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Where did it come from? The history of Howard County’s Confederate monument

The recently removed Confederate monument will now join the Howard County Historical Society Museum's Civil War exhibit, "Fractured Howard County."
The recently removed Confederate monument will now join the Howard County Historical Society Museum's Civil War exhibit, "Fractured Howard County." (Courtesy Photo/ Stephen Conn)

The granite slab with its bronze plaque honoring Confederate soldiers sat on the grounds of the Howard County Circuit Court for nearly 70 years, but nobody paid much attention to it until just a few weeks ago.

In the wake of violent white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Va., public outcry sprang up to remove the monument bearing the names of 92 Confederate Howard County soldiers from the grounds of the court building. A week later, just after midnight on Aug. 22, crews pulled the monument out of the ground, putting an end to what many saw as a remaining sign of racism in the county.

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The plaque from the monument is now being prepared for donation to the Howard County Historical Society Museum, where it will join the museum's "Fractured Howard County" Civil War exhibit, showing artifacts and letters from Howard County during the era.

Recent spotlight on the monument has left many wondering how the memorial came into existence in a county that is now celebrated for its diversity and tolerance.

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Much of the history of the monument has been uncovered by a retired Howard County Circuit Court judge, Dennis Sweeney, who came across the information as he was researching the biographies of past county judges.

"I knew Howard County had been sympathetic to the South, but then I just started digging through and trying to find out more about it," Sweeney said.

The monument will join the Howard County Historical Society Museum's "Fractured Howard County" Civil War exhibit.
The monument will join the Howard County Historical Society Museum's "Fractured Howard County" Civil War exhibit. (BSMG/ Kate Magill)

A monument 50 years in the making

Edwin Warfield, who later served as Maryland's governor from 1904-1908, is credited with leading the inception of the monument. In 1898, Warfield hosted in his home 40 Confederate soldiers of the First Maryland Cavalry who wanted to erect a monument in honor of their service, according to Susan Cooke Soderberg's book, "Lest We Forget: A Guide to Civil War Monuments." The group immediately began raising funds for the monument, but were interrupted by the Spanish-American War.

Warfield, whose two older brothers served in Confederate forces, was supportive of the project but did not move quickly on it.

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In May 1911, Warfield held a public meeting regarding building the monument, having been impressed by monuments he had seen during a trip through the South, according to a May 6, 1911 Baltimore Sun article. Twenty-five people were appointed to serve on a committee for the issue, and the $2,000 that was raised for the project went to William Forsythe Jr., who had been elected treasurer of the group and whose father served in the Confederacy.

Warfield even had two models of potential monuments delivered to his office in July 1911, but the project soon stalled due to World War I, and talk of the monument in historical records does not come back until 1928. The United Daughters of the Confederacy wrote to now Howard County Circuit Court Judge Forsythe about the project, which Forsythe said had not been completed because the proposed monument would be too expensive and he had not had time to find a cheaper option, according to a letter from Forsythe responding to Daughters of the Confederacy member Eleanor Thompson.

Soderberg wrote in her guide that it is unclear why it took another 20 years to erect the monument, but it was likely due to the Great Depression and World War II.

After days of calls for the removal of a Confederate monument from the grounds of the Howard County Circuit Court building, County Executive Allan Kittleman ordered it to be taken down late last night.

Fifty years after it was first conceived, the completed monument was erected on Sept. 23, 1948. At the time of the monument's completion, Howard County was under a commissioner form of government rather than a county executive, and because commissioners only met approximately once a month, Sweeney said it was unlikely Forsythe had to get county approval for the project.

"Back in those days if you were judge of the Circuit Court you were king of the mountain," Sweeney said. "The only county official who was full time was judge of the Circuit Court. The judge ruled the roost as far as the courthouse was concerned."

Many names on the monument are of men who belonged to a militia unit called the Howard County Dragoons, some of whom were slave owners, charged with defending the county, local historian Mike Radinsky told the Baltimore Sun. The group gathered in Ellicott's Mills and went to Baltimore to help restore peace following the Pratt Street Riots of April 19, 1861, but most of them left to join the Confederacy shortly afterward.

Forsythe and Governor Warfield's son, Edwin Warfield Jr., both appeared at the monument's dedication ceremony in 1948. Warfield spoke at the ceremony, and during his speech he called the Union's victory "providential."

"Otherwise we may not have had the strong united nation to fight the more recent world wars and to face the world conditions which exist today," Warfield said during his remarks.

Talk of the monument came back into the spotlight in September 1998, when the Sons of Confederate Veterans held a ceremony to rededicate the monument. The event was met with opposition from approximately 100 protesters who said the commemoration promoted racism.

To Howard County's credit, there has been no rush to summarily remove a marker listing the names of Confederate soldiers from the courthouse grounds in Ellicott City.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans also requested Maryland Secretary of State John T. Willis declare Sept. 27 "Howard County Confederate Heritage Day." Willis denied the petition, saying it would be "inappropriate" to make a proclamation that "unnecessarily inflames emotions and might divide rather than unify the citizens of Maryland," according to a Sept. 26, 1998 Baltimore Sun article.

More than 100 years after the inception of the monument, County Executive Allan Kittleman ordered its removal on Aug. 21. The monument will now join a recently opened Civil War exhibit in the Howard County Historical Society Museum.

The exhibit highlights the divide between residents during the Civil War, when 419 men from the county joined the Union effort, and 374 joined the Confederacy, according to the exhibit.

Museum Executive Director Shawn Gladden said other artifacts in the exhibit include letters from Union soldiers who were county residents and weapons and other items used by both Union and Confederate soldiers.

Gladden said once the museum has possession of the monument, staff will go through the entire list of names to learn what they can about the history of each individual. He said the monument will fit well within the exhibit's theme.

The museum has always had a Civil War exhibit, but Gladden said the museum staff started making efforts to update it about a year ago. Research for the project was led by museum manager Dustin Linz. Linz died in March. Gladden said following Linz's death the staff made an effort to expedite the exhibit's completion, which is now dedicated to Linz.

Museum attendance has already increased since the monument's controversy began earlier this month, and Gladden said during the weekend of Aug. 19 more than 100 people visited.

"It's really important for people to understand how complex our history is and the best place for that is in a museum," Gladden said.

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Reach Kate Magill at kmagill@baltsun.com.

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