This monument at Capitol Square shows Civil War figures aren’t one-dimensional

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RICHMOND, Va. -- Question: Why aren't we discussing the Confederate monuments in Capitol Square?

There are three of them on the north shoulder of the property.

Gov. William Smith and Dr. Hunter Holmes McGuire had the same states-rights, southern-cause passion as their neighbor, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.

McGuire, whose name also graces our veterans' medical center in South Richmond, is a particularly fascinating example of why we shouldn't consider these controversial monuments and the men they honor as one-dimensional figures whose existence can be reduced to single-line shouts from those on either side of long-simmering Confederate monuments controversy.

Dr. Hunter Holmes McGuire

Here's the inscription on McGuire's beautifully rendered bronze overlooking the House of Delegates chambers:

"Hunter Holmes McGuire, M.D., LL.D., President of the American Medical and of the American Surgical Associations; Founder of the University College of Medicine; Medical Director, Jackson’s Corps, Army of Northern Virginia; an eminent civil and military surgeon, and beloved physician; an able teacher and vigorous writer, a useful citizen and broad humanitarian, gifted in mind and generous in heart, this monument is erected by his friends."

But that's not the whole story.

"You name it in the medical community, he did it," said Civil War historian Mike Gorman. "He becomes chair of surgery . . . at the Medical College of Virginia, eventually founded his own medical college here in Virginia. He was on the very first Geneva Convention - the rules of war written down, essentially, for the first time, medicalizing and humanizing - as they said - war. A truly remarkable man."

McGuire was an early specialist in bullet wounds (particularly when they strike bones and joints) field treatment, emergency anesthesia and triage. He took students on his rounds at the vast outdoor Chimborazo Hospital atop Church Hill during the Civil War.

He was a much-admired lifesaver whose name was given to at least one local child he saved during his long and storied career.

But at his core, he was also a Confederate. And nobody championed Gen. Jackson as much as he did, before and after the war. It's likely no coincidence that their monuments are side-by-side at Capitol Square.

"He up and enlisted," Gorman said. "He was in medical school at the time when hostilities broke out and came south. And decided, 'I'm going to be a soldier,  not a surgeon, but a soldier' and enlisted in the Second Virginia.

Dr. Hunter Holmes McGuire

"It didn't last long," Gorman added. "It was obvious this man had a talent for medicine and was ordered up to meet with General Jackson. Now the man was only 22 or 23 at the time and can you imagine here comes this new doctor and here's General Jackson and we'd like to introduce you to your new brigade surgeon, and it's this kid."

But Gen. Jackson took a liking to him and he became the medical director of Jackson's second corps eventually served in that capacity until the end of the Civil War, Gorman said.

"So this was absolutely someone who was invested - had put skin in the game - in the Confederate cause," he said.

McGuire famously amputated General Jackson's arm and was at his deathbed, capturing his last words for posterity.

There are excellent articles available online and even a detailed scholarly video about the tall and athletic Dr. McGuire by an associate dean and director of surgical education at East Carolina University entitled "Hunter Holmes McGuire: Much More than Stonewall Jackson's Surgeon."

Dr. Hunter Holmes McGuire

So what does Hunter Holmes McGuire have to do with the long-simmering controversy over the Confederate monuments on Monument Avenue?

I believe in order to understand and rationally discuss the men and the monuments, we need to learn their complex histories and not just the shouting points.

We've done the shouting thing for 100 years or more now, longer than any city in the U.S.

Virtually everyone has a smartphone or access to the web. The true flavor of these men, monuments and their times are just a few clicks away.

I truly believe the Monument Avenue commission will bring us that interpretive flavor to our world-famous monuments.

If we will only listen over the shouting.

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