October 7, 2012

Civil War anniversary: A tribute to Gen. Joseph E. Johnston

By Dr. Elizabeth Hoole McArthur Dalton 150th Civil War Commission

— Today, in a little park in downtown Dalton at the intersection of Crawford and Hamilton streets, a handsome bronze gentleman stands 16 feet high, quietly presiding over an active business district. He has stood this way, frozen in time, since 1912 — a full century. Busy shoppers and hurried drivers rush by, sometimes giving him a nod, sometimes barely noticing his presence.

But that is about to change.

Now, after 100 years, this veteran of the Mexican-American War, Seminole Wars and American Civil War, who served as a brigadier general in the United States Army and later as a general in the Confederate States Army, will be honored once again.

On Saturday, Oct. 20, the Private Drewry R. Smith Chapter, United Daughters of the Confederacy, will sponsor a rededication of the Gen. Joseph E. Johnston monument.

 For the occasion the stately statue, which is owned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, is being professionally restored by Ponsford Ltd., the largest conservation group in the Southeast.

The ceremony will begin at 10 a.m. at the monument on Crawford Street followed by a reception from 11 a.m. to noon at the Dalton Freight Depot. The public is invited.

In 1912, when the Johnston monument was first dedicated, 47 years had passed since the Civil War. The Girl Scouts had just been founded, the recent sinking of the Titanic still stirred strong emotions, Jim Thorpe was the hero of the Stockholm Summer Olympics and Woodrow Wilson was on the way to being elected to his first term as president. It was a new century, and a new generation, with a new spirit.

Yet the Civil War was not forgotten, nor was the desire for veterans on both sides to be remembered and honored. “The war,” declared Dalton’s newspaper The North Georgia Citizen, “with its blighting desolation is gone …. We are one people, and [along with others] we can say ‘there is no north, south, east or west,’ but it is fitting that those who made history … be remembered.”

The beginnings

Col. Tomlinson Fort, former mayor of Chattanooga, had been the initial inspiration for the monument in a 1908 Memorial Day address in Dalton. He had praised Johnston as one of the greatest generals the world had ever seen, and expressed regret that there was no monument to his memory. He argued that Dalton was the proper place for the monument, as it was here Johnston had assumed command of the Army of Tennessee, reorganized it during the winter of 1864, and commenced his long retreat to Atlanta in the face of Gen. William Sherman’s vastly superior Federal army.

The Bryan M. Thomas Chapter, United Daughters of the Confederacy, had been organized 10 years earlier in 1898. Like most chapters of the U.D.C., it had arisen as an outgrowth of the Soldiers Aid Society, formed during the Civil War to care for soldiers, and the Ladies Memorial Association, formed after the war to care for graves and memorialize veterans.

Fort, who was a frequent and popular guest speaker for the chapter, challenged them to create the Johnston memorial. When they embraced his idea later in 1908, he contributed the first $100 to initiate the project. Sadly, he would not live to see its completion.

A concerted effort was undertaken by chapter members over the next several years to raise the fund, with Mrs. F.W. Elrod, Mrs. F.E. Shumate and Mrs. W.C. Martin serving as enthusiastic champions of the project. The first $2,000 was raised by private subscriptions, benefit entertainments and sale of quilts and baked goods. The state Legislature appropriated $2,500, and the city of Dalton and Whitfield County each contributed $250. The total raised was $5,300, covering not only the monument, but expenses for its proper presentation.

A big occasion

On Thursday, Oct. 24, 1912, the statue of Gen. Joseph Eggleston Johnston was unveiled in downtown Dalton. Visitors came from near and far, an estimated 5,000 people attending the ceremonies. For a county of barely 16,000 at the time, it was a “mega” event. The Dalton newspaper declared it was “probably the largest gathering in the city’s history.”

Dalton was decked out in its finest holiday attire for the occasion. Businesses closed and storefronts were decorated with United States and Confederate flags and bunting.

Newspaper headlines enthusiastically announced the event: “Joseph E. Johnston Monument Unveiled with Appropriate Exercises Here Today,” “High Tribute Paid This Great Leader,” and “Visitors Thronged City.”

The day’s events included dignitaries not only from Dalton, but from surrounding towns. Distinguished guests included the niece and grand-niece ofJohnston (Mrs. Henry Lee and her daughter Miss Ann Mason Lee of Richmond), the editor of the Confederate Veteran (of Nashville), the mayor of Chattanooga, the sculptor (of Nashville and New York), an officer of the L&N Railroad (of Nashville), as well as others from Atlanta, Rome and Chattanooga.

Kicking off the event was a luncheon for honored guests at the Elks Lodge. A parade followed, forming at the courthouse, extending down King Street to Hamilton Street, then moving southward to the monument. The long train included more than 100 veterans, followed by Daughters of the Confederacy, Sons of the Confederate Veterans, Boy Scouts, school children and decorated automobiles.

The exercises were conducted from a platform constructed in the rear of the monument in the center of Crawford Street. Seating was provided for 1,500, but, with the huge crowds, many local citizens packed around the speaker’s stand and overflowed into adjoining streets and sidewalks.

The program began at 2 p.m. with band music, followed by an invocation offered by the Rev. W.R. Foote of Dalton’s First Methodist Church, a choral presentation of “How Firm a Foundation,” and a reading by renowned Dalton poet Robert Loveman of his poem “The Ode to Joseph E. Johnston,” written specially for the occasion.

W.C. Martin, president of the Bank of Dalton, introduced the featured speaker, Judge Moses Wright of the Superior Court of Floyd County. Wright thrilled the audience with his remarks, referring to Johnston as “one of the genuinely great generals the world has produced.”

The sculptor of the monument, Miss Belle Kinney, shared the symbolism behind her design and the monument was unveiled by Miss Suesylla Thomas, granddaughter of Gen. Bryan M. Thomas, for whom the local U.D.C. chapter was named. The monument was then formally presented to the state and the city by state Sen. M.C. Tarver and acceptance addresses were made by former Solicitor General S.P. Maddox and Mayor J.F. Harris, all of Dalton.

Twelve crosses of honor were then presented to citizens who had contributed their time and talents.

From inception to fruition the Johnston monument had been the work of the Bryan M. Thomas chapter of the U.D.C. When this chapter was disbanded in 1976, the Private Drewry R. Smith chapter, chartered in 1986, carried on their work, nurturing and caring for the monument, which it continues today. The excellent historical records of the project were maintained through the years by the Georgia Division, United Daughters of the Confederacy, and are provided courtesy of the Dalton U.D.C. chapter. The chapter invites everyone to share in this important part of Dalton’s history on Saturday, Oct. 20.

This article is part of a series of stories about Dalton and life in Dalton during the Civil War. The stories run on Sunday and are provided by the Dalton-Whitfield Civil War 150th Commission. To find out more about the committee, go to www.dalton150th.com. If you have material that you would like to contribute for a future article contact Robert Jenkins at (706) 259-4626 or robert.jenkins@robertdjenkins.com.