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Letter from January 2007 America's Civil War

Originally published on Published Online: November 28, 2006 
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Adjacent to Prospect Hill, the high ground defended by "Stonewall" Jackson at Fredericksburg, not far from the tracks of the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad and on land over which naked Confederates were supposed to have charged, visitors will find the Civil War's version of Egypt's Giza plateau. Well, perhaps that's a bit of hyperbole, but there is a pyramid on the spot, built in 1903 out of granite blocks that were taken from Virginia's sacred soil.

The Confederate Memorial Literary Society proposed their version of a pharaoh's tomb in the 1890s. It is reasonable to be confused by just what a literary organization was doing building a pile of stones in a Virginia field.

You have to go back to 1866 to track down the answer. In that year the Ladies Hollywood Memorial Association was founded in Richmond to help care for Hollywood Cemetery. By the end of the 19th century, the organization had expanded its purpose to save and own the Confederate White House. Richmond's city charter, however, stipulated that organizations that owned property had to be dedicated to literary causes.

The LHMA saw the loophole and created the ancillary Confederate Memorial Literary Society in 1890. That group gained ownership of the White House, starting the chain of events that led to the founding of the Museum of the Confederacy, which unfortunately is now in need of funding. The literary society also approached the R, F&P Railroad about placing markers related to the war along the tracks for the enjoyment of passengers.

The railroaders turned down the first proposal, wooden signs indicating what happened at certain locations.

Too tacky, they opined. Undaunted, the ladies turned to ancient Egypt and an existing Confederate memorial pyramid in Hollywood Cemetery for inspiration. Seventeen rail cars of rock later, there stood the pyramid. The society members, as could be expected, wanted the structure to memorialize Stonewall. But in a Tower of Babel twist, it's commonly known today as the "Meade Pyramid," since it stands on the ground over which Union General George G. Meade's men attacked.

That's ACW art director Dan Smith standing in front of the pile, all 23 feet of it. He's there to provide a sense of scale, and it was also suggested that he strip naked, grab a bowie knife and strike a pose. Fortunately he refused to do so. The Literary Society would surely have been appalled.

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