Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Augusta Confederate Monument

Before we leave Georgia, let’s take a quick look at the Augusta Confederate Monument, located in the grassy median of the 700 block of Broad Street, across from the Marion Building. Seventy-six feet tall with a Georgia granite base and the rest entirely of Italian marble, the monument is fairly imposing. Financed by the Ladies Memorial Association, it cost $17,331.35 to build, which wasn’t chicken feed in the 19th Century. But I admit that I drove past it every day for two years and never knew anything about it. I'm sure I wasn't the only one.

Monuments to the Confederacy can be found throughout the South and Augusta’s is considered to be the most striking in Georgia. Dedicated on Halloween 1878, 10,000 people attended the unveiling. The four statues at the base are of Generals Robert E. Lee, Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, William H. T. Walker, and Thomas R. R. Cobb. But perhaps of most interest is the more obscure figure at the top, Private Berry Greenwood Benson, born across the Savannah River in Hamburg, South Carolina in 1843. If you want to read more about that infamous (and now entirely disappeared) town and the controversial memorial that commemorates a particularly bloody day in the summer of 1876, a year after Augusta's Confederate Monument was commissioned, you can see my post on Hamburg HERE.

But I digress. Private Benson was initially a member of the Hamburg Minutemen. He was captured by the Union in 1864 while fighting for Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and sent to Point Lookout in Maryland. Benson escaped by swimming two miles across Chesapeake Bay. After rejoining the fighting, he was captured again and eventually sent to a military prison in New York from which he tunneled out and then walked back to his regiment. Following Appomattox, Benson returned to Augusta with his rifle, having refused to agree to the surrender. Regardless of your feelings about the Civil War, you have to admire the guy’s tenacity. It’s what made him "the man on the monument," after all.

The inscription in the photo at the very top reads:

In Memoriam. No nation rose so white and fair: None fell so pure of crime.

Make of that what you will. But, in 2009, the monument was vandalized with spray-painted phrases that included, "I hate whites" and "cracker killers," amongst others. What d'ya know? I guess some people do read the thing. Interestingly, public opinion largely attributed the graffiti to white kids.

Probably I should have gotten some more photos of the monument, including a shot of Benson’s statue (duh), but instead I'll use the incredible shot above, taken while the Marion Building burned in March 1916. Other inscriptions on the monument read:

Worthy to have lived and known our gratitude
Worthy to be hallowed and held
In tender remembrance
Worthy the fadless fame which
Confederate soldiers won
Who gave themselves in life
And death for us
For the honor of Georgia
For the rights of the States
For the liberties of the South
For the principles of the Union, as these were handed down to them,
By the fathers of our common Country.

Our Confederate Dead

Erected A.D. 1878 by the Memorial Association of Augusta,
In honor of the men of Richmond County,
Who died in the cause of the Confederate States.

You can find more information about Augusta’s Confederate Monument on Wikipedia. Also, ‘Gusta in the Wa’er provided some useful tidbits. The picture of the 1916 fire came from the Augusta Chronicle. You can also read about the 2009 defacement at the Augusta Chronicle.

Now it’s over to South Carolina to investigate the night life of the 1940’s and 50’s.

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