A look back: Darlington’s Confederate Veterans Memorial

Darlington Confederate Veterans Memorial by Samantha Lyles

Darlington Confederate Veterans Memorial
by Samantha Lyles

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpressonline.com

Honoring the lives and sacrifices of war veterans is often somber work, and great dedication is required to garner public support, sway political will, and raise money necessary to construct lasting monuments. In the 1870s, a quest to establish a public memorial in the City of Darlington honoring Confederate soldiers lost in the Civil War began, and after eight years of steady fundraising work, a monument was raised that still stands today.

The Ladies Memorial Association of Darlington made it their mission to erect a public memorial for the honored dead, many of whom died far from home and were interred in unmarked graves. After raising a wooden memorial marker in 1867, which gradually fell victim to rot, the ladies decided to replace it with a more durable stone monument. They staged a series of entertainments at annual Floral and Fall Fairs – including plays, concerts, bazaars, and craft sales – to raise $1,650 for the monument’s construction.

“Eatables of all kinds, varied with coffee, ice cream, etc., were served up by dainty and light tripping maidens, and many a dollar extracted from the pockets of young men and old bachelors,” read one account of their efforts.

Newspaper ads asked gently for patience and public support of these dinners and shows, even promising in one 1879 ad that “this will be the last call upon the public for assistance.”

Finished and unveiled on May 1, 1880, the monument featured a 20-foot obelisk topping a broad granite base inscribed with selections from poems, a dedication, and a Palmetto tree. Some of the poetic passages are haunting, lovely, and even hopeful:

“On fames eternal camping ground, There silent tents are spread; And glory guards with solemn round, The bivouac of the dead.”

“Conquered they can never be, Whose spirits and whose souls are free.”
Words and sentiments were not the only weighty aspect of the new installation; the whole mass weighed in around 30,000 pounds. The monument originally featured 25 pieces, though 13 of those that comprised the original base have since been discarded.

At the initial unveiling, columns of veterans marched with a band as lines of Dragoons saluted with sabres. Though the ceremonies were not always so grand, the tradition of a ceremony at the memorial persisted for several decades. Each year on May 10, school children would place flowers on the monument in observance of Confederate Memorial Day as members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) stood watch.

May 10 was selected as the day to pay tribute because it marked a turning point in the War Between the States. On that date in 1863, Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson died.

The Confederate Veterans Monument location changed a few times due to issues of access, and so-called progress. Originally, it was placed on the beautiful Academy Green on the St. John’s campus and remained there for several years until it was relocated to the southern end of the Public Square. When construction of the new modern-style courthouse began in 1963, the monument was placed in storage.

After the new courthouse was completed in 1965, the monument was returned to the Public Square, albeit on the northern end, and situated inside a reflecting pool. This choice created waves among the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and members complained that they could not lay floral wreaths on the monument without wading into the pool. Their pleas eventually yielded a result, and the obelisk was relocated several feet north of the pool, where it still remains today.

The monument stands within sight of the newer Darlington Veterans Memorial Park at the corner of Main and Orange Streets, and the twin memorials complement each other as tributes to the service of valiant soldiers, and the devotion of citizens who sought – and still seek – to honor their courage.

Author: Jana Pye

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