stretching back to the first cities, Uruk and Eridu. Where the West, and almost exclusively white people, stand out is being the first to stand against it and eliminate it, sometimes at terrible cost.

    It still exists in Africa and other parts of the world but one seldom hears criticism of it much less of efforts to end it there. It’s not profitable to our current group of race hustlers. No living American has owned a slave. No living American has been a slave in this country unless brought here from another culture and that ended as soon as discovered. “Indelible stain” ? I think it was wiped out by about 600,000 dead.

    Of course I don’t approve of slavery but I suspect a young man on a plantation had a better chance of surviving to middle age than a young black man on the lawless streets of Chicago or Baltimore, which is something to think about. That death toll can be laid on the race hustlers who demand that the police be defunded and neutered and that violent criminals not be jailed. In June ABC7 had this headline which is fairly typical: “Chicago shootings: 46 shot, 9 fatally, in weekend gun violence across city, police say”. They try to blame guns rather than actual killers.

    Perhaps it is time to let go of the guilt and ‘indelible stain’ and stop taking policy advice from the race hustlers. Save lives.

  4. Our universities are populated with small-minded, petty little men trying to show off for the likes of the despicable Al Sharpton. Indeed, much the same can be said of the creatures in our current government.

    As this Park Service lecture shows, Robert E. Lee was a great man. We know him as a great general but the depth of his nobility particularly was shown forth in defeat as well as in victory. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVFoZFH1sLM

    A very wise friend of mine was dismayed to learn that many young people whom he spoke with couldn’t think of any hero they admired. After hearing that I discovered the same. That comes down to our public education in large part. They seem so busy tearing down this country and its greats that they fail to show greatness as examples to be followed. It is no feat to point to flaws in the people of our history. Everybody has them. We need to hear how despite their weaknesses and the mistakes of their time they managed to rise above all of it and achieve greatness so that we may learn to rise above our mistakes and the errors of our age..

    It is a fashionable mistake to condemn everything about the South and that would include Lee and, apparently, his horse. But is not wrong to recognize nobility even in a wartime enemy. Churchill was criticized during WWII for openly stating–across the hates and ravages of war–that Rommel was a superb general, which, of course, he was.

    But then, in our age of destruction and dissolution we are sometimes told not to like Churchill either. But I do. And General Grant. And Robert E. Lee. And Traveler too.

  5. Horse feathers! Everybody knows Traveller’s bones were stolen by VMI cadet, who reburied him on the parade deck,

  6. I’m 74 years old. This is the first I’ve heard of Traveler. Just let him Rest In Peace.

  7. Where are the monuments to Confederate General James Longstreet? The answer speaks volumes!

    After the Civil War, Longstreet swore an Oath of Office to the then new Constitution, which now included the 13th, 14th, 15th Amendments (amendments granting equal rights to African-Americans).

    Then General Longstreet was actually “loyal” to his Oath of Office, even defending African-Americans – unlike anyone else that received a statue or memorial.

    Why does Lee’s right hand man not have a statue anywhere? Racism. Only devout racists received statues.

    1. There are at least a couple. One in Gettysburg and one near his home in Gainesville GA. But you are correct that he was not very popular in the South due to his post war conciliatory views and not unreasonable criticism of Lee.

      1. He was also blamed in the South for an alleged delay in assaulting Little Round Top on the second day of Gettysburg.

    2. Anonymous – I was going to suggest that you put up the monument yourself, but the import of your comment should not be ignored. The attempt to apply the paint of racism to all or even most Confederates is not justified. Near the end of the war, General Lee actually proposed freeing any slave who would join the Confederate army. No one before him made such a bold proposal. Lee also worked to bring about a quick and orderly end to the hostilities, disregarding the desire of Jefferson Davis to continue the war in a guerrilla fashion. And after the war, Longstreet said that he had never supposed that the institution of slavery would ever end. It is probable that the majority of Southern officers felt the same way: slavery was an indelible part of an agrarian society. Lincoln himself, like the vast majority of the North, was willing to accept the continuance of slavery if it was restricted to the southern states.

      1. Other Confederate commanders did indeed recommend recruiting slaves in exchange for their freedom included the excellent General Pat Cleburne.

