Whatever else was happening in the South in 1891 and afterward, it seems appropriate and important to interpret Pensacola's Confederate monument's origins through the words and actions of those who were directly involved in its christening rather than rely only on concurrent yet potentially unconnected events such as the discrimination and suppression of African Americans, the Black Codes, Jim Crow Laws that were so rampant throughout the South and in other parts of the United States for 100 years after the end of the Civil War.
The tortured linkage of the Lost Cause narrative to the construction of the Pensacola Confederate monument implies that honoring the dead with the monument wasn't merely concurrent with the propagation of the Lost Cause narrative but that it was synonymous with advancing the narrative. It means that in spite of the emotional sentiments expressed at the memorial's dedication, those expressions were cynically insincere because what Pensacolians really cared about when they funded and erected that monument was suppressing African Americans instead. But we don't hear diatribes against African Americans in these speeches; we hear about their war dead and the reasons that they went off to war
Why did they go to war? Because their states called them to war. So, what was the "cause" that they died for? Was it slavery or states' rights? The common soldier's cause was the same as it has been in every war fought by Americans since the beginning. The "cause" was duty. The common soldier then was little different than the common soldier of today in that he didn't choose the battles and wasn't in the room where the politics, policies, and strategies were birthed. He was an instrument of his state government; honoring him when he is dead is not a glamorization of war or its politics, it's a reminder of the cost of war and politics.
But the July 4 News Journal editorial described the monument as “a piece of stone intended to dignify, sanitize and whitewash all the treasonous sentiments and corrupt behavior of those who had unjustly seized power in this city.”
Let’s listen to the voices of that day in 1891 and judge them for ourselves...
Under an overcast sky, the dedication parade formed and marched to the monument as the divisions that formed the parade positioned themselves around the reviewing stand. After a prayer was said by Reverend H. S. Yerger, Master of Ceremonies Colonel W. D. Chipley announced the singing of "My Country 'Tis of Thee." Of the rendition of the song, the June 18, 1891 issue of the Pensacola News reported, "With the aid of the band the song was rendered, Mr. J. W. Lurton directing, and with a pathos and fervor that left no doubt of the sincerity of those who voiced its sentiments."
The song, "My Country 'Tis of Thee" ("America") was a popular de facto National Anthem of the United States until the Star Spangled Banner was adopted in 1931.
Then, as soon as the drapery that surrounded the monument was dropped to the ground, the band struck up the song "Dixie" "but the music for a moment was lost in the great cheer which sped heavenward from those ten thousand throats, and the scene became wildly animated as hats, handkerchiefs and flags were waved high in the air," according to the Pensacola News article.
When the cheering subsided, Colonel Chipley introduced Pensacola attorney Evelyn C. Maxwell for the introduction of Florida Governor Francis P. Fleming.
Maxwell was the son of former Florida Secretary of State and Chief Justice Augustus Maxwell, and the grandson of former Justice Walker Anderson. Maxwell grew up in Pensacola and became a criminal court judge in 1892 and a circuit judge in 1896. Then, he became a Florida Supreme Court justice in 1902 and served in that capacity for two years.
Of the Governor, Maxwell said, "With the first notes of war he responded to the call. Young in all save his ardor of patriotism, a youth who had not yet reached man’s estate, he enlisted in the fight. The strength of devotion steeled those sinews which time had not yet matured, and throughout the long years which followed he remained at his post in the desperate struggle for what he felt to be the right. In Virginia, in Tennessee and in North Georgia he followed the fortunes of the Southern arms, until the curtain fell; the wager of war was decided against him and he bowed to the bitterness of defeat. The end came and with it he recognized that the same devotion to his state which in time of war called him to arms demanded in time of peace that he accept the issue of the fight and take up again the duties of civil life. He laid aside the captain’s sword, which he had so hardly won, and devoted himself to the task of raising his loved state from the prostration which marked the close of hostilities to that proud position in a prosperous South which she now holds."
