I talked previously about the San Antonio Confederate memorial here. The San Antonio Confederate Memorial, when it still stood, commemorated the service of the common Confederate soldier. In the Army, we refer to the average soldier as “Pvt Snuffy.” The San Antonio memorial did not commemorate a steely-eyed general or some plotting politician. It recalled the average soldier, usually 18-19 years old. In the statute, he grew a mustache, probably to make himself seem older. But, who exactly did our San Antonio Confederate soldier represent?
The folks who raised the funds and designed the statue are long gone. But, we gain some insight when we look at the women behind the statute.
The statue was designed by Virginia Montgomery in 1899. We know from newspaper articles of the time that Virginia was the daughter of Julia Montgomery, a former member of the Daughters of the Confederacy here in San Antonio. Virginia Montgomery – or Jenny as she was sometimes known – was an artist living in New Orleans.
How did Julia end up in San Antonio? Mrs. Julia Montgomery was simply trying to make ends meet. Her husband was John Alfonso Montgomery, a captain in the Confederate army. He enlisted in April, 1862. He enlisted a year after the big rush to join. The more patriotic Southerners generally joined in April-May, 1861, when the war first started. Joining in May, 1862 suggests Capt. Montgomery was not a fervent Southerner. Two years later, he was dropped from the rolls of active soldiers in June, 1864, indicating he was probably wounded and could no longer perform his duty.
Capt. John Montgomery
Capt. Montgomery was a Quartermaster for the 32nd Alabama Infantry regiment. Prior to the war, he was a “cotton merchant” in Mobile, Alabama. “Cotton merchant” is a generic term that probably means he was a cotton broker. Cotton brokers accepted crops of cotton from a planter or farmer and then took the risk of selling it to overseas or New York markets. Cotton brokers earned a good living. They were solidly middle class. It was an occupation, for example, that was generally not open to the Irish and German immigrants of the time. John Montgomery was doing well. That was good, because he and his wife, Julia, had seven children. The youngest child was Blocker Montgomery, born 1861-62. Blocker was Julia’s maiden name.
But, after the war, things turned. John came back from the war “broken in body and fortune.” He returned to Mobile after the war. The family suffered. John was listed with no occupation in the 1870 census. Six years after returning from the war, he was not working. In the 1871 Mobile City Directory, his occupation is simply listed as “merchant.” A description that means nothing for that time period. It is equivalent to describing someone in 2017 as a “businessman.”
A year later, John is a policeman. A year later, he has no occupation. The next year, he is listed as a “cigar dealer.” The next year, he is a clerk. At the age of 50 years old, he is employed as a clerk. The next year, he is not listed in the Mobile City Directory, at all. Like many returning veterans, he could not hold a job. Even worse, every year, the address for the family of nine persons changed. Capt. Montgomery could not even hold onto the family home.
Scattered to the Four Winds
In 1873, Mrs. Julia Montgomery appears in the New Orleans City Directory. That appearance suggests she left Mobile looking for work as a teacher.
The next year, 1877, John, the former captain does not appear. Instead, his son, John A. Montgomery, Jr. is listed. That likely means John, Sr. probably died. And, now surprisingly, his son, 25 years old, is the head of the household. Normally, the widow would be listed as the head of the home and she would be described as the widow. But, Julia does not appear in the 1877 Mobile City Directory. We can only surmise that she was living in New Orleans trying to earn a few dollars.
San Antonio, Texas
Julia was in San Antonio by 1899. She is described in San Antonio papers as a member of the Daughters of the Confederacy here in San Antonio. She is described as someone who has lived in San Antonio for many years. That sort of movement suggests she was moving for work. Year later, she will be described as an educator for some 50 years. It is likely that she moved first to New Orleans and then to San Antonio, looking for work.
And, where was Virginia during this time? Virginia appears in the 1880 census living with her sister Faith. Faith Montgomery married a farmer, David Dunlap, in upstate Alabama. They were not wealthy. They listed a net worth of $350 in 1880, which was normal for a working class family.
By 1878, John A. Montgomery, the son, disappears from Mobile records. Apparently, he too passed away. The whole family was scattering to the four winds. By 1887, Virginia is living in New Orleans on her own. That was not a common path for young, single women of the time. Single women were not supposed to seek careers. We know she was alone, because other family members who were working would have been listed in the City Directory for the same address. But, no other Montgomery’s appear.
Virginia was listed as an artist. This was a time when female artists were extremely unusual. When she designed the Travis Park monument in 1899, she was described as the first woman to ever design a monument. That could very well be true. In 1899, Virginia designed the Confederate monument for free. So, she was still in touch with her mother in San Antonio.
A New Orleans Suffragette
Julia attained some local fame of her own. She died in 1922. Her lengthy obituary explained she was very active in clubs, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Daughters of the Confederacy, the Woman’s Club and others. She was one of the leaders of the suffragette movement in New Orleans. She voted for the first time in her life just two years before – in the 1920 presidential election. She was said to be the oldest voting woman in New Orleans for the 1920 election. When she passed away, her age was given as 99. The 1870 census indicates she was born in 1830. Regardless, her age was advanced, but he was still very active up to her death.
Virginia acquired some local fame as an artist. In 1930, she wrote a lengthy article for the New Orleans Times Picayune about “Bachelor Girl, A World Leader.” In the article, she explains that a single woman is not “unnatural” and that she can be a “world leader.” Virginia never married. But, she led a full life. In one year, she is mentioned teaching Bible Study to students in Lower Algiers, a working class neighborhood across the river from New Orleans. In another lengthy Times Picayune article, her artistic approach is described. She favors, she said, three watercolors about “Negroes” in their daily lives. Doubtless, Virginia shocked readers again by suggesting African-Americans were appropriate subjects for serious art.
Julia passed away while living with Virginia. The home was and still is located at 7924 South Claiborne. It is a modest home. Nearby is a small park known as Palmer Park. The DAR planted a tree there in honor of Julia.
It is said in a 1911 San Antonio Light article that Julia came up with the concept for the Travis Park monument. That likely means she suggested that it represent a common soldier, not a general. The two women lost a father and husband before his time. For us, the Confederate memorial represented a common soldier. But, for those two women, it likely represented someone whose memory they treasured. Julia and Jenny had their own PVT Snuffy.