The effort to erect a monument to the Confederate soldiers of Lauderdale County began in the late 1860’s, when the Ladies Memorial Association (LMA) was organized. By 1876, plans were underway to construct a memorial, but there was some debate over where it would be placed. Some thought it should be placed in the Florence City Cemetery. This was the popular trend for monuments during the late 1860’s through 1885. Others thought a memorial park on Tennessee Street would be the best place for the monument.
Lauderdale County--and the rest of the nation--found itself on the verge of civil war in January of 1861. While the enslaved population was over 40%, the urge to secede was not as strong as it was in other parts of the state. Lauderdale County's delegates to the Alabama Secession Convention were cooperationists, and favored secession only as a last resort after sending a combined list of grievances to the federal government. Both delegates voted against secession, but were outvoted by those in favor. The county quickly turned to support the secession effort, although some pockets remained committed to the nation. Many skirmishes took place throughout the area during the war, and by the end of the conflict much of the infrastructure was damaged or destroyed.
After the war, the national effort to heal proved to be a long, and unresolved, process. By 1879, the Ladies Memorial Association had raised enough money to build a base for a monument to the Confederate dead. The base went up on the Court House Square. But it would be another 24 years before the statue would be installed atop the base.
In 1890, the LMA proposed moving the monument to "Monumental Park," overlooking the river, but failed to raise money for the effort. In 1897, the LMA was still in search of a permanent home for the monument, the choices being the Court Square, the City Park, Monument Hill (Monumental Park), the Cemetery, or the corner of Court and Tennessee Streets. By 1900, the LMA was joined by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to help complete the monument.
The LMA continued to raise money for a statue to put atop the base, but a bank failure in 1893 caused the organization to lose everything they’d raised. They were soon aided by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, who helped to raise enough money to purchase a statue made of white marble in Carrara, Italy. The statue was dedicated on April 26th, 1903 in front of a crowd of thousands of people. There was a parade by different Confederate veterans’ organizations, a speech by Dr. H.A. Moody, and then the statue was unveiled by thirteen schoolchildren before a band played “Then I wish I was in Dixie,” accompanied by 400 schoolchildren.
Dr. Moody addressed a crowd of 5,000 people who showed up to watch the unveiling and dedication of the monument:
It is always pleasant to look into the face of a friend, but when it is not one, but thousands of friends, then the pleasure becomes an inspiration to touch with the fire of eloquence the lips of the dumb. Therefore it is that my heart swells with pride when I look upon this vast assemblage and realize that this is my home and those are my people. Nowhere on earth breathe braver men, fairer women or truer friends than in this Southland, and today we meet in memory of a host of silent friends, of a banner furled forever, of loves and sacrifices surpassing any other in history. We read in sacred writ that in the lives of Gods’ chosen people there was an epoch so sublime that forever afterward, as each succeeding year brought its anniversary, the day was sacred to its memory. In every land and clime the feast of the Passover was observed, and, whatever tongue he spoke, that day was the Jew a Hebrew only. So with us, one day in every year is sacred to the memory of the lost cause, and on that day we know no flag but the stars and bars, no cause but the one that was lost long years ago. Today we are old Confeds, singing the old songs and shouting the old war cry, and memory reigns.
We meet today to honor that furled flag and the idea it represented and to recall the noble virtues of the men who died for them. How brave they were, how great the sacrifice demanded of every man who lived and served in the Titanic days, even their own children can hardly realize. They are too close to see. They are dwellers at the foot of those great Egyptian piles of rock who can see no meaning to it, But to the distant traveler who views is across the treeless stretch of burning sands, it is a mighty pyramid, pointing to the infinite and breathing its silent message to the centuries. So we who served or we who followed as children those great events are captivated by the character and deeds of a Forrest, Lee or Jackson, and half forget the silent, brave, heroic, Confederate soldier, who only needed the leadership of those giants of battle to sweep him on to irresistible victory. So great was the deed they did, creating a nation in a day, armed and equipped for service, so vast were the resources they spoke into being, so impossible the victories they won, that the very greatness of their achievement makes it hard to grasp its wonderful magnificence. No wonder, then, that their descendants meet to honor their memories and rear statues to tell the story to future generations.
But yonder statue, standing beneath the Southern sky as so often stood its living prototype, with firm foundation in the soil for which he fought and died and which received him into its generous bosom at last, that snow-white statue stands not only as a memorial to the Confederate soldier; it also stands for all that soldier stood for; and ah, my fellow citizens, what treasures he stood there to defend—honor, constitutional rights—home!
His heart was fired with memories of deeds of his ancestors. From earliest youth he had heard how in the war of the Revolution his sires had shed their blood for liberty: how when again the country was invaded the tide was rolled back on the bloody field of New Orleans; and the Alamo, Cherubusco, Mexico, were household words. They knew that between the sovereign states there was a contract called the Constitution; that it contained certain conditions vital to their happiness. They believed those condition had been violated, and that therefore they had a right to withdraw. Believing this, inspired with eagerness to emulate their ancestry, they took up arms to defend their rights. Today, fellow citizens, the most intelligent and fair-minded men of opposite political faith, acknowledge that in this great dispute there was as much of the right on our side as on their, and that only the sword could cut the Gordian knot and settle the question forever. Such were the idea, the ideals and the memories that kindled in their hearts that patriotic fire whose blaze illuminated the world. What are the memories that silent figure wakens in our bosoms? Memories?