Governor Francis P. Fleming, Florida's 15th governor, a Democrat and a Confederate war veteran, took the stand next. He said that while some might say that the South fought a war in vain which resulted in the loss of property and the useless loss of lives, he could not think that the lives of soldiers were lost in vain. "The world is richer and better for such libations poured upon the altar of Country, and the contribution to history made by Southern valor and Southern heroism, in a war waged to maintain the right of self government and in defense of homes and family altars from invasion and destruction. And now that more than a quarter of a century has passed and we can recall our motives in the clear light of mature deliberation, with most of our comrades asleep in their graves and the great Creator of the universe looking down upon us, we may face the whole world and declare it to be our sincerest conviction that men never went forth to battle with a clearer consciousness of the purity of their motives, or the righteousness of their cause." Then, he spoke of the present, "Let us cherish the memories of the past to be transmitted as a sacred heritage to posterity. But let us be equally true to the duties of the present and the hopes of the future. Let us remember that the stars and stripes is our flag and the emblem of a united country to which our allegiance is due."
Next to address the audience was Reverend J. H. Curry who introduced the event's primary speaker, Colonel R. W. Davis.
He told the crowd gathered around him, "No monumental pile, however sublime or beautiful in sculptor’s conception or architectural build can justly commemorate the heroism and glory of these crownless martyrs—these ungarlanded heroes of Confederated hopes, fortunes and sympathies. Ah, no, not to perpetuate their fame do we erect this monument; a nobler purpose impels us, a holier motive urges us. This monument is to be a sublime, but silent witness of our abiding faith in the rightness, honesty and sincerity of the principles for which the great sacrifice was made—it is to be a perpetual proclamation of our loyalty to what was and is and forever shall be—conviction to duty at any cost short of honor and integrity."
He told the audience that while they gathered to honor those who died in defense of the principle of commitment to duty, they stood united as Americans. "This monument is a pledge of our appreciative remembrance of those who spent and were spent in defense of cherished principles, contended for, crushed but never surrendered. No one can censure us for honoring our heroic dead; nor can they attribute this endeavor to do so to motives antagonistic to our common country, the grandest, freest, best government on God’s earth—our American Union of States, indissoluble forever, under the common banner of a common brotherhood for God and human rights eternally."
Addressing the possibility that the event would be misinterpreted as being centered on the romantic image of the Southern soldier, he said that they were there to honor their dead. "This was the more than poetic-inspired conception of the brave, romantic Southerner, whose very name is a synonym for chivalry—a chivalry that dare resist an insult offered to a brother—quicker even than to self—than rather die than surrender personal honor. This was the secret and inspiration of that sublime struggle a score and ten years ago. But the result is gone into history and we do not now come to revive any discussion; but we do come to honor ourselves in doing honor to our deathless dead; and while we loved them living we more than love them departed."
Finally, the event's primary orator, Colonel Robert W. Davis took his place to deliver his speech.
He cautioned the audience that although he intended no offense, he would speak the truth. He said, "We have assembled to-day for no festive purpose, for no trivial cause, but to perform a grave and sweet duty, sad to give outward sign and public expression to the feeling of our hearts."
He said that within the past few years, a crumpled parchment dated January 10, 1861 was found in the basement of the State Capitol on which sixty-nine of their representatives added their signatures to the ordinance that withdrew Florida from the Union and "plunged us into war, and made all the sad history that followed—contained the decree that made fame for some—dug graves for many—wrought tears and spilled blood."
He then spoke in defense of the secession ordinance, for which Florida never published a "declaration of causes" as four other Confederate states had, "...for all the brave men who fought and bled and fell in advocacy of the principles of that Ordinance of Secession, I shall say here to-day under a Florida sky, and in the face of all the people of this great and now reunited country, as God is my Judge, I believe the people of Florida had the right to separate in peace from the American Union—that we had the same right our forefathers of the American revolution had. Yet, though we fought for the same principle our forefathers fought for, upon the same red hills of Old Dominion, and along the same sea coasts of the Carolinas and Georgia, where our forefathers bled, we are told now, and our children are taught, that one was American patriotism, and the other criminal rebellion and treason."
But then he was clear that as he believed the secession was not treasonous, he said he believed that to be the case as a credit to the dead they were assembled to honor that day. “Do not misunderstand me. I am not speaking with vain regrets. I am not carping that we did not succeed. I am not clamoring for another war. I do not now wish to see the American Union dissolved or its growing greatness retarded or destroyed. I do not wish to open old wounds, or re-kindle the old and now extinguished flame. I only speak out my heart in justice to the memory of those who died for a principle they believed in—who fought for a cause they deemed just, and to preserve whose memory this granite shaft is unveiled to-day."
