CONFEDERATE MONUMENTS: Prescott historian believes they should be kept

- The debate over Civil War statues has split America, with some protesting what they call symbols of slavery, and others wanting the past preserved.

Sometimes, people can't even get historians to agree.

One author and researcher in Prescott believes his work supports the idea that these monuments should remain where they are, because of a need to preserve the good, as well as the bad, about the nation's past.

"I was a police officer for 10 years in Los Angeles," said author Mike Rothmiller. During five of those years, Rothmiller worked in the LAPD's intelligence unit.

"I realized early on that what you see on the surface isn't always true," said Rothmiller.

Now, from his home in Prescott Lakes, Rothmiller writes books. So far, he has written 25 of them, the latest being a volume about Civil War Confederate generals. 425 of them are pictured.

"The vast majority of people -- I would bet 95%-96% -- really have no understanding what went into the motivation of the war for both the south and the north," said Rothmiller.

Rothmiller used the book to state his case about the recent removal of Confederate statues.

"I thought we can't erase history," said Rothmiller. "We have to keep the history of this country alive, if it's good or bad."

According to Rothmiller, these statues have been falling at an alarming rate, after loud protests and confrontations about the Confederacy's link to slavery.

"By erasing it, we are robbing future generations of that knowledge," said Rothmiller.

Instead of destroying statues, Rothmiller said people should learn something about them.

"The best way to do it is just put up a plaque on the statue, explaining everything," said Rothmiller.

Rothmiller points out that statues of General Robert E. Lee are being taken down, even though Lee was not actually the South's commanding general.

"He was one of the top generals, but he wasn't the top general," said Rothmiller, when talking about Lee. "Samuel Cooper was the commanding general. He was basically the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs for the Confederacy."

Most of Rothmiller's books are based on documents he discovered, or those he requested from the National Archives or presidential libraries.

"It's the interest of looking for the unknown and finding treasures," said Rothmiller.

Documents Rothmiller discovered include a letter from Abraham Lincoln to Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, just before the fighting began.

"His objective -- primary objective -- was to keep the Union together," said Rothmiller. "It wasn't to free the slaves."

Rothmiller said the letter proves Lincoln viewed slavery as a bargaining tool with the South.

"He says, 'if I could save the Union by freeing all the slaves, I would do it. If I could save the Union by not freeing any slaves, I would do it'," said Rothmiller. "Any combination thereof, he would have done to preserve the Union."

The book also highlights other generals people have rarely heard of, like John H. Kelly.

"He was called the 'boy general'," said Rothmiller.

John H. Kelly was the youngest, and possibly shortest lived, generals in the Confederacy.

"When he was 23 years old, they promoted him to Brigadier General, which was unheard of," said Rothmiller. "The following year, he was killed in battle."

The book also highlights how the Civil War split families apart.

"General Phillip St. George Cooke decided to back the Union. He was the nation's top cavalry commander, but his son-in-law, Jeb Stuart, became famous as a cavalry officer.

For the Confederacy.

"When the war started, his son-in-law said 'I'm going with the South, your daughter is coming with me'," Rothmiller said. "He was rather embarrassed by the turn of events."

Whether it be a book or a statue, Rothmiller, like most historians, hopes we can learn from history, whether we like it or not.

"This is actual history," Rothmiller said. "Take it or leave it, love it or hate it, it's there."

Rothmiller's next book will be a pictorial history of Union generals during the Civil War. Rothmiller pointed out that many surviving officers from both sides came together, after the Civil War, to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces.

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