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  • November 19th, 2017

TO REMOVE OR NOT TO REMOVE

By Joel M. Vance
Call it an ethical problem, call it a crisis of conscience or call it who gives a rat’s ass, but whatever you call it the problem is mine and I’ll have to deal with it, probably by ignoring the whole thing. It involves a gravel road, a statue in a city park, and a notable honor accorded me for which I am both grateful and baffled.
The road is an undistinguished gravel diving south from an East-West transverse Road, South of Dalton, Missouri, indistinguishable from any of the many gravel roads that lace southern Chariton County like the strands of a spider web.
Here is the situation: the road is named Val Verde, which is the same name as a plantation owned by Sterling Price, a Civil War Confederate general. The road is just South of Dalton, where I lived for a decade in the 1940s and 50s. Now here is where it gets complicated. General Price actually captured my great grandfather and his brother, both Union militiamen who thought they were soldiers and who set out to defend Glasgow from the rebels in 1864.
Glasgow was and is a town of not much significance on the Missouri River, which did give it some importance during the Civil War due to its location overlooking the river. I suppose it could have been a Confederate or Union stronghold on the order of Vicksburg, but instead it was where after a half day, barely noticeable encounter, Price’s army captured the two Vance brothers and their ragtag company, and sent them back to their farms via parole, rather than shooting them outright or sending them to some pestilent Confederate prisoner of war camp.
Now, and for many decades, there has been in the city park of Keytesville, where I went to high school, a statue of General Sterling Price, who was not born in the town, but is claimed by it as a native son. And in the year 2010, I was the honored resident of Chariton County during the annual Keytesville Festival called (are you ready for this?) Sterling Price Days.
As that year’s honoree, I got to make a talk at the local high school auditorium to an audience, I can only characterize as politely indifferent, and then my wife, Marty and I got to ride in the back seat of a convertible in the annual parade down Main Street, waving at people in the manner of a returning war hero. No one threw confetti but they did smile and wave back, better than throwing bricks and rotten tomatoes in recognition that I was nothing more than the legatee of a damn Yankee.
Amid today’s nationwide hoohaw over removal of Confederate symbols, especially statues of prominent Confederates, how can I, as the descendent of a less than notable Union soldier— a captured one at that— reconcile being honored during Sterling Price Days, practically in the shadow of a statue honoring a notable general of the Confederacy?
Keytesville is not a notorious Confederate stronghold, as are many other towns, especially in the South. There have not been and doubtless never will be demonstrations on the order of the one in Charlottesville, Virginia, organized by right wing extremists, unregenerate rebels, and neo-Nazis. Price Days is not a recognition of the supremacy of the Confederacy, nor is it a call to return to the days of yore. It simply enough, is a celebration of long-standing, that originally began to recognize the accomplishments of a local boy who did more than just about anyone else in town, even if it was for a losing cause, and which has evolved into, simply enough, an occasion for everyone to have a good time.
Chances are if you ask most of the adults on the street or give a pop quiz to the students at Keytesville High School, challenging them to tell you in 100 words or less who Sterling Price was and what he accomplished in the Civil War, the best you can hope for will be a blank stare. General Price, before he led troops in the Confederacy, was a governor of Missouri, and before that a successful battlefield commander in the Mexican war.
Likely you would get a similar blank stare from Keytesvillians, were you to ask them to tell you about Maxwell Taylor. Taylor likewise was a general, probably also a Democrat, as was Price, whose military credentials are light years advanced over those of Sterling Price. Born in 1901, Taylor was the commander of the 101st airborne during World War Two. He later commanded the Eighth Army in Korea. The 101st was one of two airborne divisions to parachute into Normandy on D-Day and his outfit included Roy Joe Finnell, my first cousin, who was injured on landing behind German lines and had to fight with a broken back for several days until he linked up with Allied troops and was evacuated to England.
General Taylor went on to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appointed by President Kennedy. He also was the ambassador to South Vietnam for a year, amid other honors. He died in 1987 at the age of 85. Perhaps Keytesville’s lack of appreciation for General Taylor has to do with the fact that he was raised in Kansas City and graduated from high school there. On the other hand, Price was born in Virginia and when he did move to Missouri it was not originally to Keytesville but to Fayette, a few miles from Glasgow, where in future years he would capture my great grandfather.
