AUTHOR’s NOTE: With everything going on lately I thought it might be beneficial to consider the history of our Confederate monument. Perhaps a better understanding of the history of the monument and the ladies who raised the money to build it will be helpful. I have tried to be non-partisan, only setting forth the history of the monument. What follows should not be taken as an endorsement of either slavery or the Confederate States of America.
The article is based largely upon newspaper articles written between 1878 and 1903, and research by the late Dr. Larry Nelson of the University of North Alabama History Dept.
All Florentines have seen him standing sentinel in front of the courthouse in Florence. Perhaps you’ve wondered who he is and how long he’s been standing there. Or perhaps you’ve been to the courthouse so often that you’ve simply taken his presence for granted and no longer stop to consciously think about him. I’m referring of course to the Confederate monument which stands outside our courthouse dedicated in 1903 to commemorate the men from Florence-Lauderdale who died fighting for the Confederate cause in the Civil War.
The Ladies Memorial Association of Florence comprised “noble women, many of them with broken hearts,” who “still cherished the memory of the Southern cause as sacred.”
They “honored those who gave their lives in defense of the principles of this beautiful Southland.” The organization was founded with Mrs. Fannie Louisa Pickett, (1817-1907), wife of former Confederate, Col. Richard Orrick Pickett (1823-1898), as president in 1869.
The late Dr. Larry Nelson of the University of North Alabama in his excellent July, 1988 Alabama Review article article insists, however,
that the Ladies Memorial of Association was only officially organized in 1876. Regardless, Mrs. Pickett served two years and she was succeeded by Mrs. Ophelia Cutler Smith (1835-1906), wife of former Confederate, Cutler Smith (1837-1905).
“Before the organization of a memorial association these devoted women, under the leadership of a Mrs. Cassity, cared for the graves of their heroes.” A newspaper article from June of 1866 indicates that the women of Florence were already also caring for the graves of Union veterans of Florence-Lauderdale.
According to Dr. Nelson, by 1876 plans were afoot by the Ladies Memorial Association for a Confederate monument “to be erected on the square just north of the Court House and barber shop.” A conscious choice was made to erect the monument in that year, which also happened to be the United States’ centennial. To that end a fundraiser was held which netted $140 ($100 of that total being donated by a Tuscumbia resident). By 1878 the Association had decided to parcel out the monument’s base in blocks to be inscribed at $5 each.
In 1879 Capt. James Bowser, who owned a quarry six miles below Florence landing, was contracted to supply about 60,000 lbs of stone to build an impressive monument. He set up a derrick which was to be used in moving the stones that are being polished for the Confederate monument. Only $650 had been raised by 1881 with which to build the monument. However, most of these funds had run low and the work was suspended. At a citizens’ meeting in April of 1881, Florence resident and future governor of Alabama Col. Edward A. O’Neal, offered a resolution which was unanimously adopted. It transferred the unfinished monument, all of its remaining funds and all related matters to local contractor, undertaker and Florence mayor Zebulon Pike “Uncle Pike” Morrison. Unfortunately, no substantive additions had been made by the city to the statue by 1889. The Florence Gazette described it as a “granite pile.” The Gazette considered the uncompleted monument “neither pleasant to the eye nor creditable to the patriotism of our people.” The Gazette agreed that times were very hard and that we are all very poor; but it is due to the memory of the gallant dead, as well as to ourselves, that some steps be taken to complete the monument.
The Florence Wave (forerunner of the Florence Herald) sarcastically editorialized in March of 1889 that “the base of the proposed monument to the Confederate dead of Lauderdale County standing on the Court House square is a complete monument to the supineness of our people.” [italics in original]
Undaunted by the seeming indifference, fundraising by the Ladies Association continued and a further $1,000 was raised by 1890. At that point, in the general cataclysm in business, in which nearly all our banks went to the
wall, this money was lost and the ladies had to start their fund-raising efforts all over again. The 1890 bank failures followed Florence’s 1887-1889 intense yet brief industrial boom, which saw the population increase from 2,000 in 1887 to 6,000 people by 1889.
