Chiseled Sentinels of the Confederacy
“Whom shall we consecrate and set apart as one of our sacred men? Sacred, that all men may see him, be reminded of him, and, by new example added to the old perpetual precept, be taught what is real worth in man. Whom do you wish to resemble? Whom do you set on a high column, that all men looking at it, may be continually apprised of the duty you expect from them?” Charles Francis Adams, 1907.
The following is excerpted from Hodding Carter’s essay “Statues in the Squares” from Robert West Howard’s “This is the South,” published in 1959.
“[The] statues in the [town] squares [across the South] are more than symbols of gallantry in defeat, or the defeat of gallantry. They are also reminders of, and, in an unstated way, a kind of recompense for the inexcusable aftermath of military subjugation; for they supplanted the plunderers of Reconstruction, whose memory still brought in my boyhood ready curses from the aging veterans of whom we were so proud and not a little afraid.
And it was these old men and their ancient womenfolk, unreconstructed and unforgiving, who passed on to sons and grandsons the truth and legends of wrongs which, in the commission and the remembering, make up the saddest of our nation’s multiple legacies.
And statues are reminders, lastly, of the true nature of the Southern past and of the South’s folk heritage; for beneath the romantic overlay so greatly inspired by a Scots novelist’s tales of knightly derring-do was a frontier land, the stamping ground of Davy Crockett and Mike Fink, of Andy Jackson and Sam Houston, of Nolichucky Jack Sevier and Oglethorpe’s paupers and the unsubdued sons of clansmen who fought at Culloden.
The warriors in marble bespeak that frontier whose hallmarks are the ready rifle and the white-hot temper, the violent workings of a code of honor, a mistrust of the intruder, and the feudal unity of a people whose fields were bounded all around by wilderness.
Because this is so, because the chiseled sentinels of the Confederacy evoke the frontier as surely as they recall a war and a defeat and a needless, consequential humiliation, I would choose first as their companion figures the likenesses of men whose abilities the frontiersmen respect above all others, or whom they would identify with themselves.
It is understandable, since the vanquished always remember the longest, that the South should have so lavishly memorialized her Confederate dead. They died in a war that their survivors lost. Above their graves a nation in being was pounded to nothingness. Understandable, and sad.
For before and after them were other Southerners who fought in other wars. While some of these have been remembered, few of them have been honored enough. Where are the statues to Jeff Davis’ Mississippians and those other soldiers of the Deep South who principally fought the Mexican War?
Lastly, I would erect somewhere in the South, preferably deep in the lower Mississippi Valley, another statue, as anonymous and as representative as the graven Confederates of the courthouse squares, but, unlike these, neither armed, or uniformed.
The figure would be clad in the work clothes of a farmer or the rough garb of a riverman or the unstylish everyday suit of a small-town citizen. His face would reflect the toil, the frustrations, and the sufferings of a people who have passed through a succession of ordeals such as no other Americans region has known: the ordeals of flood and of decimation by malaria and yellow fever; the ordeals of military defeat and of political grinding-down and agricultural ruin and long poverty.
The eyes of this unknown and unsoldierly warrior would be fixed upon the far horizon of the frontiersman; and in the set of his shoulders a sensitive observer would perceive the glory of an indestructible people whose struggle for their rightful place in the sun is all but ended.”
(This is the South, Robert West Howard, editor, Rand McNally, 1959, excerpts pp. 239-241; 245)