It was on a mild, warm Monday late in the month of April, 1911 that saw the gathering of hundreds of men, women and children on the downtown square of Jackson to share in a moment of civic pride and respectful remembrance. Among those assembled, a number of them were veterans of the American Civil War, a war which had begun on another April day fifty years earlier. During the first four years of that semi centennial, many men had fallen in battle; over the remaining forty six years, many more had died along the way. Of the group of veterans assembled that day, the youngest of them were likely to be in their mid-sixties, those being the very young ones that had gotten to fight near the ending of the war when some were only 13, 14, or 15 years old; the others were older, more frail, some having suffered the effects of old war wounds for many decades while still others who had escaped serious injury and being physically whole still carried wounds of a different kind; memories that lingered, of fallen comrades and blood, shallow graves hastily dug and left unmarked, the harsh elements, the hunger and starvation, bare feet covered with blisters and callouses from walking hundreds of miles without shoes of any kind. In these men, the war would never be completely over until death brought to them a final peace and a permanent rest from the demons they grappled with each day.
Another group of veterans was also present that day; the veterans of the home front, the women who as young ladies had rolled bandages for the wounded, nursed them back to health, prayed over them and who sat by their deathbed and wrote letters for them as their lives drew to a close, a final note to a family or loved one which they would never again see. These were the soldiers of the land they lived on and who fought the daily battle of trying to keep the households intact so that their sons, brothers, fathers and husbands would have something to come back home to. Deprivation and shortages of food, bloody battles fought in their own front yards and the sight of an invading army marching through the streets of their hometown of Jackson, burning and destroying everything in its path had imbued them with memories that served as an inner flame that never went out, always at the ready to ignite into the fires of their passions and undergird their resolve with an unyielding determination. In these women, the emotional fervor, the nostalgia of memories, the bitterness of defeat and the pride of their patriotism took on a life of its own that would weave itself into a fabric of history that would be handed down from one generation to the next, a bond with their children and their children’s children, and descendents they would never even live to see. Their influence would carry on long after the old ladies had found their own peace. Around these iconic men and women gathered their living descendants, of the second, third and fourth generations, their eyes filled with pride as they awaited the coming event.
Jackson was then a town in transition, the old era quickly giving way to a newer, modern one where conveniences designed to make life more leisurely were now coming to be realized, even in rural Butts County. Just four years earlier, the town of Jackson had received both electric lights and running water and now, just two months earlier, the new hydroelectric dam out at Lloyd Shoals on the Ocmulgee River had opened, generating power far beyond the foreseeable needs of the town. The horse was fighting a losing battle with the new automobiles that were puttering around the downtown square with their loud honking horns and belching smoke from rattling motors. Just a month ago, the Town Council had considered ordering the removal of the hitching posts that surrounded the square and it was only due to the efforts of the local farmers in the raising of a petition that the posts were granted a stay of execution, albeit a short one. On that day, the hazy smoke of roasting pork, cooking in makeshift pits over glowing hickory coals hung low in the air, mixing with the ethereal tendrils of the memories, enveloping all of those who were gathered in this moment of time and heightening their anticipation of the afternoon barbecue meal as they inhaled its intoxicating aroma. This was the South at its finest.
The most visible spectator to these events, the backdrop to all that the day would bring was itself still a youngster in the history of this county and to those who stood in its tall and looming shadow, it was both a source of civic pride and a symbol of deliberate accomplishment, its very existence owed to the simple people of the day who eyed the future and all the promise it held. Seemingly like a fortress by virtue of its sheer size, it was also very graceful in its many architectural elements of Greek revival, Italianate and Victorian. Its ultimate symbol and long the bailiwick of many of its brethren, was the magnificent clock tower of brick, crowned with elegant cornices, pediments and a pyramidal steeple that rose higher than any other edifice in town. Those lucky few who might get to climb its steep inner staircases and go out on its ledges would have been treated to a spectacular view of the town spread out around it and the farmlands beyond. From this vantage point, a sea of trees, lush with the new growth of spring, lay before the observer’s eye, punctuated here and there by the steeples of the Methodist and Baptist churches or the spires and cupolas of some of the town’s finer homes, the prominent roof of the Carmichael mansion or the tall chimneys of the big house at Sylvan Grove….and there, just down below….an Object carefully covered in a veil to obscure it from the eyes of those gathering around it. For thirteen years it had stood proudly upon its promontory in the center of the town, a spectator to all that went on outside of its walls while the dispensation of justice went on inside of them. During its short life, it has become the central focus of the town, a meeting place where neighbors from all over the county came, still gawking at it and scarcely believe that so fine a building now graced the town where they had lived their whole lives. It was a place where old friends visited, sitting on benches around its perifery and a place where the faults of men were exhumed, laid open and examined by all. It marked the passing of the hours each day by the tolling of its bell and that particular day was no different to it as its tones began to sound from the high tower, bringing those on the grounds into a heightened state of attentiveness. It was already a landmark in its own right and it was about to be joined by another one, much smaller in stature but one of no less importance to the people of the community.
