Augusta’s Confederate Monuments and Landmarks Task Force has recently made public its recommendations to the city government, one of which is the removal of the “Confederate Monument” from Broad Street. Mayor Davis is to be commended for approaching the volatile issue of historic structures and names in such a measured and reasonable manner. But I think there is a much better solution than moving the existing monument. Instead, leave this statue in place but also erect an equally grand and prominent monument, perhaps on upper Broad Street, to the Black struggle for equality and to their contributions to our community and country.
We should note that while Springfield Village Park already recognizes the rich heritage of the historic church of that name and other Black citizens of Augusta, we lack a suitably prominent monument to recognize the magnitude of what Augusta’s Black citizens have suffered through the injustices of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, discrimination and racism. Nor do we have an appropriate monument to recognize the importance of what they have contributed to our city’s long history. Why don’t we work together to build a grand counterpoint to the Confederate Memorial, perhaps on upper Broad Street, to honor of our Black citizens? Would not these complementary bookends better reflect the hopes and aspirations of Augusta today? Wouldn’t it be better for us all to work together constructively to make our city better? I believe that such an effort would enjoy such broad and enthusiastic support that it may well be done with private funds and no cost to the city. I ask the Augusta Commissioners to give this proposal consideration.
Let me also take a moment to give some background on the memorial. The “Confederate Monument” was not built as a monument to the Confederacy, rather it was to be a memorial to Augusta’s Confederate dead and is properly known as the “Augusta Confederate Memorial.” It is essentially a tombstone. It is also the most magnificent work of public art in Augusta.
At the end of the brutal Civil War, many of Augusta’s young men lay dead in graves scattered among battlefields, hospitals, and prisoner of war camps throughout the South and into the North. In early 1868, shortly after the Civil War ended, the Augusta’s Ladies Memorial Association began an effort to erect a memorial to the city’s war dead. The Ladies Memorial Association sprang from an earlier organization which during the war had provided clothing, food and shelter to soldiers, and after the war provided for the destitute families of servicemen killed or disabled in the conflict. They and similar organizations throughout the South collected the dead, brought them home to be buried and provided headstones for their graves. In order that those who had died in the war not be forgotten, they decided to build a memorial in their honor. The association initiated a fundraising effort which eventually involved churches, synagogues, schools, social and civic organizations. After several years of conducting fairs, bazaars, raffles and every imaginable method of raising money, sufficient amounts were raised to commission a monument.
The monument on Broad Street was finally designed, sculpted by artists in Italy, shipped to Augusta and finally dedicated on October 31, 1878, capping ten years of effort. The striking Carrera marble monument is one of the finest examples of public statuary in Georgia and, perhaps uniquely, the figure at top is a private soldier standing at parade rest above four Confederate generals. The soldier, intended to an anonymous figure representing all common Southern soldiers, was widely believed to be modeled on Pvt. Berry Benson of Augusta. He stands above Generals Lee, Jackson, Cobb and Walker. Similar memorials have been erected all over our country following every war we have fought.
The Rev. General Clement A. Evans, a former Confederate officer and later pastor of St. John’s Methodist Church, delivered the oration at the laying of the cornerstone, and gave a message of reconciliation between North and South. He said that the purpose of the monument was not to assert continued adherence to the cause of secession but to honor the service of the individual soldiers who had given their lives in defense of their homes and families. The monument acknowledged the extinction of the Confederate cause and the acceptance of reunification with the North. He said, “…the voice of this monument will not be for war but for peace.”
Past President, Historic Augusta, Inc.