A Lightning Rod of Provocation: Savannah's Civil War Memorial
By Aaron Bradford
Originally published in Connect Savannah, October 21 - 27, 2020
What was the original motivation for Savannah’s Civil War Memorial in Forsyth Park? Following a fatal clash between protestors in 2017 over the removal of a monument of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, the towering 48-foot monument adorned with a Confederate soldier became a lightning rod for controversy. In response, the City of Savannah changed the name from the Confederate Memorial to the Civil War Memorial to honor all those who fought. Yet, calls continue for removal. Who commissioned this structure to be built?
In 1875, the Civil War was a painful, 10-year-old memory. Close to 700,000 Americans died during the Civil War. This is the equivalent to over 6 million Americans today! In the South, nearly 40% of those who served lost their life or a limb. A lament in the South was, “A rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.” Mourning widows wore all black for two years; mothers for one year, and sisters for six months. As Anya Jabour describes, “Progressing from the all-black head-to-toe ensembles of ‘heavy mourning’ through the black gowns and white gloves and collars of ‘full mourning’ and finally to the greys and purples of ‘half mourning,’ white southern women announced their grief through their clothing.” In the ideal “good death,” loved ones surrounded by family peacefully passed on their deathbed to Heaven. The heart-breaking reality was that fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers marched off to war to be lost in unmarked graves in distant fields.
On May 24th, 1875, the Ladies Memorial Association dedicated a memorial to remember Savannah’s Confederate dead. The cost was $21,250, which is the equivalent to $502,813.64 today. The pedestal was carved in Canada and shipped down the coast. The somber statues named “Silence” and “Judgement” were replaced with a bronze anonymous Confederate soldier standing at rest. A poem upon it reads, “Blow from the four winds, o breath, and breathe upon these slain that they might live.”
After the War, a bitter Confederate widow asked Robert E. Lee how she was to raise her children. He replied, “… bring up your sons to be Americans.” A sign at a recent protest at the Civil War Memorial on October 11th read, “Tell the whole story.” Is this Memorial not an essential of remembering the cost of freedom for all Americans? May we work together to tell the stories of all Savannahians who endured such a terrible chapter in Savannah and American history. The ending of slavery, preservation of the Union, and defense of homes and Constitutional principles came at a terrible cost. The Memorial is powerful reminder of a bloody conflict that resulted from a breakdown in dialogue. May we be inspired by the sacrifice made by the widows and orphans to remember loved ones, regardless of the political causes.
Thank you to the Georgia Historical Society for a swift and helpful reply, along with additional details from the Savannah-Chatham County Historic Site and Monument Commission
1. In February of 2018, the City of Savannah Confederate Memorial Task Force adopted the recommendation of renaming the Confederate Monument" to the "Civil War Memorial." The Force also recommended adding a, "new bronze plaque on the blank horizontal panel on the south side of the memorial." However, no action has been taken.
2. As of this writing, no city officials are calling for the removal of the Confederate Monument. However, calls continue for the removal of monuments on a national scale and of the Confederate Monument. In an article entitled, "Online petition reignites push for removal of Savannah's Civil War Memorial," by Jon Dowding by WSAV in June of 2020 (accessed October 22, 2020), "Anita Narcisse started a petition with over 5,000 signatures asking for the 'removal of the Confederate monument and statue as well as the bronze busts of Confederate generals Lafayette McLaws and Francis Bartow located in Forsyth Park." Recent protests at the Monument and busts on October 11th called for the removal of all Confederate memorials.
3. The Confederate Monument was commissioned prior to 1875 and dedicated on May 24th, 1875.
Image of lady in mourning and quote from http://www.pbs.org/mercy-street/blogs/mercy-street-revealed/mourning-in-the-civil-war-era/ (accessed on 10/15/20)
Image of Monument from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Savannah_GA_USA_Forsyth_Park_Confederate_Memorial.jpg (accessed on 10/15/20)