get to know the story behind this massive monument in Forsyth Park
Located in the Forsyth Park Extension, the Confederate Monument is an imposing, 48-foot tribute. A lone, anonymous soldier stands atop sandstone, commanding the considerations of visitors. Yet the Confederate Monument is mired in misconception. Popularly thought to memorialize the Confederacy, the monument instead commemorates Savannah’s “Confederate Dead.” Even the inscription furthers its funerary function: “Blow from the four winds, o breath, and breathe upon these slain that they may live.” The Confederate Monument offers more than a historical hot seat, however: it likewise commemorates the commitment and collaboration of the Ladies Memorial Association. Criticized, condemned, and nearly confiscated – You could say that the Confederate Monument has one hardy history.
In the nineteenth century, death was “women’s work.” Women would customarily bathe and dress the bodies of the deceased in preparation for the funeral, which was held in the household parlor. As the primary caretakers of the dead, they were expected to retain close proximity and intimacy with them throughout the funerary process. It’s no surprise, then, that they were likewise charged with commemorating the dead.
That’s where the Ladies Memorial Association comes in. Established in 1867, the Ladies Memorial Association took up the maintenance of the Confederate graves of Laurel Grove Cemetery. Yet the Ladies Memorial Association felt that something was lacking. A monument, perhaps?
By 1868, they began to discuss establishing a memorial on the site. The association agreed; the fundraising began. By the following year, they had raised $5,260.51 By 1869, their resources grew to $9,964. That’s approximately two-hundred-thousand dollars today!
Although the Ladies Memorial Association agreed upon the monument, the question of the monument’s origins arose. It was unanimously decided that the monument must not arrive from the northern United States: tensions between the American North and South were still high, and a monument commissioned to a northerner felt inappropriate. Robert Reid, a Canadian sculptor, was instead selected.
Reid’s “reputation as a sculptor and designer [was] not limited to the dominion of Canada,” spoke the Ladies Memorial Association, who felt “assured” that the people of the South would “have every reason to be fully satisfied with the Structure when completed.” (Reid’s design was scorned nevertheless, though we’ll get to that later.)
Although the Confederate Monument would face uncounted criticism, the location of the memorial was the first contested. Citizens favored Bull Street, which was closer to the general populace than the Forsyth Park Extension. If the monument was placed in Forsyth Park, the monument would be overlooked.
One Confederate soldier offered the opinion that “the monument should be located in the most conspicuous place in the city, where it would daily greet the eyes of our people, and not in an unimproved field, nearly at the extremity of the city,” He, too, suggested Bull Street: “It would be a daily reminder of our patriotic cause and its brave defenders who went down in the shock of battle.”
The Augusta Chronicle likewise condemned the Forsyth Park Extension. “The design of the monument to the Confederate dead is one of the most elaborate and elegant I have ever seen. It is regretted that this monument is to be located in the southern suburbs of the city,” argued one correspondent.
Yet the Ladies Memorial Association determined Forsyth Park as the “logical location” for the monument. Forsyth Park provided a spacious environment for the memorial. In Forsyth Park, the memorial would be unobstructed by tall trees or high churches. The Ladies Memorial Association argued, too, that placing the monument within the city would cause mold or discoloration.
Their most remarkable defense? The Forsyth Park Extension was the “ground upon which the men being honored with the monument drilled in preparation for the bloody work in which their lives were the sacrifice. The quiet, peaceful surroundings for the chosen site are in harmony with the sentiments embodied in the monument, and in the minds of the committee add great force to its silent appeal to our sympathy and reverence.”
It was a convincing request. By April, it was granted.
The City of Savannah dedicated June 16 of 1874 to the “laying of the cornerstone.” The cornerstone had arrived a week earlier upon the San Salvador, and was laid by the Honorable Samuel D. Irvin of Macon, the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Masons of Georgia.
Remarkably, the City of Savannah decided to place a time capsule within the cornerstone The time capsule included items such as Confederate notes, newspapers, currency, sheet music, buttons, and uniforms. It even included a bronze copy of the Seal of the Confederacy as well as a piece of flagstaff from Fort Sumter!
