I’ve been corresponding with an official of Hillsborough County about the Confederate Soldiers Monument in front of the County Courts Administration building. Evidently, the County Commissioners, who have removed the Confederate’s “Blood-Stained Banner” from the lobby of the County Office Building, have decided to keep the Soldiers Monument where it is. They have in mind a Veterans Memorial Park elsewhere that will honor all soldiers who fought in all US wars.
I suggested to the official that the County ought to at least put up signs that provide accurate historical context for the monument. After all, the supporters of this monument, and of displays of the Confederate Battle Flag, claim that they are only interested in heritage, not hate.
To me, providing context should answer two questions: Who Were The Soldiers Honored? and Who Created This Monument to Those Soldiers 50 Years After the War?
Here are drafts that I’ve written that, I think provide this context.
Who Were the Soldiers Honored by This Monument?
About 15,000 white Floridians fought for the Confederacy during the four years of the Civil War. Of these, about 5000 died: about 1000 in combat and 4000 of disease. The Confederate government instituted universal conscription for men of appropriate age, but many men volunteered. As Florida was not strategically important, most of Florida’s Confederate soldiers fought in battles in other states, such as Virginia or Tennessee. In one of the few large battles in Florida, Olustee, white Florida soldiers fought on the Confederate side, and white Florida soldiers fought for the Union alongside colored troops, who were mostly former black slaves from Florida. These Floridians, Union soldiers of the U. S. Army, are not honored by this monument. In 1860 the population of Florida was about 140,000, of whom about 90,000 were white and 50,000 were black slaves. Thus a high proportion of Florida’s white residents fought in the war, for both sides.
Why Did Hillsborough County Decide the Honor for Eternity These Soldiers in 1911?
In 1910, Hillsborough County had about 80,000 residents, of whom a little less than 20,000 were black. At that time, the County, Florida, and the South were in the grip of Jim Crow laws, a system of suppression of black citizens. The Jim Crow system used both legal and illegal means to deprive black residents of their rights as Americans based on the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. Many of the white citizens of Tampa and Hillsborough County wished to overturn the verdict of the Civil War and to maintain the arrangements of white supremacy. To this end, theorists of the Lost Cause argued that the Civil War, to them a disagreement among white men, had not been a war to defend and spread slavery, but a fight, by Southern whites, for their freedom from the tyranny of Black Republicans and Abraham Lincoln. This is why the inscriptions on the monument do not mention the causes of the Civil War, only that the soldiers were honorable in defense of those unstated causes.
To these ends, the United Daughters of the Confederacy raised funds, commissioned an artist, and built the monument. One of them wrote the poem on its side. The Hillsborough County Commission was happy to accept the monument and provided a site on the square in front of the of County Courthouse. There is no record that the Commissioners asked for or cared about the opinions of the county’s black residents.
I sent e-mails to Prof. Gary Mormino and to Prof. Canter Brown, both of whom have written about Tampa and Florida history, and to Rodney Kite-Powell, a historian at the Tampa History Center, asking for their help and guidance.
The key statement is, I believe, this: “…the inscriptions on the monument do not mention the causes of the Civil War, only that the soldiers were honorable in defense of those unstated causes.” Whatever the causes were, the Daughters believed, probably completely correctly and justifiably, that their families and kin and community behaved honorably as they fought for their cause. That is all that the Daughters are commemorating, the honor of their people during strife. They have every right to do so. The problem is not the monument per se, I believe, but its location, which implies that this was and is the sentiment of the populace as a whole — clearly not the case. So either the monument should be moved, or another monument should be erected to express the sentiments of the rest of the populace. All due respect continues to go to the Daughters, all acceptance that their people were honorable and fully worthy of commemoration. We humans en masse are all the same, whether we live under just systems or unjust systems. Truth-and-reconciliation is the only known-effective way to get past such divisions in the populace. Don’t tear down; instead, seek and find forgiveness, balance and harmony. Tat tvam asi.
Is it possible to fight honorably in a thoroughly dishonorable cause? Some Florida residents of that time, the 1860s, fought for the Union. They fought honorably for an honorable cause. Some Florida residents, who had been slaves, fought for the Union for their own freedom and that of their still enslaved brothers and sisters. They fought honorably for an honorable cause. Is there no moral difference between the soldiers who fought on one side or the other?
In the one major battle fought in Florida during the Civil War, the battle of Olustee, in the fall of 1864, Florida soldiers fought on both sides, including some of the Union’s colored regiments. As the Union soldiers retreated, the Confederates did not pursue them. Instead, they remained on the battlefield where they murdered several hundred wounded black soldiers.
There is a reason why the United Daughters of the Confederacy did not specify the cause for which the Confederate soldiers fought. Why do you suppose that was?
Honoring the soldiers while not mentioning their cause was a way of speaking in code.