Published on June 25th, 2020 | by TLV News7
OPINION: “Oxford’s Confederate Monument: Why Is It There?” by Starke Miller
I have quietly done Civil War research on Ole Miss and Oxford, Mississippi for thirty years. Very few people used to care about it. Now, everybody cares about it, and they all think they are experts. I am constantly amazed by the lies, myths, stories, legends, and wrong information I hear from University administrators, professors, students, politicians, and the general public.
The University Confederate monument and the courthouse Confederate monument are tied at the hip. You must understand the University monument to understand the courthouse monument.
The University Confederate monument was erected in 1906 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC). It took 45 women 14 years to raise $2000 to erect it. Among them were Ole Miss professors’ wives, one instructor, trustees’ wives, Delta Gammas, alumni wives, mothers, and prominent Oxford women (including the mayor’s wife). The whole thing was UM Chemistry Professor R.W. Jones’ idea. They raised money through a national depression (1893–1895) and through the Yellow Fever epidemic (1898). They raised pennies, nickels, and dollars every way they could from cake sales, baby shows, speeches, baseball games, ice cream socials, UM frat and sorority lunches, and more.
The monument is dedicated to the Lafayette County Civil War Confederate dead. It was and is not dedicated to the glory of the Confederacy. It was closure for many, many families and it was the only marker many of those dead ever got.
Twenty-five percent of the men who left Oxford to fight were dead in four years’ time—432 of them. Most did not get a decent burial. At Shiloh, and on most battlefields, they were thrown into mass burial trenches, on top of one another, up to seven deep. And their families knew this. Most of the women who raised money for the monument had lost one or more male relatives in the war. The percentage lost for the South was far greater than World War II. We modern Americans have no earthly idea what those families went through. We have never experienced anything like that.
William Faulkner’s grandmother and aunt did not want “their” monument placed at the University. While they were on an extended trip out of town, the monument arrived by train, and there was a unanimous vote to place it on the University Circle. When Faulkner’s grandmother returned to Oxford and saw the monument at the University, she had a FIT!
She went to the United Confederate Veterans (UCV), Lafayette County Chapter, and told them they had been treated terribly. Most Oxford visitors would not see their monument out there at the University. She talked them into putting up a second monument on the courthouse lawn. It cost $3000 and was two feet higher than the University monument. It took about 18 months to raise the money and install the courthouse monument. Mrs. Falkner died of cancer before the dedication.
Probably after Mrs. Falkner’s death, the UDC and the Oxford Chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans joined the UCV in raising the last of the money. All the paperwork I have says the courthouse monument was to be wholly dedicated to the Lafayette County dead. This dedication is on the monument itself. The veterans on one side of the monument praised Confederate women for what they had gone through in the War. The Sons got one side of the monument for an inscription. They called the War a “just and holy cause.” As a Southerner I believe it was. They were leaving a government they thought was not adhering to the Constitution. They sought to leave in peace and they were invaded, pillaged, and killed. I can document 46 Mississippi towns that were burned during the War, including Oxford.
There was never anything racist intended by those two monuments. They were erected by men and women who had lived through losses that we cannot comprehend today. If we lost 25 percent of the 20,000 University students or military-aged Lafayette County men in the next four years, we would put up monuments. That is all those people did.
By the way, do you know that about 30 percent of all Confederates were drafted or driven in by the draft? They did not want to be there, but they did their duty. Kind of like a lot of the Vietnam Vets, who got spit on.
As for the timing of when those monuments went up, it had nothing to do with Jim Crow laws. The nation went Civil War nostalgia crazy in the 1890s, when the first “Big Five” Civil War National Battlefields were formed: Vicksburg, Shiloh, Chattanooga-Chickamauga, Sharpsburg, and Gettysburg. Northerners had already placed statues on their courthouse lawns, because there was money in the North after the War. Mississippi went from the largest per capita income in the nation in 1860 to the lowest in 1870. Southerners had no money until the 1890s.
I have been a member, and named one of two historians, of the 11th Mississippi Memorial Committee put together by Dr. David Sansing. We placed four monuments on three Civil War battlefields. I am currently on the board of directors for the Oxford-Lafayette County Heritage Association, and a board member of Mississippi Civil War Battlefield Commission. I have consulted with the University of Mississippi Contextualization Committee.
I know how those committees work. Everybody throws in something. That is what happened on the courthouse monument. For well over the year of fundraising it was only to be for the county dead. When the UDC and the SCV came on board, with money, in the last months, they were both given a panel for an inscription. The sons wanted to say something nice about their fathers.
I am in possession of papers that seem to indicate the Sons of Confederate Veterans were given a deed for that courthouse monument.
Starke Miller is a local historian with emphasis on the Civil War and University Greys. Starke conducts regular historical tours and seminars on the Ole Miss campus, Oxford, Shiloh, and other Civil War battlefields. He has been engaged in an in-depth research project involving the Confederate Cemetery on campus.