On Oct. 31, 1878, former Savannah mayor Charles C. Jones Jr. gave the dedicatory address for the Confederate Monument on Broad Street.
In his speech, which can be found online, he reserves his highest praise for the ordinary soldier of Georgia. He charged the people of Augusta to “maintain it as a living pledge of your devotion to all that is pure, patriotic, chivalrous, and of high repute.”
Today, over 150 years later, many of us may see little, if any, of those qualities in the Confederate cause when we consider that slavery was the basis of Southern society and economy which they believed would be more secure outside the United States.
The people who built and dedicated this monument were doing what we do all the time when we honor someone: We choose to celebrate and put up as an example what we believe are their good and noble qualities.
What they saw as worthy of honor and remembrance was their dedication to the cause of independence, or as the inscription reads, “the principles of the Union, as these were handed down to them by the fathers of our common country.”
These soldiers saw themselves as fighting for the same cause as the Americans in 1776: defending their independence from forces that sought to keep them in a union against their will. This was the cause the poet Philip Worsley had in mind when he wrote that poem dedicated to Robert E. Lee that is inscribed in part on the monument: the universal right for people to defend their homes, and to, in the words of the Declaration of Independence, “dissolve the political bands” and “institute new government.”
Whatever decision is made regarding this monument, we all can agree that those soldiers were not one-dimensional characters in an allegory. They were real people, whose circumstances forced them to choose between fighting against their invading former countrymen or fighting against their own families and communities.
We don’t have to – and no one should – approve of or try to excuse the role of slavery in the war to appreciate and respect those who, when they saw armies coming to occupy their towns and homes, did what we, if we are honest with ourselves, would have done if we had been in their position.
North Augusta, S.C.