Local Confederate monuments still standing
Published 9:48 am Wednesday, July 15, 2015
The Confederate battle flag was flown for more than 50 years on top or in front of the South Carolina Statehouse, but it was removed on Friday amongst heavy security and loud cheers just 23 days after nine black churchgoers in Charleston were allegedly killed by a white man attempting to start a race war. Among the shooter’s manifesto were pictures of himself at various Confederate heritage sites and slavery museums with the flag in hand.
The flag itself has long been the subject of racial tensions in the South, and with the recent tragedy, the questions of how and why some still honor the Rebel cause has been thrust to the forefront of discussions nationwide. Now, the same protesters who called for the flag’s removal have reportedly shifted their attention to the monuments that honor the same fallen heroes and their cause.
In Western Tidewater alone, there are three such monuments — and an unidentifiable number of historical markers, too — that pay tribute to the area’s lost soldiers. One sits beside the Southampton County Courthouse in Courtland; one is flanked by other statues in Memorial Park in Franklin; and the other is on grounds of the Isle of Wight Courthouse, north of Windsor.
Erected on Sept. 17, 1902, by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Urquhart-Gillette Chapter, the Southampton County Confederate Monument was first located to the west of the Southampton County Courthouse. According to the author of “Southampton County and Franklin: A Pictorial History,” retired Circuit Court Judge Daniel T. Balfour, it was relocated to its current location east of the building on Sept. 27, 1992, to make room for the addition of the 911 Center to the Southampton County Sheriff’s Office.
Made of Petersburg gray granite, the monument sits on the northern bank of the Nottoway River. On the front, it features seal and monogram of The Confederate States of America, the date of the Civil War and the phrase “Our Confederate Dead.” One side of the monument reads, “The shaft on which we carve no name shall guide Virginia’s youth. A sign post on the road to fame, to honor and to truth. A silent sentry, it shall stand to guard through coming time. Their graves who died for native land and duty most sublime.”
The opposite side, facing the courthouse, lists the various companies of the county and the phrase, “With shouts above the cannon’s roar, they joined the legends gone before. They bravely fought. They bravely fell. They wore the gray. They wore it well.”
The statue that adorns the top is that of a Confederate artillery soldier holding a gun. This same figure can also be seen on Isle of Wight’s Confederate monument.
More recently, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Urquhart-Gillette Chapter, also placed a smaller, bronze plaque in front of the monument, as well as a flag pole in the northwest corner of the property. The plaque reads, “Not Forgotten – The two hundred and nineteen names that are engraved on the bricks before you are the men from Southampton County who gave their lives defending their families, friends and homes from the Northern Invaders. They were killed in action or died from wounds or disease in the War of Northern Aggression 1861-1865. We honor their bravery and sacrifice. We will not forget their struggle to preserve the principles on which our country was founded.”
Surrounded by a memorial that honors veterans of World War I and World War II, hence the name of the park in which its located, the Confederate monument in Franklin was once at the center of town. Erected in the middle of the intersection of 2nd Street and High Street on June 3, 1911, by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Agnis-Lee Chapter, the monument had to be moved because it caused massive traffic problems, according to City Attorney Taylor Williams. The Agnis-Lee Chapter of the UDC is now defunct.
Like its counterparts in Southampton and Isle of Wight counties, the monument is made of Petersburg gray granite. However, a different solider — holding his gun at his side — sits upon the top. It is fairly plain, as well, with only the phrases “Love Makes Memory Eternal” and “To Our Confederate Dead” written on the front. An extremely detailed Confederate flag is etched into the back of the base, and notably features a broken flag pole.
Williams said that the land where the monument now stands was given to the city by their heirs of James L. Camp in 1946, and a time capsule with letters from city residents was buried in 1976 in front of the statue, with plans for it to be opened in 100 years.
The second-oldest memorial in the region, the Isle of Wight Confederate monument was erected by The United Daughters of the Confederacy on May 30, 1905. As mentioned previously, it is made of Petersburg gray granite, and time has faded many of the phrases on its staff, making them almost illegible.
Of those which you can read, are the lines, “They bleed; we weep. We live; they sleep,” “They bravely fought, They bravely fell. They wore the gray, They wore it well. Bright were the lives they gave for us, The land they struggled to save for us. Will not forget its warriors yet, who sleep in so many graves for us” and “Glorious is his fate, and envied is his lot, who for his country fights and for it dies. There is a true glory and a true honor. The glory of duty done the honor of the integrity of principle.”
It is said that this monument was inspired by its counterpart in Courtland, as they have many of the same features on the front. This includes the seal and monogram of The Confederate States of America, the date of the Civil War and the phrase “Our Confederate Dead.” They have one distinctive difference: the Isle of Wight monument has an octagonal staff, while Southampton County’s is a quadrangle.
While the discussions will only continue nationwide, these monuments are protected by a Virginia statute (§ 15.2-1812 – Memorials for war veterans) that prohibits local authorities or individuals from removing, damaging or defacing an established war memorial. Local administrators have also said that residents have not called for the dismantling of the region’s monuments.