Sacred Memories: The Civil War Monument Movement in Texas

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War memorials are symbols of a community’s sense of itself, the values it holds dear, and its collective memory. They inform us more, perhaps, about the period in which the memorials were erected than the period of the war itself.

Kelly McMichael, in her book, Sacred Memories: The Civil War Monument Movement in Texas, takes the reader on a tour of Civil War monuments throughout the state and in doing so tells the story of each monument and its creation. McMichael explores Texans’ motivations for erecting Civil War memorials, which she views as attempts during a period of turmoil and uncertainty—“severe depression, social unrest, the rise of Populism, mass immigration, urbanization, industrialization, imperialism, lynching, and Jim Crow laws”—to preserve the memory of the Confederate dead, to instill in future generations the values of patriotism, duty, and courage; to create a shared memory and identity “based on a largely invented story”; and to “anchor a community against social and political doubt.”

Her focus is the human story of each monument, the characters involved in its creation, and the sacred memories held dear to them.

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Introduction

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INTRODUCTION

THE CHILDREN’S VOICES ECHOED through the tall canopy of oaks that surrounded the courthouse, their laughter giving them away in a game of hide-and-seek. One child counted, eyes turned into the bark of an old tree. Another poised silently behind a large cannon and a third crept as quietly as possible in her long dress and stiff black shoes behind the Civil War monument in the center of the lawn.

The adults who had gathered nearby were chatting, most commenting on the clear, calm weather—always uncertain in North Central Texas in March—and preparing for the day’s celebration. The men, growing overly warm in their gray woolen military uniforms, hung the last of the bunting and crepe paper and planted the Confederate and United States flags around the square. The ladies’ hoopskirts and crinoline crackled in the air as they placed a few chairs around the monument for the elderly among the expected crowd.

As it turned out, seventy-five men, women, and children gathered that day in March 1996 in period dress to rededicate the city of Sherman’s one-hundred-year-old Confederate monument. The parents quieted their children while Mark Farrington, commander of the Colonel Reeves Eleventh Texas Cavalry Camp 349, Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), explained to those present that “we are here today not to honor the war, but the warriors.” The memorial, originally unveiled on April 22, 1897, by the Sherman Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), remained a site of memory, despite the passing of the years.1

 

East Texas Monuments

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1. EAST TEXAS MONUMENTS

Huntsville, Walker County

HUNTSVILLE IS AT THE JUNCTION of Interstate 45, U.S. Highway 190, and state highways 19 and 30. The monument is downtown on the courthouse lawn, at the corner of Eleventh Street (U.S. Highway 190) and Sam Houston Avenue.

Responding to veteran J. F. Jarrard’s call, twenty-five local women gathered at the Baptist church on a Sunday afternoon in November 1899 to establish a UDC chapter in Huntsville, which they named the John B. Gordon Chapter after Gen. John B. Gordon, a respected soldier and, later, a governor and senator from Georgia. In 1900 the chapter’s second president, Mary Wynne Farris, suggested erecting a monument to the Confederacy. Farris, born in Mississippi in 1836, came to Texas as a child with her parents and was in the first graduating class of Andrew Female College, one of the earliest schools for girls in the state. The petite, dark-haired woman worked until her death in 1922 to raise funds to commemorate the county’s soldiers. On June 27, 1956, more than fifty years after Farris first began raising money, the Gordon Chapter erected a small marble shaft on the courthouse lawn “in memory of our Confederate patriots.” The monument was removed and placed in storage in 1968 after the courthouse burned, but was placed on the grounds of the new courthouse in June 1973.1

 

North Texas Monuments

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2. NORTH TEXAS MONUMENTS

Bonham, Fannin County

BONHAM IS AT THE JUNCTION of U.S. Highway 82 and state highways 78 and 121, twelve miles south of the Red River. The monument sits on the courthouse lawn on West Sam Rayburn Drive.

Bonham’s newspaper, the Fannin County Favorite, encouraged local citizens in July 1905 to “take a few days off, wash up the children, get your wife a new dress, fill your baskets full and then hitch up old Jack and Beek and come down to the county seat for a few days of jollification” at the county’s combined Old Settler’s Day and United Confederate Veterans Reunion. Despite a rain delay of one week, Bonham’s residents needed little encouragement and most came out to enjoy the festivities and renew old acquaintances.1

A highlight of the event was the unveiling of the county’s Confederate monument. The local UDC chapter, along with the Confederate Veterans Association of Fannin County, hired Bonham Marble Works to erect a memorial at a cost of $2,500, paid for by public subscription.2

 

North Central Texas Monuments

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3. NORTH CENTRAL TEXAS MONUMENTS

Cleburne, Johnson County

CLEBURNE IS ON U.S. HIGHWAY 67, thirty miles south of Fort Worth. The town’s primary monument sits on the courthouse lawn at the intersection of Main (State Highway 174) and Henderson (U.S. Highway 67) streets. There is a memorial arch in Cleburne Memorial Cemetery dedicated to the Confederacy. The cemetery is on East Washington Street off U.S. Highway 67.

The Pat Cleburne Chapter of the UDC erected the city’s main monument downtown on December 6, 1917. The memorial consists of a shaft atop a large public drinking basin. The entire height of the memorial is over twenty-eight feet. The sixty-eight members of the Pat Cleburne Camp raised $2,750 to erect the monument.1

The monumental arch in Confederate Memorial Park Cemetery, Cleburne. Author photograph.