As the monument was not made from material retrieved from northern states, the Ladies Memorial Association stipulated that the monument, too, must avoid northern ports. This was a difficult though not impossible task, and the monument was nearly confiscated.
The Captain of the Mary Louise had forgotten to fill out a bill of landing for the shipment, subjecting the items to seizure. Colonel James Atkins resolved the confiscation with a payment of $1,100 to the United States Customs. In an expensive though effective move, the Mary Louise had successfully avoided northern ports. Plus, it had arrived at Savannah.
The Confederate Monument was dedicated on May 24 of 1875. The City Council had requested that all businesses close early in commemoration, allowing citizens the opportunity to partake in the dedication. Julian Hartride was chosen as the orator, likening the soldiers to martyrs: “They had been sacrificed alike in the defense of constitutional liberty.” Hartridges’ was an apt speech for what’s now commonly called “a rich man’s war, but a poor man’s fight.”
A procession was held amidst military festivities in an enduring tribute. General Joseph E. Johnston, Grand Marshall and General Robert H. Anderson, Assistant Marshall, were likewise present.
Yet the Confederate Monument was condemned upon its completion. Like most public art, the monument’s design felt out of touch. “It was too symbolic to meet popular approval, and the general effect was so lacking in charm as to offend those of artistic trend,” remarked Thomas Gamble of the Savannah Morning News. Savannah had concluded their period of “ceremonial bereavement,” and funeral design was unpopular.
Furthermore, funerary designs were typically allocated to cemeteries or squares. The Confederate Monument was instead located in a park, making the funerary motif unusual. Even the monument’s four soldiers were considered funerary: non-funerary representations of soldiers wouldn’t occur until after 1885.
Yet the Ladies Memorial Association was unable to afford renovations to the monument. DeRenne, recognizing the Ladies Memorial Associations’ distress, submitted the proposal for an updated design: replace the figure of “Judgment” while removing the figure of “Silence.”
The Ladies Memorial Association agreed. They voted to donate “Judgment” to the City of Thomasville and relocate “Silence” to Laurel Grove. The newly installed figure, which DeRenne reported as “a colossal bronze statue of a Confederate soldier,” was presented on May 21 of 1879.
To DeRenne, the statue of the Confederate Soldier represents “him as he was” – “a man who chose rather to be than to be seen; to bear hardship than to complain of it; a man who met with unflinching firmness the fate decreed to him, to suffer, to fight, and to die in vain.” We certainly think it makes for a striking sight.
“Judgment” remains at the Laurel Hill Cemetery of Thomasville, as does “Silence” in Laurel Grove Cemetery. The Confederate Monument prevails in the Forsyth Park Extension. Together they represent not only the slain soldiers of the Civil War but the commitment and collaboration of the Ladies Memorial Association
The Civil War somehow has become a historical hotspot. Some called for the removal of Confederate statues across the South; others demanded the statues remain. Yet Georgia law prohibited the removal of Confederate monuments. The City of Savannah had no choice but to compromise. A task force was appointed to resolve the issue.
Rebranding the monument seemed uniquely effective, and the Confederate Monument became the Civil War Memorial. This required little more than a renaming ceremony and an updated plaque.
The Civil War Memorial was rededicated in 2018, and reads: “This memorial was originally erected in 1875 to the Confederate dead, redesigned in 1879, and dedicated in 2018 to all the dead of the American Civil War.”
Savannah has decided to keep the Confederate Soldier atop the monument, though the busts of two Confederate Officers will be relocated to local cemeteries. (The task force reiterates that the busts are not original to the monument, however, and were only established upon the site in the twentieth century.)
You can find the Confederate Monument at the Forsyth Park Extension of Savannah’s Historic District. Forsyth Park is 30-acres large, so be sure to hydrate! It’s bordered by Gaston, Drayton, and Whitaker Streets. Visitors to Forsyth Park will also find the Spanish-American War Memorial and the Fountain. The Fountain, established in 1858, is sure to catch the eye. Don’t forget your camera!