I’ve mentioned Confederate Brigadier-General Roswell Ripley on a number of occasions during the sesquicentennial. I’m tracing the story of things that happened around Charleston, South Carolina. And Ripley was an important part of those events. But to most Civil War students, Ripley is best known as one of thirty-three northern-born Confederate generals. If you visit the town of Worthington, Ohio, you’ll find a state marker making note of that fact:
And that marker has caused a bit of a stir of late, at least in the local news. On January 3 this year, Orin Hollander wrote a letter to the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, urging “the Worthington authorities to reconsider its continuation at that site.” Hollander explained his objection:
I was outraged by the sign, as were a number of passersby who stopped to look at it. Ripley was a traitor to his country. He graduated from West Point and was a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army. That means that on multiple occasions, he took the solemn oath prescribed in Article VI of the Constitution to support the Constitution.
Of course, Mr. Hollander’s letter sparked a few comments in response. And a Mr. C.A. Bennett opted to send in a letter of his own, insisting Ripley “deserves a plaque” (though I am sure readers would agree the item in question, pictured above, is definitely a historical marker and not a plaque). Mr. Bennett provided a short biography of Ripley in defense of the marker’s presence I might quibble over some of the details. But for a short “street” version, it is not bad. I think Mr. Bennett is the same individual who provided a longer biography of Ripley for Camp Ripley Sons of Confederate Veteran webpage. So if you want a longer, more detailed version, I direct you there.
What is important from Bennett’s response is in the opening paragraphs:
The Ripley plaque is actually an official Ohio Historical Marker erected in 2004. The text was submitted to the Ohio Historical Society for consideration, and approved on its historical, not political, merit.
It is on private property, approved by the owner of the building, which is Confederate Brig. Gen. Roswell Ripley’s birthplace.
In my opinion, Bennett’s letter could have stopped right there. This marker stands in front of a structure worthy of notice, with a tie to historic events. Plain and simple – the marker is there to relate facts. And if you read the text (full text is transcribed on the HMDB entry), you see nothing but the basic facts of Ripley’s life – highlighting service in two armies. Nothing there, at least to me, that glorifies any cause that Ripley served for.
Indeed, to cast a parallel here, there are numerous historical markers that feature events from Benedict Arnold’s life to include the place where he betrayed secrets to the British. I think we can all agree those places are worth marking. Not to say Ripley should be assessed to the same level as Arnold, but if the worst one can say about Ripley is “he was a traitor” I don’t see that disqualifies him as a subject for a historical marker. Quite the contrary!
As I read through the comments, I am reminded of why we cannot have any “general public” discussions about the Civil War… all those crazy, half-baked notions spring up as Johnson Grass after a week of rain. And just like Johnson Grass, the crazy chokes out the good fodder that might otherwise thrive. A lot of it is, as I would agree with Andy Hall, Heritage™ stuff. What is driven off, in the case, is the history. Why can’t we just study the history and not waste time trying to spin the heritage?
(Photo curtsey of Historical Marker Database, taken by J. J. Prats, August 12, 2007.)