Still, only the pedestal/ base of the statue had been finished by 1894, the monument sitting unfinished on Court square, next to the treasurer’s office [the former barbershop]. By then a debate had erupted over where it should be located, at its current location on Court Square, at the intersection of Court and Tennessee streets, in the center of the street or in Monumental Park, site of a Confederate fortification in 1862 - now the site of the Florence-Lauderdale Coliseum. Monumental Park was originally designed to be a park containing a monument or monuments to the fallen Confederate soldiers of Florence. Although the space shows up on several decades of old city maps labelled “Monumental Park,” the park was apparently never actually built.
The Florence Land, Mining and Manufacturing Co. deeded land to the city in May of 1890 for the purpose of housing the monument. At that time local opinion favored Monumental Park as the appropriate location for the monument. A mere four years later the Ladies Memorial Association stated that it favored the Court Square location. Unfortunately, by 1897 the statue had still not been completed and the issue of its location had still not been resolved; by this time many people were again arguing that it should be placed in the City Cemetery.
After participating in the annual Confederate memorial exercises on May 10, 1897, “those present” of the Memorial Association at the City Cemetery, along with a large and representative body of citizens, were scheduled to vote on the location. Due to inclement weather, the memorial ceremony was postponed to the following Sunday. Indications were that the vote was extremely close, but apparently had the monument remaining in Court Square just north of the courthouse, In April
of 1899 the Florence Times (now the Times Daily) somewhat sarcastically noted of the unfinished monument that “all strangers in the city . . . enquire about it,– and the necessary answer is a humiliating one to all who have any pride in the city. Cannot the Ladie’s [sic] Monument Association hurry up with their movement to finish the memorial?”
As the monument still languished by early 1898, the Ladies opted to call in the big guns; Tennessee Governor and future US senator, Robert L. “Bob” Taylor, “without remuneration,” delivered “one of his famous lectures here for the benefit of the Confederate Monument Association” at the State Normal College on February 26, 1898. And on May 6, General John B. Gordon of Georgia, “the best loved of the Confederate surviving generals, and a man whom all Southerners delight to honor,” delivered his lecture, “The Last Days of the Confederacy.”
By April of 1899 a chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy had been founded in Florence. The daughters soon became involved with the efforts to complete the monument. Ophelia Cutler Smith was still president of the Ladies’ Memorial Association and a member of the Florence UDC, as were many members of the Memorial Association. She gave a lecture at the YMCA auditorium in May of 1901. Interestingly, it wasn’t only Southerners and ex-Confederate Florentines who were interested in seeing the monument completed. Cincinnati businessman, James E. Stacey, president of the Florence (AL) Gas Company, donated $10 to assist with the monument’s completion. A few Union veterans from Florence such as George McGucken, also made donations.
The monument was to be of white Italian marble shipped from Italy, seven feet high and resting on a flint eighteen inches deep. The main shaft was set to be removed from “the old foundations north of the court house to the new foundation recently built by Mr. George McGucken,” with the shaft to be redressed. The Mosely Grant Co. of Atlanta had the contract for the monument and it was carved at a cost of between $800-$900, an amount by August of 1902 the ladies were still “several hundred dollars” shy of having.
Finally, in April of 1903 after nearly 30 years, the statue had been completed without any county or city funds. According to the Florence Times the statue “stood proudly upon the public square about 30 feet north of the Courthouse corner. It faces east on Court street, as if a constant reminder to the travelers of that busy thoroughfare that though prosperity may lift our city into high eminence, though commercial activity may drive us with a tyrant hand and the footsteps of our historic past may be blotted out by modern development, and though the generation of witnesses to the valorous deeds of our heroes may pass away—yet the recollection of their virtues, their patriotism and their brave devotion to duty, will ever dwell in the hearts of the people.”
According to information recorded by Mrs. Amelia Camper, president of the Ladies Memorial Association in 1904 and wife of Florence Times founder and Confederate veteran, Moncure W. Camper, the monument consisted of a shaft of stone nearly 16 feet tall (apparently the base has been shortened since then), surmounted by the 7 feet tall figure of a Confederate soldier, a lowly private, returning from the war, who has lowered his rifle, held in his left hand, while with his right he returns his bayonet, and has thrown down his knapsack, resting one foot on it. According to Mrs. Camper’s 1904 article, the statue’s pose was deliberately chosen to suggest the return of peace.