  8. Robert E. Lee should not be well known to most Americans, and Traveler should never have been necessary as military transport.

    Reprehensible slavery must have been abrogated through legal means and methods.

    Southern States must have been allowed to secede, fail, and, ultimately, seek predictable, intuitive, and indicated reunification.

    Long-suffering abductees must have been compassionately repatriated per extant immigration law when their legal status was altered from “property” to “illegal alien” on January 1, 1863, or other effective date.

    To be sure, Abraham Lincoln was a criminal, extremist, strong man, and tyrannical despot, with a formidable and compelling 39.8% mandate (sarc), who imposed martial law, seized power, and high-criminally violated and nullified fundamental law in America.

    Lincoln acted on the unfounded and non-existent legal basis that secession was illicit and unconstitutional.

    Secession, in fact, is not prohibited in any location, form, or fashion in the Constitution and is, therefore, reserved to the States and fully constitutional.

    Secession, in fact, is precisely what the American Founders and Revolutionaries availed themselves of in 1776 and obtained in 1789 through their natural and God-given rights and freedoms.

    The entire “Reign of Terror” of Abraham Lincoln must have never occurred, and every act and consequence of Lincoln was, is, and remains invalid and illegitimate to this day.

  9. Jonathan: Times change and we have to learn to change with them. After the Civil War those in the South who supported the insurrection put up statutes and other symbols to honor Gen. Lee and other Confederate generals who fought to preserve slavery. Times have changed and we no longer “honor” those symbols of a hated institution. Bizarrely, there are some in the South who still think slavery was not all that bad. Gov. DeSantis is mandating that Florida’s school textbooks say that slaves learned important “personal skills” that would benefit them later in life. So the motto “Save your Confederate money, the South will rise again!” is alive and well in Florida under DeSantis.

    Now you object to the removal of the “Traveler” plaque at W&Lee. A horse by any other name would not be that important. I don’t see any plaques honoring “Dancer” or “Prancer”. So why “Traveler”? Because he is one of the symbols of the Confederacy. The controversy over “Traveler” and other symbols of the Confederacy has been around for years at W&Lee. The “Lee Chapel” on campus has been the center of protests. The Chapel has been a gathering place for those who still support the Confederacy–wearing Confederate uniforms and parading with Confederate flags. Black law students at W&Lee protested these displays–particularly after the violent 2017 Charlottesville riot where White supremacists and neo-Nazis paraded with Nazi and Confederate flags.

    W&Lee has a long association with slavery. It owned slaves and sold them to help support the university financially. Gen. Lee became the president of the University just weeks after he surrendered at Appomattox in 1865. When Lee died in 1870 the University changed to the name in honor of the symbol of the Confederacy. In 2016, the University installed a historic marker on campus to remember and recognize the slaves. That marker is not being removed.

    So W&Lee is coming to terms with its long association with slavery–removing symbols of a sad and hated period in the history of the South. In a statement the University said: “We have reviewed campus symbols, names and practice, and we are making changes to remove doubt about our separation from the Confederacy and the Lost Cause”. I would think you would want to recognize that effort–but you are, among very few, who want to preserve the public symbols of the Confederacy. Now if the Daughters of the Confederacy, who also don’t think slavery was a bad thing, want to take the “Traveler” marker and put it in a private museum for those interested I’d support that. But public displays of those who fought to preserve slavery? Not so much.

    I would compare what W&Lee is doing to come to terms with its past with what happened after the fall of the Nazi regime. US soldiers and other allies torn down and removed all the symbols of the Hitler regime. The new democratic German government did the same and now public displays of the hated Nazi regime are banned. So what is really wrong with what W& Lee is doing to come to terms with its sad past?

    1. “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” ― L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between
      To an ideologue that is a mysterious statement. To someone who realizes the inevitable and inescapable subjectivity of public opinion from one era to another, it makes perfect sense. It may seem impossible for you to understand the reasons that many honorable and intelligent people have defended slavery, e.g., Aristotle, but someday people will have trouble understanding the current insanity of the American Left. We should accept that symbols of the past show different ideas of other times and need not be regarded as moral statements.
      Incidentally, one may wonder when Democrats came to the realization that all reminders of the Confederacy needed to be expunged. Adlai Stevenson, a Democratic hero, ran for the Presidency with two segregationist Senators. John F. Kennedy ran with a Senator who had defended segregation. This was almost a century after the Civil War.

