Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Wilcox County Confederate Monument was unveiled 137 years ago today

Wilcox County Confederate Monument
Today – April 26 – marks the 137th anniversary of one of the most monumental days in the history of Wilcox County, for it was on this day in 1880 that the Wilcox County Confederate Monument was unveiled and dedicated before a large crowd at the historic Camden Cemetery.

What we now call Confederate Memorial Day was originally celebrated in Alabama every April 26 because it marked the anniversary of the day in 1865 when Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered in North Carolina, ending major hostilities in the Civil War. April 26, 1880 fell on a Monday, and Wilcox County officials declared it a holiday so that everyone could take part in the unveiling of the Wilcox County Confederate Monument in Camden.

By 11 a.m. that day, a large crowd had gathered at the Wilcox County Courthouse, and a short time later a procession made up of Confederate veterans, citizens and a coronet band began parading up Broad Street toward the cemetery to the tune of “Dixie.” As the parade traveled up the street, sources say that the crowd grew in size as it marched toward the shade of a grove of trees, where Confederate Major Charles Lewis Scott was to speak at noon. Scott, who was wounded at the First Battle of Manassas, took the stand at the appointed time and delivered a speech so emotionally stirring that folks in the crowd, just 15 years removed from the war’s end, began to weep openly.

Later that afternoon, Scott, along with other veterans and members of the Dale Masonic Lodge, gathered at the base of the monument, where a few minutes later the veil was withdrawn from the statue of a lone Confederate soldier with his rifle “at rest,” that is, with the muzzle turned down. Eventually the crowd dispersed, but this unnamed rebel soldier made of Alabama granite has maintained his watch over his post every day since the veil was dropped.

April 26, 1880 was also a significant day because it wrapped up 14 years of fundraising by the Wilcox Monumental Association and the Ladies Memorial Association. Despite the financial hardships of Reconstruction, these groups raised $1,545.45, which is around $34,300 in today’s dollars. The statue’s designer and sculptor received $1,061.39; around $300 was paid to prepare the earth foundation beneath the heavy statue; around $200 was paid for the fence around the monument; and $50 was paid to Mr. and Mrs. A.A. Newsome for the plot of land the statue was placed on.

If you visit the monument today, you’ll see that beneath the statue each face of the base carries a different inscription. The west-facing front of the base tells the reader that the statue was erected in memory of the “Confederate Dead of Wilcox County” from between the years of 1861 to 1865. You’ll also see a quote by Confederate President Jefferson Davis that reads, “The manner of their death was the crowning glory of their lives.”

The south side of the base bears a couple of lines of poetry from Father Ryan – “When marble wears away and monuments are dust, the songs that guard our soldiers’ clay will still fulfill their trust.” Father Ryan was the moniker of the Rev. Abram Joseph Ryan, a Catholic priest, who was also known as the “Poet-Priest of the South” and as the “Poet Laureate of the Confederacy.” Born in Maryland in 1838, Ryan died in Kentucky in 1886 and is buried in the Old Catholic Cemetery in Mobile.

The east side of the base states that the statue was erected by the Ladies Memorial and Wilcox Monumental Associations on April 26, 1880, while the north side of the base lets readers know that the county’s Civil War dead “gave their lives for us; for the honor of Alabama; for the rights of the states; and for the principles of this Union as these were handed down to us by the fathers of our common country.”

In the end, it’s said that Wilcox County’s Confederate Monument was the second such monument erected in the entire state of Alabama. Most of these types of monuments were erected in the early 1900s, but according to Shannon Fontaine with the Alabama Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the only Alabama Confederate monument that’s older than the one in Camden is the Confederate monument in Oakwood Cemetery in Montgomery. That monument was erected by the Ladies Memorial Association of Montgomery in April 1868.

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