These veterans also erected the arch that stands in the southwest corner of Cleburne’s Memorial Cemetery. Dedicated in 1921, the concrete arch served as the front gate to the cemetery and symbolically joined it with Confederate Memorial Park, an area of land owned by the veterans. The old soldiers met for their yearly reunion in the park until the Cleburne Camp disbanded (because so few veterans were left). At that time the park became part of the cemetery, which contains the graves of many Confederate veterans.2

 

Central Texas Monuments

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4. CENTRAL TEXAS MONUMENTS

Austin, Travis County

AUSTIN IS IN CENTRAL TEXAS along Interstate 35 and is divided by the Colorado River. There are five Civil War monuments in Austin: the Albert Sidney Johnston Memorial at the Texas State Cemetery at 3001 Comal Street; the Austin Confederate Monument; Hood’s Texas Brigade Monument, and Terry’s Texas Rangers Memorial, all on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol; and the Littlefield Memorial Fountain, which is dedicated to those University of Texas students who have fought in wars, including the Civil War, and can be found on the South Mall of the University of Texas campus.

Albert Sidney Johnston Memorial

Organized in Austin in 1897, the Albert Sidney Johnston Chapter of the UDC declared that their “grand objective” was to “erect a monument over the grave of Albert Johnston, that gallant commander, who when dying, begged that his body might be laid to rest in Texas soil.” Try as they might, the ladies could not raise enough funds to build a suitable memorial, so they petitioned the state organization to help them. Texas UDC president Benedette Tobin organized a monument committee of thirty-four women who presented a petition to the regular session of the Texas legislature in 1898 asking for a state appropriation to build the monument. The legislature denied the UDC’s petition. Tobin then increased the committee’s membership to fifty and asked Senator R. N. Stafford of Mineola for advice.1

 

The Panhandle and West Texas Monuments

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5. THE PANHANDLE AND WEST TEXAS MONUMENTS

Amarillo, Potter County

AMARILLO IS IN THE TEXAS PANHANDLE at the junction of U.S. Highway 287 and Interstate 40. The monument is in Ellwood Park on West Eleventh and Adams streets.

Four elderly and stooped veterans gathered in Ellwood Park on June 8, 1931, to be honored at a monument-unveiling ceremony as the last living Confederate soldiers in the area. The monument, erected by the Will A. Miller Chapter of the UDC, was made out of Vermont and Italian marble and had been ordered from H. A. Whitacre, a monument maker in New York. Whitacre had shipped the granite shaft and marble soldier to the dusty Panhandle town where the Osgood Memorial Company, a local monument business, set the statue in place.1

On the day of the unveiling, hundreds of local citizens gathered in Ellwood Park. The children ran among the trees, most of which were young saplings recently planted on what had once been grassy prairie land. A wind blew from the south, whipping dust into the eyes of the participants, but few people minded as they reveled in the Municipal Band’s playing and waited to hear speeches from Georgia Kirkman, president of the local UDC chapter, Mayor Ernest O. Thompson, and State Congressman Marvin Jones.2

 

South Texas Monuments

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6. SOUTH TEXAS MONUMENTS

Brownsville, Cameron County

BROWNSVILLE IS AT THE SOUTHERNMOST TIP of Texas across from Matamoras, Mexico, and is the southern terminus of U.S. highways 77 and 83. The monument is on International Boulevard (State Highway 4), on the corner of East Tyler and East Ninth streets.

The national UDC dedicated a small gray boulder to Jefferson Davis in 1926. The memorial, made of granite from Llano, Texas, marks an intersection of the Jefferson Davis Highway and honors the only president of the Confederacy and his service to the U.S. Army in Mexico.1

Davis held the position of colonel during the Mexican-American War and landed troops at Point Isabel, marching his men into the interior of the country. The Daughters claimed he was the hero of the Battles of Buena Vista and Monterey.2

The monument sits not far from the scene of the Battle of Palmito Ranch, the last battle of the Civil War, which took place in March 1865. In this battle, the 62nd U.S. Colored Infantry fired the last volley of the Civil War while in retreat from advancing Confederate forces. Private John J. Williams of Indiana was the only man killed in the battle; he was also the last man to die in the Civil War.3

 

Southeast Texas Monuments

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7. SOUTHEAST TEXAS MONUMENTS

Alvin, Brazoria County

ALVIN IS TWELVE MILES SOUTHEAST OF HOUSTON at the junction of state highways 6 and 35. The monument is in the Confederate Cemetery on Farm to Market Road 517 near the intersection of State Highway 35.

The Lamar Fontaine Chapter of the UDC dedicated a monument to the John A. Wharton Camp, UCV, on May 30, 1924. The old soldiers had named their camp in honor of Wharton, a Confederate brigadier general from Brazoria County. The monument is inscribed with the phrase “superior to adversity; equal to prosperity.”1

In the 1890s veterans in the county purchased a plot of land, named it Confederate Cemetery, and dedicated it as the final resting place for local veterans and their families. With the large numbers of deaths following the hurricane of 1900, they increased the cemetery’s acreage and opened the grounds to nonveteran dead. Several hurricane victims are also buried in the cemetery. Although most Americans rightly associate the hurricane of 1900 with Galveston, the fierce storm destroyed towns across the Texas gulf region as well, leaving death and destruction in its wake. Today, the dead from all of the last four American wars are buried in the cemetery, along with several civic leaders.2

 

Appendix: Table of Monuments

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