Dedication of the Virginia Memorial at Gettysburg, Friday, June 8, 1917
Virginia's Memorial to Her Sons at Gettysburg
In the early days of the present century, the feeling frequently found expression in camps of Confederate veterans, in chapters of Daughters of the Confederacy, and in meetings of other patriotic organizations, as well as in the public press, that an appropriate memorial should be erected on the battlefield of Gettysburg, in Pennsylvania, in honor of the soldiers of Virginia who fought there in July, 1863.
This feeling found concrete expression in the biennial message of the Governor to the General Assembly on January 8, 1908, in which Governor Swanson said:
"A more glorious exhibition of disciplined valor has never been witnessed than that shown by the Virginia troops at the battle' of Gettysburg. The heroic achievements of our troops in that fierce battle have given to this Commonwealth a fame that is immortal, a lustre that is imperishable.
"I recommend that an appropriation be made to erect on this battlefield a suitable monument to commemorate the glory and heroism of the Virginia troops."
One week later companion bills were introduced in the two Houses of the General Assembly--in the Senate by Hon. Don P. Halsey, of Lynchburg, and in the House of Delegates by Hon. Moses M. Green, of Fauquier--providing for the first steps in the erection of such a monument. The House bill was passed in both bodies by unanimous vote, and was approved by the Governor on March 9, 1908. It read as follows:
1. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia, That the sum of ten thousand dollars he, and is hereby, appropriated out of any funds in the treasury not otherwise appropriated, to be applied towards the erection of a suitable monument in the National Military Park at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to commemorate the deeds of Virginia soldiers on that field.
2. That the Governor of Virginia, and four others to be appointed by himself, shall constitute a committee of five to select a location, design and inscriptions for the said monument, subject to the approval of the Secretary of War and the Governor of the State of Virginia.
3. The said committee are hereby authorized to use the whole or any part of said ten thousand dollars in securing the design and preparing the location and foundation for said monument, but shall make no contract for any purpose involving any expense in excess of said ten thousand dollars.
4. The said committee shall report to the next General Assembly their action under this act, and shall present a design for said monument which, with the money hereby appropriated, shall not in the aggregate cost over fifty thousand dollars.
5. The said committee may be joined by any committee of citizens, camps or other organizations, in supplementing the amount of money appropriated for the purpose aforesaid.
6. The said committee shall receive no compensation for their services, but shall be allowed and paid the actual and necessary expenses incurred by them in the performance of their duties, to be audited by the Auditor of Virginia, and paid out of any money not otherwise appropriated.
Pursuant to the provisions of this measure, Governor Swanson appointed the following Confederate veterans as members of the committee: Colonel Thomas Smith, of Fauquier; Major John Warwick Daniel, of Lynchburg, a United States Senator from Virginia; Major Henry Archer Edmondson, of Halifax, and Captain Stephen Palmer Read, of Mecklenburg. Governors Claude Augustus Swanson, William Hodges Mann and Henry Carter Stuart were successively members and chairmen ex-officio of the body having the erection and dedication of the memorial in charge. Senator Daniel, who took a deep interest in the proposition, rendered faithful and efficient service until his death in 1910, when he was succeeded by Colonel William Gordon McCabe, of Richmond. Otherwise the members as named above served throughout the entire life of the commission. Captain Read died at the very hour the monument was being unveiled.
Following preliminary discussions, the commission in 1909 visited the National Military Park at Gettysburg with a representative of the War Department, and selected a spot just off Confederate Avenue, at the point where General Lee viewed the third day's battle, as the site for the memorial The commission thereupon invited proposals from sculptors and, after examination of the various designs offered, deter mined to accept that of Mr. F. William Sievers, at a price of forty-eight thousand dollars, conditioned upon the Genera Assembly carrying the project through.
That body was much pleased with the report made by the commission, and with the design, and by an act approved by Governor Mann on March 9, 1910, continued the unexpended balance of the appropriation of $10,000 in force, and appropriated $40,000 in addition, to cover the entire estimate of $50,000, allowing $2,000 for the expenses of the commission. Thereafter the unexpended balance of the sum of $50,000 was reappropriated for the same purpose in 1912, 1914 and 1916. In 1914 the General Assembly set aside $8,000 for the expenses of dedication, but, since this had not been used in 1916, it was then reappropriated.
Acting under the approval of the Legislature, the Gettysburg Monument Commission, on March 15, 1910, closed a contract with Mr. Sievers covering the entire cost of the memorial. The specifications provided that the total height should be forty-two feet; the total height of the equestrian statue from the bottom of the bronze plinth to the top of the rider's hat, fourteen feet; total height of pedestal, twenty-eight feet; total expanse of bottommost base, not less than twenty-eight by twenty-eight feet. It was further provided that the sculpture was to be of United States government standard bronze, the pedestal of Southern granite of the best quality, and the foundation of concrete of best material, with the inscriptions in polished raised letters. All this was faithfully observed.
Mr. Sievers discovered the difficulties of an artist as he proceeded in his work. With full realization of the meaning of the work in which he was engaged, intended to immortalize in bronze the valor of Virginia's soldiers, and to stand forever as visible evidence that the Old Dominion had not forgotten to honor her heroes, he toiled day after day for six years, building up and tearing down. In 1914 the group of figures about the base was complete in plaster, put on public exhibition for a day, and sent to the foundry, whence the bronze east was soon forthcoming and was placed in position on the base prepared to receive it. The equestrian statue of General Robert Edward Lee mounted on Traveler, which surmounts the memorial, was completed in the spring of 1916. Delays in transportation of the plaster cast made its completion so late in the year, that the commission deemed it best for the comfort and safety of the veterans in attendance to postpone the dedication until 1917, and on June 8th of that year the unveiling took place in the presence of a large audience of veterans from Virginia and other States.
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Rev. James Power Smith, D.D.
(Captain and A. D. C., Staff of Gen. T. J. Jackson, Army of Northern Virginia.)
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His Excellency Henry Carter Stuart, Governor of Virginia.
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Hon. William M. Ingraham, Assistant Secretary of War.
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By Right Rev. Robert A. Gibson, D. D.
(Private, Rockbridge Battery, Army of Northern Virginia.)
The Lord bless us and keep us a country reunited and indivisible. The Lord make His face to shine upon us and be gracious unto us as individuals and as a people. The Lord lift up His countenance upon us and give us victory, wisdom to help the weak to freedom and then peace--peace like the river's gentle flow, peace like the morning's silent glow--progressive peace.
May the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost be amongst you and remain with you always. Amen.
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