Beneath the private on the sides of the pedestal was an inscription, “C. S. A. 1861-1865. Deo Vindice [Latin for ‘God will prove us right.’].”
Another inscription on the shaft reads: “In memory of the Confederate Dead from Lauderdale County, Florence, Alabama. Unveiled with appropriate ceremonies April 25th, 1903. . . . Glory Stands Beside Our Grief. . . The Manner of their Death was the Crowning Glory of their Lives.”
The monument was officially dedicated on Saturday, April 25, 1903, Confederate Memorial Day, the day set aside to honor the Confederate dead, in a ceremony at which an estimated 3,000-5,000 people were present. This most likely included a few local African-Americans among which were probably a few local black Union (there were approx. 31) and perhaps surprisingly, a few black Confederate veterans. Florence had approximately 18 black Confederate cooks and body-servants. A procession traveled from the Female Synodical College (since 1913 the site of the John McKinley Federal Post Office and Courthouse), led by Maj. Alfred Moore O’Neal (1840-1909), a Confederate veteran, son of the late Confederate Colonel and Alabama governor, Edward Asbury O’Neal (1819-1890), and Commander of Camp Edward A. O’Neal, Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV).
At the square “a platform had been erected for the most prominent actors in the proceedings, while seats were provided for as many of the visitors as could be accommodated.” The program began with a prayer by Confederate veteran Rev. AP Odom followed by a chorus of children led by City School Superintendent, Henry C. Gilbert, who sang “America.”
The Florence Times commented on the singing of the song:
. . . the song “America” was rendered by the public school children in charge of Supt. H. C. Gilbert, and the respective grade teachers. It was a very beautiful idea, showing that in our fair land while the children are taught a true respect for the heroes of our historic past, they are also taught that over all and above all is the great national idea –America—the land of the free and home of the brave.
A speech was given by Massachusetts native, former physician from Bailey Springs, in Lauderdale County and Confederate veteran, Dr. HA Moody, a physician and professor at the State Medical College in Mobile, AL. A song was then rendered by Florence’s Cornet Band. To close the ceremony Methodist minister the Rev. Mitchell Malone, a Confederate veteran and also county tax assessor offered a benediction. The United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) awarded Crosses of Honor to all the eligible Confederate veterans who were present.
In his address, Dr. Moody eulogized the Lost Cause of the Confederacy and praised the virtue and bravery of the men who sacrificed their lives for that “sacred” cause. He also, unfortunately yet unsurprisingly, made racist remarks, saying:
They [the North] look upon the negro [sic] as a white man with a colored skin and believe education to be the one thing needful. We of the South know better. No other people know him so well or love him so well, but nowhere is he accorded social equality.
Then Moody lamented the fact that US President Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) had invited noted black educator and civil rights activist Booker T. Washington “to his table as a social equal” in a dinner at the White House. Before closing his speech the Dr. urged the United Daughters of the Confederacy to do everything in their power to protect the racial purity of the South, as “into your fair hands your Creator has placed the power to prevent this degredation [sic].”
The monument itself was officially unveiled by 13 boys and girls, dressed in white with red ribbons. Each was a descendant of a Confederate veteran. Then 400 school children broke out in song singing “Dixie.” The assembled CSA veterans (about 100 were present) then let loose with the rebel yell.
After the dedication ceremony in a symbolic gesture at the Florence City Cemetery during the Confederate memorial exercises, three Confederate veterans and three Union veterans shook hands over the grave of a fallen soldier. In 1861 Lauderdale County had officially opposed independent state secession save as a last resort and then only together with all the Southern states together, but reluctantly supported the state after it voted to secede. So, there was much pro-Union sentiment in Lauderdale during the war. Between 1889 and 1905 Florence had two different Grand Army of the Republic Posts for Union vets and these Union veterans were always invited to take part in Confederate Memorial exercises.)
The monument was moved from its original location one block south to the location of the new Lauderdale County courthouse in 1965. I’m not sure that the monument was moved to the current courthouse site in order to intimidate anyone out of deep-seated racist motives. From the records I’ve seen it doesn’t appear that any real thought went into relocating the statue at all. Apparently, it was just done without asking anyone’s opinion. It doesn’t seem as if anyone thought to ask the citizens, it was just assumed that the monument should be relocated there.