Thus, my connection to Gen. Maxwell Taylor is far more immediate and personal than one to a Civil War Confederate general who captured my great grandfather and his brother (who also happened to be the great grandfather and great grand uncle of Roy Joe Finnell). Curious oddity is that the headquarters of Sterling Price Days is on West Finnell Drive in Keytesville. There is a Maxwell Taylor Park in Keytesville where visitors with RVs can find a utility hookup and campsites. But you will find no statue to Maxwell Taylor in the Keytesville city park or anywhere else within the town and there are no celebrations or parades to honor General Taylor. Something in this tangled relationship does not make sense, but I’m still a long way from calling for the removal of Price’s statue and the erection in its place of one to honor Maxwell Taylor.
All I have in common with Sterling Price is a gravel road, the next one west of Val Verde which unaccountably is named Joel Vance Avenue. Price’s road is not named for him but named for his plantation where the workers were African-American slaves. And my road is an avenue, while Price’s Val Verde is a plain old road. Take that, you defeated Johnny Reb.
Why there is a road named for me anywhere is a mystery whose solution calls for the talents of Nero Wolfe. I’ve tried various County agencies, asking who might’ve been responsible for putting my name on the county roadmap and each one keeps referring me to another one until I’m back at the beginning. The road even as an avenue lacks the charisma of, say, Broadway in Manhattan. It dead ends at the upper end of the Dalton Cutoff lake and the only building on the mile-long stretch of road (excuse me, Avenue!) Is an abandoned house.
I don’t mean to downgrade Sterling Price. After all he was a governor of Missouri and by all accounts, a good one. On the other hand he is the textbook definition of a sore loser. After the Civil War, in contrast to Robert E Lee and other defeated Confederate generals who accepted that defeat, Price gathered the remnants of his army and fled to Mexico, offering his services to the Emperor Maxmillian, who declined. A year later Price returned to the United States and shortly thereafter died and is buried in a St. Louis Cemetery. His statue at in the Keytesville Park dates to 1915, and the 2017 celebration of Sterling Price Days was the 50th such event.
You might call North central Missouri a hotbed for the breeding of notable generals. Not only do we have Maxwell Taylor from Keytesville, Sterling Price from Keytesville (via Virginia), Omar Bradley from Moberly, and John Pershing from Laclede. (Gen. Pershing died in 1948 at the age of 87 and is buried in 624-acre Arlington National Cemetery which is on the site of the pre-Civil War estate of the Robert E. Lee family). We might also include Jo Shelby, who although born in Kentucky, settled near Waverley on the Missouri River. Two months after Gen. Lee surrendered and the war ended, Shelby, along with about 1000 rebels, fled to Mexico where, as did Price, he offered his services to Emperor Maxmillian and, like Price, he was turned down. He returned to Missouri, took up farming, and became a US Marshall, and died in 1897 and is buried in Forest Hill Cemetery, in Kansas City.
The battle of Glasgow was a bit of a last gasp effort for Price and his army which, by then was in disarray. He had been defeated at Pilot Knob in Iron County, in southern Missouri only a week before, and had thoughts to capture Jefferson City only to realize that it had too many guns for his weaponry. He thought Glasgow had a storehouse of weapons and supplies and launched about 1500 men against the 800 union militiamen station at Glasgow, including those Vance boys. Starting about dawn, the Confederates (commanded by none other than Jo Shelby) blasted away at Glasgow and at 1:30 PM the Union boys surrendered. According to testimony. The Yankees were given ”uniform kindness and gentlemanly treatment.”
Price’s Army shortly would be whupped up on at Westport near Kansas City, and he would retreat into Arkansas until the end of the war which, in his eyes, never really ended.
So there you have the whole complicated story of the Vances, the Confederate general a couple of gravel roads and my personal and cherished honor as being a distinguished citizen of Keytesville and Chariton County. I’m proud of that and proud of the leaning road sign that points South down Joel Vance Avenue. It is not given to many Chariton County citizens to be so recognized. I love to read about Civil War history, but have no desire to relive it.
People who fly Confederate flags or wear white sheets and burn crosses are despicable, the scum of humanity who parade their paranoid and hateful symbols under the guise of patriotic or religious belief. Those are the dirty remnants of a lost cause that should be condemned, not the removal of statues dedicated to notable Confederates. Fighting a war that ended 150 years ago is a useless exercise and a waste of time that could be better used in ending the turmoil that divides the country today, not wrangling over the turmoil that divided the country so many years ago.

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