There is a myth today that Confederate statues and memorials were intended more to commemorate white supremacy than lost loved ones. One can almost appreciate the myth, since so many of the memorials depict one Confederate general or another. But, in fairness, the statues were erected at a time when history was largely viewed as the history of “great men.” Prior to a few ground breaking books like Johnny Reb by Bell Irvin Wiley (LSU Press 1970), social histories were never done. The focus was always on the so-called great men, not the men who slogged through the mud or who bore the brunt of the decisions of the great men.
One of the few Confederate memorials to the average soldier is found in Austin, the memorial to Hood’s Texas Brigade. The memorial started around the turn of the twentieth century. As the veterans of the famed Hood’s Texas Brigade were aging, they talked about erecting a monument to their sacrifice and the sacrifice of their departed brothers. After exhaustive debates and years of fund raising, they agreed the memorial should feature an individual Confederate soldier and that it should make no reference to Jefferson Davis or the Confederate government. As former private, Joe Polley explained, it had to be about their sacrifices alone:
If a medallion of [Jefferson] Davis appears on the monument at all,
it is bound to have the central and most conspicuous place, and the
men and women who when we are dead and gone look at it, will accept
it as a monument to Davis and the cause he represented, and never
give a thought to the brave men to whose memory alone it should be
The veterans of Hood’s Texas Brigade believed they were the best brigade in the Confederate army. They believed, with much justification, that they represented the best. For decades after the war, they collected their stories and history. Their goal as stated in 1872 was to “collect and perpetuate all incidents, anecdotes, history, and everything connected therewith.” By 1906, they were still working to finalize complete rosters of the original members of the brigade and their eventual fate. The memorial would represent the ultimate remembrance of their time together.
So, it was perhaps surprising that at the unveiling of the monument in 1910, the speakers spoke inaccurately about the role of Southerners throughout American history. According to the speakers, a Southerner had won the War of 1812, the Mexican War in 1846 and was the author of the Monroe Doctrine. The members of Hood’s Texas Brigade rarely engaged in such hyperbole.
Joe Polley was himself a person of some controversy. He did not care for excessive ceremony. In a time when virtually every white man supported the Democratic party, Joe flirted with the Republican party. He was a well-known contributor to the Confederate Veteran magazine. Yet, he was anything but an apologist for the Southern cause. No doubt it helped that the Republican candidate for Texas governor was also a former Confederate veteran. But, Joe Polley supported the Republican in the next gubernatorial election. Joe, who lost a foot at the Battle of Darbytown, was more practical than demagogic. The memorial to Hood’s Texas Brigade reflects that same spirit of honest remembrance.
Susanah J. Ural, Hood’s Texas Brigade (Baton Rouge, La.: LSU Press 2017), pp. 272-274.