Residents honor Lee#039;s 200th Birthday
Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 25, 2007
He was a man much respected and admired who gave up lands and wealth in order to serve his beloved south in time of war. Considered both a brilliant military strategist and outstanding administrator, Robert E. Lee, “a Christian gentleman,” was honored and celebrated Friday afternoon on the 200th anniversary of his birthday, January 19, 1807.
The local chapters - Father Ryan, Greenville Guards and Little Sorrel – of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) and the Butler County Historical and Genealogical Society (BCHGS) sponsored the once-in-a-lifetime event.
Civil War remembrances
The celebration began in Confederate Park in the heart of downtown Greenville, where a rededication ceremony was held at the Confederate Monument in the center of the park.
Following the ceremony, the event moved across the street to the First United
Methodist Church. In the sanctuary, youngsters from Fort Dale Academy, dressed in period regalia, shared the stories of famous southerners in history; local historians gave details of Civil War history, and vocalist Angela Rouse and pianist Charlie Kennedy performed famous Civil War-era songs, including “The Bonnie Blue Flag,” “Lorena” and “Dixie.”
Prize-winning essays on Lee, written by area high school students Rosemary Russell, Davis Watts and Matt Hutcheson were read, while Gene Hardin shared “The Conquered Banner.”
An ambitious project
Prayers, songs and the story behind the monument's history shared by United Daughter of the Confederacy members Fay Poole and Mae Poole were all part of the park event opening the celebration.
Later, Anne Feathers, UDC and BCHGS member and president-elect of the Alabama Historical Association, gave more details of the erection of the monument and the creation of Confederate
“Members of the Father Ryan Chapter of the UDC, organized in 1899, undertook many historical projects,” Feathers said.
The group first laid a slab in Magnolia Cemetery in 1900 inscribed “Our Confederate Dead.”
“This was laid where many soldiers had been buried who had died at our Confederate hospital. Their names were unknown,” Feathers explained.
The Father Ryan Chapter made plans in 1902 to erect a Confederate monument in the city.
“In December 1902 a representative from a Georgia marble company came to present plans for a monument, 16 feet in height, at a cost of $750 for all expenses. An excellent price was given and good payment terms offered. The group met at a called meeting the next day and decided to accept the plans,” Feathers explained.
In June 1903 the new monument was unveiled, and fundraising efforts were continued to pay off their debt.
“One event held was a ‘Young Ladies' Minstrel' at the Opera House. Tickets were 25 cents, 50 cents and 75 cents. They raised $183.75, which must have seemed a great sum. Unfortunately, they only netted $26.50 after expenses,” Feathers said to audience chuckles.
Other projects to raise funds included raffling off a diamond brooch and selling guesses (“not sure what they guessed or how much the guesses cost”). The latter proved a particularly great success, earning the president a “standing ovation,” Feathers said.
The UDC ladies, assisted by the city fathers, also undertook an improvement of the park grounds where the monument stood.
“Following a remodeling of the (First United Methodist) church, the park was landscaped using a professional landscape designer, an unusual move in those days. The park is owned by the United Methodist
Church, with the area immediately around the statue owned by the Father Ryan Chapter of the UDC,” Feathers explained.
More money has been spent over the years on repair and maintenance than the original cost of the monument, Feathers said. It is worth the time and effort, she believes.
“The monument memorializes not only the Confederate dead, but the culture represented and the people that lived in that time.”
History on parade
A number of fourth grade Alabama History students from Fort Dale Academy had researched famous southern figures, bringing them to life before the audience's eyes in the church sanctuary.
Civil War generals in their grey uniforms; officers' wives and Confederate lady spies in hoopskirts and snoods; frontiersmen in buckskin; farmers' daughters in calico bonnets; Native Americans in feathers and braids; songwriters, statesmen and more. From Sam Dale to Robert E. Lee and Emma Samson to Julia Tutwiler, all were represented by the youngsters, who proved a true crowd-pleaser that afternoon.
Following their individual presentations, the children assembled up front and performed the state song, “Alabama.”
“I was happy to be able to give the students figures to research. Getting young people actively interested in history is important,” said Dr. Mike Daniel, a history professor at LBWCC-Greenville and master of ceremonies for the day.
Dr. Daniel also shared his slide presentation on “Flags of the Confederacy,” giving viewers insight into the flags representing individual Confederate states and the Confederacy as a whole. The first flag used by the Confederacy was the Bonnie Blue Flag, featuring a single white star on a field of blue. As Daniel explained, the flag was immortalized in a popular Civil War song and in Margaret Mitchell's “Gone With the Wind.”
Following Daniels' flags presentation, Rouse and Kennedy led the audience in singing the now almost-forgotten song:
“We are a band of brothers and native to the soil, fighting for the property we gained from honest toil; and when our rights were threatened, the cries rose near and far, Hurrah! Hurrah! For southern rights hurrah!
Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag that bears a single star.”
The celebration closed with a moment of silence in honor of General Lee and the Confederate dead. Following the event, refreshments were served in the church fellowship hall.