The 88-foot tall Alabama Confederate Monument on Montgomery's Capitol Hill commemorates the 122,000 Alabamians who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. Fundraising for the monument began in 1865 and was largely the work of the Ladies Memorial Association (LMA) of Montgomery. This organization raised the $47,000 needed to construct the monument through lengthy efforts involving events and appeals to private donors and the state government. The monument was dedicated in an elaborate ceremony on December 7, 1898.
In November 1865, the Historical and Monumental Association of Alabama (HMAA) organized and resolved to request $5,000 from the state legislature to build a marble monument inscribed "Alabama honors her sons who died in her service." In the spring of 1866, memorial efforts were delayed by appeals from Winchester, Virginia, for help in protecting the remains of Alabama soldiers, many of which lay in shallow graves there. Efforts to care for soldiers' graves on battlefields and in Montgomery postponed the drive for a monument until 1882.
The HMAA sent representatives to Virginia and appealed to Montgomery area women to raise money to care for the graves. As a result, on April 16, 1866, the Ladies Society for the Burial of Deceased Alabama Soldiers was formed; the name soon was changed to the Ladies Memorial Association. Sophie Lucy Ann Gilmer Bibb (1801-1887), who was the wife of Judge Benajah S. Bibb and who had previously founded and run a hospital for soldiers in Montgomery, chaired the organization. Under her leadership, the LMA raised more than $5,000 with a May Day festival and distributed the funds for improving Confederate graves at Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Spotsylvania, Virginia; Jonesboro and Resaca, Georgia; Franklin, Tennessee; and Corinth, Mississippi. In 1868, the LMA committed $700 for a slender marble obelisk, pavilion, and chart of the graves in Montgomery's Oakwood Cemetery. From 1876 to 1882, they placed granite stones on soldiers' graves there.
In 1882, the LMA began raising money for a monument to be erected on Capitol Hill. In 1885, Montgomery men formed a new Historical and Monumental Society chaired by Mayor Warren Reese, a Confederate veteran. The men's group apparently contracted with New York sculptor Alexander Doyle (1857-1922) for a design that featured a statue of Jefferson Davis seated at the base of a stone shaft surrounded by statuary representing the four branches of the military. Doyle was a well-known monument maker with work in New Orleans, Louisiana; Savannah and Atlanta, Georgia; and other cities in both the North and South. Former Confederate president Jefferson Davis laid the cornerstone before a crowd of 5,000 on April 29, 1886. Shortly after laying the cornerstone, the men's group, believing that memorial work was the special province of women, gave the LMA the lead and the $6,755 that it had raised.
Immediately after laying the cornerstone, the tall, stepped base and integral pedestals for the four statues were built with Alabama limestone from T. L. Fossick's Rockwood quarry near Russellville, Franklin County, but fundraising and construction progress on the shaft and statuary were slow. The limestone for the colossal column proved problematic. Available historical documentation is incomplete, but it appears that the stone for the column delivered in 1888 was unsatisfactory, necessitating a second order, possibly at additional expense to the LMA. Recent scientific conservation analysis of the stone in the monument indicates that the limestone in the shaft came from Indiana and not Alabama. Throughout their lengthy memorial efforts, the LMA promoted the monument as being built of "native" (i.e., Alabama) stone. It is unclear whether the LMA knew that the limestone for the column came from Bedford, Indiana, where Doyle's father owned a quarry, but it is clear that the relationship between the patrons and the artist soured in the late 1880s. The LMA began to explore options for completing the monument, and Doyle defended his contract, threatening suit as late as 1898.
In 1893, the LMA received a bid for a cast iron fence to surround the monument. The group then contracted with a local monument dealer, Curbow and Clapp, to purchase heroic-scale granite statuary for the monument's pedestals from the Quincy, Massachusetts, firm of Frederick Barnicoat (1857-1942), who operated the largest granite sculpture carving company in the country. On July 20, 1898, the Huntsville Weekly Democrat reported that the four statues by Barnicoat were completed and accepted. The monument was finished shortly before the dedication ceremony. It features Doyle's handsome bronze finial figure of Patriotism atop the central column, with his bronze pictorial narrative battle relief encircling the column, complemented by the heroic-scale granite statuary by Barnicoat, representing the Infantry, Artillery, Cavalry, and Navy.
The dedication ceremony on December 7, 1898, included orations before the unveiling of each of the four granite figures and
an elaborate tableau vivant enacted by 13 young girls who represented the states of the Confederacy.
Mills, Cynthia, and Pamela Simpson, eds. Monuments to the Lost Cause: Women, Art, and the Landscapes of Southern Memory. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2003.
Ockenden, Ina Marie Porter. The Confederate Monument on Capitol Hill, Montgomery, Ala. Montgomery: Brown Printing, 1900.
Panhorst, Michael W. "Devotion, Deception, and the Ladies Memorial Association, 1865-1898: The Mystery of the Alabama Confederate Monument" Alabama Review 65, no. 3 (July 2012): 163-204.
———. "Lest We Forget: Monuments and Memorials on Civil War Battlefields, 1861-1917." Ph.D. diss., University of Delaware, 1988.
Savage, Kirk. Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997.
Michael W. Panhorst
Published June 5, 2011
Last updated April 22, 2013