Move Confederate General Statue to Battlefield

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ORLANDO, Fla. — An Orlando state representative is suggesting a new home for a statue of a Confederate general that is, controversially, coming to Lake County.

State Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, sent a letter to Gov. DeSantis this week, urging him to move the statue of General Edmund Kirby Smith to the Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park in North Florida.

The Smith statue, which was one of two statues representing Florida at the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall, is being replaced.

Currently, Lake County’s commission approved bringing the statue to the county historical museum in Tavares, despite protests from residents and opposition from nine Lake County cities, including Tavares itself. 

In Thompson’s letter, she said the statue could be used to highlight Florida‘s role in the Civil War. 

The Battle of Olustee, in February 1864, was the biggest battle fought in Florida during the war. Confederate forces turned back Union troops headed from Jacksonville to Tallahassee Some 200 union soldiers were killed, as were 93 Confederate soldiers. The battle also made the Union question its military involvement in Florida.

“The exhibit of the Edmund Kirby Smith statue at the Olustee Battlefield would provide an excellent opportunity to teach Civil War history and answer the many questions that remain regarding slavery, democracy and unity that were central to the conflict,” Thompson wrote to DeSantis, who already approved Lake county’s plan.

The Lake County Commission and the Historical Museum say their exhibit will be strictly historical in nature. It will talk about the state’s decision to create the statue in the first place and his life. It will also discuss Dr. Alexander Darnes, a slave who served as valet to Smith during the war, then went on after the war to become one of the first black doctors in Florida.

The exhibit will also talk about Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, the civil rights leader whose statue will replace Smith’s in Washington, and the movement to remove Confederate statues from the public square across the country.

Smith was the last Confederate general with a major field force to surrender to the Union, in June 1865, eight weeks after General Robert E. Lee. He was born in St. Augustine in 1824, but that city already rejected the statue. After the war he moved to Tennessee, where he was a college professor. 

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