Bill Kirby

Online news editor for The Augusta Chronicle.

Confederate memorial honors Richmond County soldiers

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Lying so silent by night and by day

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Sleeping the years of their manhood away.

Will Carleton 

For the most part Georgia’s annual Confederate Memorial Day passed quietly Friday, the old Lost Cause losing again to a trend toward political correctness.

That’s sad in a way because Augusta has long claimed the nation’s first Confederate memorial, conceived in 1865 and dedicated on the last day of 1873 in front the St. James Methodist Church that erected it.

The names of Richmond County’s war dead are engraved on the 30-foot-high Greene Street marble marker. On one side, facing St. James’ front doors, are the names of 24 members of the church who died far from where they once worshipped. We know them not from the history books, but from the dedication program the church prepared 140 years ago.

One is Henry Zinn, killed on the second day of Gettysburg, but recalled by his old Sunday school “for kind attention to his mother and sisters.”

Perhaps he died with Lt. John W. Cheesborough, the son of Dr. William B. and Mary Cheesborough, killed at Gettysburg, “leading his men in the battle.’’

There is James A. Randall, remembered as “a Sunday school scholar he was punctual, attentive, exemplary.” And there’s George Neibling, who “in his death his friends and the Sabbath School have sustained an irreparable loss.”

Most touching, perhaps, are the names of the two Tutt brothers. Henry, who suffered fatal wounds at Malvern Hill, and his younger brother Thomas, mortally wounded at Sharpsburg.

Some today might dismiss this as a weathered memorial to misguided vainglory, but most of us know that history defies simple judgment.

Consider that just a few years after the St. James congregation said goodbye to its young warriors, it also said goodbye to an old friend. According to the church history, St. James lost longtime sexton Richard Hall about five years after the Confederate memorial dedication. Hall was a black man, but that did not stop the white church leaders from honoring him, as well.

According to the history, he was “so loved and respected that when he passed on to the Great Beyond, his body was tenderly borne into the sanctuary by the members of the Board of Stewards, where the pastor conducted the funeral services. From there, his remains were conveyed to Cedar Grove Cemetery.”

The church also provided a grave marker, noting his St. James affiliation.

We are left today to ponder the contradiction of why a congregation so quick to revere its white Confederate dead, showed no hesitation in breaking the era’s social conventions to “tenderly” honor a black man it both loved and respected.

Maybe it’s really no mystery. We all know that times may change but history remembers and love endures.


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