Believing that the Northern soldiers who fought against them would not harbor ill will toward them for honoring their dead, he said, “My friends of the North—my generous, brave and noble friends—you who fought against us in those days, and you who conquered us and who replaced the Southern cross by the Stars and Stripes over a re-united land, you do not blame us for refusing to turn our backs on our own brave dead, or for defending the principles which actuated and moved us; nor do you sympathise with a certain and unnamed United States senator, who in a recent speech in the United States senate scoffed at the loyalty of the Southern people and sneeringly said of them—“They have their own heroes, their own anniversaries; they celebrate their own victories; they rear their own monuments to civil and military leaders whose claim to glory is that they fell for slavery and anarchy.” [from a speech by Sen. John J. Ingalls (R-Kansas) on the U. S. Senate floor on January 23, 1890]
In a further declaration that he opposed continuing the strife between North and South, he attributed the fomentation of disharmony to those who never wore a uniform during the war. “God be praised that the country now, North and South, has no toleration for those who attempt to foment and keep alive the strife they never dared enter when it raged in reality, and who fight over for political purposes battles the smoke of which they never saw, and the roar and rattle of which they never heard."
He then returned to visions of the fanfare of young men marching off to war, but added that while he had hoped to go to the fighting himself as a young man, he lived to regret that he ultimately did. “Oh! what years, Oh! what a war? How vividly we recall the days when the boys marched off. I see now the bright faces of the plumed and uniformed men as, to the step of fife and drum, they marched along. I see now the smiles of fair women—smiles that shone through tears, as with fluttering kerchief they waved their loved ones away to the war. I was a boy then and lived in Georgia. I remember the first company of gallant men that left my old home with waving banners and gay beating hearts. I remember, too, that their destination was Pensacola. In my boyish fervor I was afraid the war would end before I grew old enough to enter it, and I lived to regret that it did not."
He also expressed the hope that every town in the south would honor their war dead. "History has embalmed the deeds of the soldiers on both sides of this great conflict, but it will be the historian of the future who will do the Southern soldier the full meed of praise. I wish every hamlet, in every country, in every Southern state had a monument to their soldier dead. I would that every mile post along every Southern road could be shaped into a separate monument for some soldier and his name and deeds could be inscribed upon it. Then the poor private who bore the brunt and heat of battle might be personally perpetuated. Whereas now, we must content ourselves with speaking of them collectively as the “Confederate dead...”
Then he advocated for something that some today have called for, more monuments that tell a more complete story. “In Jacksonville, in this state!—mind you in Florida—a Southern state, a similar ceremony to this took place within a month past, but it was not the unveiling of a Confederate monument, it was the ceremony of unveiling of a monument to the Federal dead. I was not present but had I been able I should have been there. I was pleased too, that the sentiments expressed on that occasion were so manly and loyal and at the time the merits of the Southern soldier were so fully recognized. There is no reason why these monuments may not stand side by side, and yet speak out for the merits of their respective dead."
He seemed to anticipate the controversy that has surrounded the monument in recent years when he pleaded, “Monument, stand there, and may the hand of time deal gently with you. When the winds sweep around you, stand a sturdy symbol of the Confederate soldier as he stood while the winds of adversity swept around him; stand through the ages yet to come that posterity may know how we loved and cherished our martyred dead."
Finally, he addressed the young soldiers who were in the crowd and were part of the parade in reminding them where their loyalties resided, “Young Soldiers: You who stand in line before me, your gay plumes floating in the breeze; you are not Confederate soldiers, but you are soldiers of your state and common country; you are the guardians and protectors of the pubic peace. Some of you may have been in the late war; some of you may be sons of those who fought under the stars and bars, or under the stars and stripes—it matters not now. You are ready to march at the call of your state or at the call of the general government. You are from good stock, from whichever side you sprang. Let me point you to these veterans and to the dead soldiers of whom I have been speaking, for if you wish examples of valor and heroism you will find them there."