    2. When you lie about the Florida education standard at the beginning of your long post, you undermines your points, entirely.

    3. Why did you lie about Florida education standards? The rest of your post is undermined by it.

    4. Oh pseudo-savant DT hating Dennis. As the professor stated: “The Civil War is a major part of our history and Washington & Lee University is a prominent part of that history. The preserving of such memorials allows for the public to see the full historical continuum, including the painful chapters in that history”. You and all your Joe Biden Democrats have a huge history of Racisms. Robert Byrd on back, were mostly Democrat racists and you don’t even quiver.
      Since America won the Revolutionary war with British, should we eliminate all the Names in America directly related to that country? I can give a litany of names if you desire.

    5. When Lee surrendered, he never wore his confederate uniform again. He did not even want to be buried in it and did not want anyone at
      his funeral in a confederate uniform nor any confederate flags. He did not want any statues erected of him and he refused to attend the dedication of any – he said they would be too divisive and it was time for the country to heal. Lee did not own slaves, but inherited them in 1858 when his father-in-law, George Washington Custis (Martha Custis Washington’s grandson) died. He was left a considerable debt which meant that he could not free the slaves until the debt was paid. the debt was paid in 1862 and all slaves on all his properties were freed. I am not saying he wasn’t a racist, but he hated slavery (as did George Washington who Lee greatly admired. Martha liked slavery, that was one of George’s problems). Lee freed his slaves in the beginning of the Civil War and didn’t care who knew. Lee didn’t fight for slavery. He fought to keep his sons, and family and friends from being hung as traitors if they lost the war (his sons were Confederate generals.) He loved the Union and thought Secession was a mistake. Why pick on Traveler, a poor horse who only “crime” was courage and loyalty to Lee – who was a better man than most people know.

    6. When you made the sad and stupid comparison between the men who fought for the South to Nazis, you forfeited any possible consideration, or sanity to your argument. Any further response is not need, nor for that matter deserving.

    7. Approximately 5% of Southerners, including Blacks, owned slaves. Yet the South suffered 75% casualties. So much for slavery being the cause.

  10. Instead of banning an historical plaque memorializing a famous horse from the Confederacy, all colleges and universities should go to the root of the problem.

    All colleges and universities must ban all references to the Democrat Party, which was responsible for creating “[t]he stain of slavery in our history [that] is indelible and painful for all of us”, as Professor Turley put it.

    The Democrat Party is an indelible part of the history of slavery in America and it must be eradicated from any public mention whatsoever. The Dred Scott Supreme Court case was decided by Democrat Roger B. Taney to serve the interests of his fellow Democrats in treating Black people as property to be bought and sold.

    So, if colleges and universities really want to remove the stain of slavery from the history of America, they must ban Democrats and the Democrat Party and any mention of them from all campuses. Well, how about it, hypocrites?

  11. The Biden administration is doing a better job of sterilizing this country from political viruses than it is from COVID.

  12. We have had a similar, minor controversy out west here recently over the name of a small lake, a pond actually, on National Forest property. The name of the pond was (and is) swastika lake. Named in the 1890s and for no known reason other than the native American symbol had captured the zeitgeist. A busybody from California had noticed the name on a map and petitioned for a name change — who can resist such virtue signalling as a name change?

    Among the more ridiculous claims in the effort was a billionaire busy body who got involved late claiming that to change the name was “standing with the Jewish people”. It’s a stretch. Anyway the name change is in the mill, will probably be accepted sometime in the next decade by whomever it is in charge of naming features in the NFS, and then over a century the name will slowly fade from maps and signage. Of course, on the internet the controversy was combined dishonestly with various images, probably from the 1930s, of the flag of the Third Reich from places thousands of miles away implying though we locals routinely sell such memorabilia.

    There is the Santanaya admonition that those who refuse to learn history are doomed to repeat it. Those who bury it haven’t even the chance to learn from it.

  13. The professor mistakes these people for rational thinkers. They are not. They are authoritarians whose religion is their politics. Any questioning is not permitted because it would make you a heretic.

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