We see a smiling, peaceful land. Over it prosperity brooded like a benediction. Luxury wrapped its youth in silken folds. Music, art, literature, every agent of culture improved the mind and heats, and no one dreamed of danger. But on the northern horizon appeared a little cloud, scarce bigger than a hand, and wise old eyes looked apprehensively upon it. Higher and higher it rose till its baleful gloom overshadowed the land. Then came the call to arms, and like one man our young men sprang to the ranks. The bustle of preparation was everywhere. The bright, new uniforms were made, a new flag was born. Fathers bowed their gray heads in prayer, then raised them sternly, to bid their sons return in honor, or return not at all. Mothers prepared the little conveniences for the knapsack, and every stitch cost a tear and every fold a prayer. Oh, those poor mothers, when marching orders came, and they kissed, too often for the last time, the idols of their hearts. The bugles blew, the drums rolled, over the hill and out of sight the column swayed—and it seemed as though the light was gone from the sky and joy from the earth. Then the weary waiting for news. The rumors of victories, victories, always victories cams so fast that we wondered how the for could bear the punishment; why the enemy did not give up and go home. But Sabbath after Sabbath as we went to pray for the absent and their cause, more and more sable emblems of mourning appeared, till black was almost the only wear. Through poverty and privation they waited patiently till at last the war was over. Lee had surrendered, and the scattered remnants of the most dauntless army that ever fought, were coming home. Such are the memories that statue brings to those true hearts who served at home. To us, who served in the field, it brings a host of memories also.
At first how dreary was the camp, how flinty was the couch, how rough the fare. But battles came at last and every from of privation and suffering. No matter what was asked of them, they never flinched—not a murmur arose. At last the peerless Lee, seeing that not a hope was left upon which to build the battle of another day, yielded his sword and the war was over. Then followed an event the like of which has never before been seen. Thousands of men, strong and fearless, without money and food, were turned loose upon an unprotected and defenseless land to find their way home as best they might. No law existed to restrain them, no fear of punishment for their misdeeds. The strong right hand to seizer and hold was all that was left of law, or judge and jury. Many hundreds of weary miles those disbanded soldiers plodded to desolated mansion or ruined cabin home. Yet there is no record of one single act of pillage or violence, no stable robbed to save the blistered feet nor larder lightened to soothe pangs of hunger. The record of courage and endurance this dauntless host has made is unexampled; but blot it all out and repeat only this one truth, and its sublime import should render immortal those noble heroes who would rather starve than steal.
Such were the men of ’65. Poor in gold they were indeed, but dowered with such a wealth of honor and of love as should satisfy the most exacting.
“Such, fellow citizens, are the memories this marble soldier wakes in our bosoms. He stands to us for prophecy, His face is toward the rising sun, waiting for the dawn of the coming day. Already our fingers are on the pulse of trade. Our mountains yawn to pour out the treasures that control the commerce of the world. Away down in Panama, the mighty hand of our government is upon the isthmus, and with one foot on the sea and the other on the land, Columbia swears that the wedding of the oceans shall be accomplished. When that is done, the wealth of China and Japan, Australia the isles of the sea, will pour through the canal like a funnel into her lap, and the apron she will hold out to receive it will be our southern sea coast. And yet another message has that pure white figure for us, a message more wonderful and of higher import than all the rest. In this our southland flows the purest Anglo-Saxon blood that pulses in any human veins. Isolation, a lack of immigration, fastidious taste and public opinion all have conspired to produce this result. In the Northern states public opinion leans in the opposite direction.
Fellow citizens, we are all citizens of the same great country, worshipping the same God, sharing the same bright heritage of honor, loving and following the same bright, starry flag whither so ever it may lead us in that country’s cause. But binding and eternal as our union is and forever shall be, between our countrymen of the North and our countrymen of the South, there is drawn a line which must separate us in our beliefs and sentiments until it shall fade away in the light of truth and experience.
Their civilization differs from ours in one essential that creates an impassable barrier. They look upon a Negro as a white man with a colored skin and believe education to be the one thing needful. We of the south know better. No other people know him so well or love him so well, but nowhere here is he accorded social equality. When the highest representative of Northern civilization invites the highest representative of negro civilization to sit at his table as his social equal, he digs a gulf between us too wide and deep for us to go to them or for them to come to us. Into the form of man God breathed the breath of eternal life and he became a living soul, so separate from the manlike forms around them that when the children of Adam, sons of God by virtue of that miraculous inspiration, saw that the daughters of men were fair and married them, he sent a deluge that destroyed the mongrel race. We are the sons of God. Let no second deluge be brought upon the world on our account. United Daughters of the Confederacy, into your fair hands your Creator has placed the power to prevent this degradation. Let no man, be he as learned as Socrates or as rich as Croesus, cross your threshold if he has bartered away this right. To you, fair daughters of the Confederacy, we return our thanks for what you have done and are doing for us and for the South. We old veterans appreciate every word, every smile. We need your encouragement and affection: we want it, and believe it will never be lacking. We shall never forget this day. When at last we all have gone to the final bivouac and the angel Gabriel announces your approach, our ranks will crown to welcome you and remind you of Florence when the monument was unveiled.
While the monument was dedicated during the era of Jim Crow—just two years before the dedication the state Constitution of Alabama was rewritten to disenfranchise black citizens—the monument was moved during a period of unrest as the civil rights movement sought to integrate public spaces, restore voting rights, and ensure racial equality in Florence and other cities throughout the southern United States. When the statue was moved to the front of the third Lauderdale County Courthouse in 1965, the Florence Times wrote: “ETERNAL VIGIL—The Confederate Soldier who stood for many years guarding the old Lauderdale County Courthouse has moved with the times. He now stands before the new modern structure—symbolizing loyalty, patriotism and dedication. He keeps his watch in memory of his fellow men and for the faith in those who follow.”