President Donald Trump may currently waxing poetic about the "beauty" of Confederate memorials. But, as made evident by the presence of a fake Civil War monument at his Virginia golf course, his own memorialization of the Civil War has only a loose relationship with our shared reality.
Back in May, Golf Digest revisited a 2015 story from The New York Times about a plaque at Trump National Golf Club in Virginia. Located between the 14th and 15th holes, the plaque claimed that "many great American soldiers, both of the North and South, died at this spot. The casualties were so great that the water would turn red and thus became known as 'The River of Blood.' It is my great honor to have preserved this important section of the Potomac River!"
Thing is, none of that is true.
While Virginia is indeed pockmarked with Civil War battlefields, some of them not all that far from the site of the Trump National Golf Club, none of them took place on the grounds of the club itself or on any of the neighboring land. The "River of Blood" aspect of the story does not match anything in any historical record anywhere. Indeed, it's unclear where Trump or the managers of Trump National received any of this information, if indeed they had a source outside of their own imaginations.
Said Richard Richard Gillespie, the executive director of the Mosby Heritage Area Association, to the Times "No. Uh-uh. No way. Nothing like that ever happened there."
Characteristically, Trump responded to the dismissals of historical experts by snapping to The New York Times, "How would they know? Were they there?"
It's a fascinating epistemological question — can one be at a place and time that resides in someone else's head? — with some interesting theories spooling out of it. First, Trump seems to be suggesting that he himself was at this battle in an unspecified year in the 19th Century, whereas the Times reporters who covered the Civil War were not. It is a assertion that cannot be fully disproven from our historical remove.
Another hypothesis is that Trump is just a really, really lazy liar. This latter theory gains credence when you consider that Trump initially told the Times that "numerous historians" had told him that the site was the location of the River of Blood, but couldn't give their names. He then pivoted to saying that the historians hadn't spoken to him, but to his employees. He also couldn't list the names of the employees to whom these historians had supposedly talked.
As fact-checking site Snopes noted, it is unclear whether the memorial has been changed at all since 2015. Nevertheless, aside from the caveat as to whether the plaque is still there, they did not question that it had been there and thus rated the story "Mostly True."
The same cannot be said of Trump's take on Civil War history.