Historic Lee statue coming down

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NEW ORLEANS – The 16-foot-tall bronze statue of Robert E. Lee is in the process of being hoisted from its perch high above St. Charles Avenue where the Confederate general has stood sentry for 133 years.

A crane arrived to remove Lee early Friday morning, about 15 hours after police detoured the streetcar around the circle. Equipment began showing up around 4 a.m., but not until around 7 a.m. was there actual activity with workers, cranes and backhoes being used. 

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By the time crews showed up, much of the overnight gathering had thinned to just a few onlookers. During the night, dozens of people had spirited exchanges that, for the most part, stayed civil. There was one arrest after a man went past the barricades and climbed atop the stairs leading to the column. Police tried to get the man to come down peacefully, but eventually they handcuffed him and removed him to some cheers and jeers, depending on the side of the debate one was on.

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There was also an incident where someone in a car took a flag from a monument supporter. There was a tense exchange as fellow monument supporters demanded the return of the flag. Police eventually moved in to quell the incident between the weary people from both sides. 

The removal of the Lee statue brings to a close a process that began more than two years ago and included taking down three other Confederate monuments amid fruitless legal challenges to keep them in place.

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The most recent removal happened early Wednesday morning, when the 102-year-old bronze statue of Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard was removed from the Bayou St. John entrance to City Park.

While efforts to erect a monument in Lee’s honor began almost as soon as a month after his death in November 1870, it wasn’t until the windy, rainy afternoon of Feb. 22, 1884, that idea became a reality.

Built in the center of a traffic circle once known as Tivoli Circle, the Lee statue was unveiled to a crowd The Daily Picayune estimated to number 15,000. Among those in the crowd were Lee’s daughters. A 100-gun salute happened as the monument was unveiled as “a mighty shout went up from the soldiers of the Confederacy” The Picayune reported the next morning.

Lee, his arms crossed and dressed in his Confederate general uniform, is said to face the north, so as to keep his eyes on the enemy. The statue, designed by New York-based sculptor Alexander Doyle, was placed atop a 60-foot-tall granite column and cost $10,000. It was a project of the R.E. Lee Monumental Association.

Veterans marched by a window where Lee’s daughters watched the dedication ceremony. “They cheered the daughters of the Confederate chief, who seemed much affected by this mark of respect, and wave their handkerchief to the ex-soldiers as they passed,” The Picayune account reads.

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