The “Battle of Mouton Monument,” a seemingly inexhaustible Lafayette conflict, has lasted longer than the Civil War itself. The legal struggle continues with a spring court date.
By most standards, Mouton, a West Point-trained Confederate brigadier general who was killed at the Battle of Mansfield, was popular with his troops and was a capable, brave officer whose life ended on a DeSoto Parish battlefield in 1864. He was 35.
His image hovers in statue form over a busy Lafayette intersection, in front of the old City Hall, where it has resided for almost a century — in recent years to the consternation of new critics. The problem, they suggest, is not necessarily with Mouton’s public record as a soldier but rather with his private conduct before the war. But we suspect Confederate ties matter.
New Orleans fought this battle during Mayor Mitch Landrieu's second term, with Jefferson Davis, Gen. Robert E. Lee and Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard statues all vanquished by 2017. Though monuments are gone, some ill feelings linger. Change is never easy.
Mouton, an Opelousas native of proud family lines in Lafayette, was a slave owner and a vigilante. Research suggests Mouton as a local militiaman was heavy-handed in dealing with enslaved blacks and others among lower classes.
Mouton’s statue, though, was not erected to celebrate Mouton the vigilante but rather Mouton the valiant soldier, who fought against invading Union forces, including during the Teche and Red River campaigns.
This 2020 battle involves the Daughters of the Confederacy, which paid for the statue to be erected in 1922, and fellow Confederate aficionados vs. local groups that say, quite rightly, sensibilities have changed, that Mouton today doesn’t merit the reverence he once held. Few figures can withstand a century of scrutiny.
The continuing fight about this statue’s location on city property raises myriad questions, going forward. Perhaps answering them can help avoid new problems. How long must a statue remain on public property? Is 100 years not enough, as Mouton statue supporters say? Is 200 years enough? Or should old monuments that lose relevance be moved aside?
Was City Hall the right site for a general’s statue? Would it have been more appropriately placed on a battlefield? (There’s a Mouton monument at Mansfield.)
Who should we honor with statues? Where should we honor them? Those are questions that ought to be answered before the first shovel turns, before the marble has been purchased.