As the final bell sounded the hour, the speaker rose from his seat and stepped up to the platform that had been built just for this occasion, crowd drawing closer to hear his practiced and skilled oratory. The Honorable J. Threatt Moore, State Representative of the 6th District of Georgia, cleared his throat and, taking stock of his audience and who all was there, began his carefully prepared speech. Taking care to convey the proper tone of deep respect to those being honored that day, his voice rose and fell in modulation, much in the way of the Evangelists that frequently came through the small town, and he carried the spectators with him on a journey through time to a not-so-distance past. As the crowd hung on his words, he recalled the long marches, the valiant assaults on enemy forces, the resounding successes and the eventual defeats as the soldiers grew fewer and the numbers of the enemy grew greater. He talked of the enormous sacrifices made by the citizens of the county in sending nearly 900 of its best men, from its finest families, to do its part in support of the Cause and how many of those fell in battle and never returned. He paid deference to the veterans assembled, to those that survived the hardships of war only to have to come home and survive the hardships of its aftermath, holding them up as the living legends of the day to all the young men and boys who observed them with reverence…and he spoke of the women and their unfailing sacrifice and support of their men and their vigilance in the homes. As his tongue began to tire and his time was nearly at an end, he concluded by giving the credit for this event to the assemblage of ladies who were gathered together at the base of the Object, to the Daughters and praised them for the homage they paid that day in presenting such a gift to the community, for the raising of such a large sum of money, nearly $2000.00, so that these men and women might be remembered by generations to come after them. Finishing his exhortations, he then turned and faced the Object that now drew all eyes to it.
From among the Daughters that stood in reverent silence, young Miss Annadawn Watson, the granddaughter of one of Jackson’s very own war heros and a local Captain in the “Butts County Volunteers” rose on cue and pulled a cord and the shroud fell off the Object, revealing to the public for the very first time the finely carved and detailed statue of a Confederate Soldier. He stood tall and proud on his even-taller base, wearing the uniform of a simple Private with his head slightly elevated, almost as if looking ahead to the field of battle. He stood at parade rest, one foot just a bit ahead of the other as if he were anxious to be moving, his musket firmly clenched in his right hand. He was pristine and new and the citizens assembled around his tall, broad base looked up to him, each lost in their own thoughts, some with tears in their eyes and lumps in their throats. In his youth, forever captured and frozen in the hard stone of time, the grizzled old warriors saw themselves as they had looked a half century earlier, when their eyes were still sharp and burned with a fire, their hair was untouched by gray and the vitality, strength and arrogance of youth was in its full flower. In his face, they saw the familiar determination and an unwillingness to yield, all characteristics they themselves had clung to throughout the war and in the decades since. They saw him to be a kindred spirit, found him worthy of their respect and they accepted him as a symbol of what they had once fought for. The old ladies, the widows and dowagers, looked upon him and saw the brothers, sons and fathers they had lost. They remembered the youthful vitality of the beaux that had courted them, married them and gone off to war, some never to return and perpetually young in memory, others now old and infirm but still just as handsome and loved no less by any of them.
They all saw themselves in him and to each of them, he was something or someone different. Perhaps a simple farmer from Towaliga or Cork, or tree cutter from Flovilla or Jenkinsburg, maybe a storekeeper from Jackson or an innkeeper from Indian Springs, no matter his calling or station in life, he was the sum of all of them and they were him. In quiet dignity, he stands for a war that few, even now, completely understood, a war not for the continued bondage of his fellow human being but for the place they all called home, the place that gave birth and life and sustenance to each one of them. They fight for the right of independence and to govern themselves as free men, and even though a few of them once clung to old ways that disenfranchised other men, the vast majority of them fought for their lands, their rights and their homes in the face of an enemy invader that to them, sought to do them harm. Veterans of the other side were there that day as well, remembering with sadness the death and the destruction endured by both sides as they fought for what they felt was right and called for, which was to preserve a union that, once divided could mean the end of them all. They fought so that on a day, many years in the future, they could stand with men they once had fought and do so under the same flag the flew above them from the Courthouse flagpole. Each man fought for a different reason and history can judge them as it must see fit but on that day, a pause in time took place to honor all who fought, those who died and those who still lived on, knowing that the day was drawing closer that they would all join their comrades, those in gray and in blue, and lay down their weapons forever.
For one hundred years now, the soldier has stood watch on the southeast corner of the courthouse lawn, listening to the bell of the clock tower toll the hours, days and years away, a lone soldier of a Private’s rank, holding his musket and ready for anything that might come his way. With his back turned defiantly to the north and his eyes towards his home, he stands for all of those that are no longer here to stand for their homes and he is sheltered in the deep shadows of his constant companion, the aged and old courthouse, still grand and impressive to all that see it there. The old soldiers are now gone, as are the women who waited for them and who wait no more. Their painful wounds are healed, their troubled souls are now restored, and as the book of Revelation tells us, “God shall wipe all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away”.
Author’s Note: The events in this story are factual, if written from a perspective of what might have occurred that day on April 26, 1911 in Jackson Georgia. The names mentioned herein are real people who participated in the ceremonies and the town names mentioned are real towns or communities in Butts County Georgia.