MARSHALL —The now controversial Confederate statue that stands over the east side lawn of the historical 1901 Harrison County Courthouse was a gift from the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1906 to pay homage to soldiers who lost their lives during the Civil War, those against the statue’s removal say.
The history of the statue has been a hot topic since Marshall Against Violence President Demetria McFarland launched a petition calling for it to be peacefully removed because of the Confederacy’s connection to America’s history of slavery.
Counterpetitioners to McFarland’s request say the monument has nothing to do with race.
Bill Elliot, a member of the W.W. Heartsill, Camp No. 2042, of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, recently talked about the history of organizations and auxiliaries of the Confederacy.
“We’re not a racist, malicious organization,” said Elliot, a former county constable, former fire marshal and retired firefighter.
“The intent is to keep the memory and the respect of the Confederate and Union soldiers — of both groups — alive for the sacrifice and suffering that they went through,” he said.
“We are not to judge why they did it. We didn’t live back then,” he said of the Civil War era.
“People just need to understand what happened in Fort Sumter, (South) Carolina, by the time they fired the shots that started the war, how distorted it was by the time it got to East Texas,” Elliot said.
He said in soldiers’ minds, they were fighting for their state’s rights. States had a right to secede from the Union.
“Anybody who looks at the Constitution (can see) the states did have a right to get out if they didn’t like the way it was going. But that’s their decision,” Elliot said. “I didn’t live back then.
“I’m not going to judge them, and I’m not going to say what they did was right, but I’m not going to say what they did was all wrong,” Elliot said. “They did what they thought was right. So, slavery, we all know was a bad thing, and we do, but it was a way of life. It was wrong back then, but we’ve learned from that, have we not?”
Elliot cited the Constitution of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which states the nature and purpose “shall be strictly patriotic, historical, educational, fraternal, benevolent, nonpolitical, nonracial and nonsectarian.”
He said that Constitution says the Sons of Confederate Veterans neither embraces nor espouses acts or ideologies of racial and religious bigotry, and further, condemns the misuse of its symbols and flags in the conduct of same.
Likewise, in 2018, the United Daughters of the Confederacy released a statement asking residents to join them in denouncing hate groups and affirming that Confederate memorial statues and monuments are part of a shared American history and should remain in place.
“We are grieved that certain hate groups have taken the Confederate flag and other symbols as their own,” President General Nelma Crutcher wrote in a statement. “We are the descendants of Confederate soldiers, sailors and patriots. Our members are the ones who have spent 125 years honoring their memory by various activities in the fields of education, history and charity, promoting patriotism and good citizenship.
“We are saddened that some people find anything connected with the Confederacy to be offensive,” she said. “Our Confederate ancestors were and are Americans. We as an organization do not sit in judgment of them nor do we impose the standards of the 19th century on Americans of the 21st century.”
Crutcher said it is their sincere wish that they’d be allowed, as fellow Americans, to continue to honor the memory of their ancestors.
Elliot, who has devoted time in various capacities working for the betterment of all in the community, said it breaks his heart to see the Marshall community at odds over the statue.
“I hate that anything would do anything to separate the community, but I have to stand firm,” he said.
“My ancestors mean something to me, and these men that served, what they came back to and they did to help build this community afterwards,” Elliot said. “They were commissioners; they were county judges; they were district judges; they were district attorneys; they were city commissioners; they were tax assessor-collectors; they were sheriffs. They come back and built this community.”
He said to remove the memorial dedicated to those soldiers would be heartbreaking.
“I am a descendant of a veteran of the American Revolutionary War and the Civil War (both sides) and World War I, and I’m the son of a World War II vet; I am a cousin of a Vietnam vet,” Elliot said. “I believe in honoring all vets — men, women, black, white, all colors, because they stuck their neck out for my liberty. And this is honoring them when that statue was put up.”
Elliot said dedicating monuments to the Civil War-era was a popular gesture by the women’s auxiliary groups at the time.
“It was to honor them because they were dying off, and to do something for the ones still alive,” Elliot said. “That was a community event. There were merchants that gave a percentage of their sales over the weekend to that fund. There were plays and shows and musicals given to raise money for that statue. There were individuals like Robert Loughery. He was the publisher of the Evening Messenger, and he was a Civil War veteran, and he was begging and pleading for men to step up and raise the last $100 by giving $1 ... the last $100 they owed. This statue cost them (about) $3,000.”
The honoreesOn the ground where the monument was unveiled, several companies were sworn into service during the early part of the Civil War. One of the most notable was “Bass Greys,” later known as Company D of the 7th Texas Regiment.
In the late summer of 1861, the company was engaged in many of the bloodiest battles during the struggle. Of the 91 names on the roster leaving Marshall, 73 had died.
Gen. K.M. Van Zandth, the captain of the old company when organized, was present to witness the unveiling of the statue.
Harrison County boasted 13 companies. A total of 844 soldiers served from the community.
“There were 177 that didn’t come back,” Elliot said.
“Of how many served — 406 had nothing to do with slavery, of the 800 that served,” he said.
Elliot’s ancestor served in Camp W.W. Heartsill.
“They had a total throughout the whole war of 206, so they lost 28,” he said.
The companies lost even more after the war through 1876 as a result of disease, wounds and trauma.
“Disease killed a whole bunch of them — 11% of the 177, disease got them,” Elliot said.
His camp’s namesake, Heartsill, returned after war and later served as mayor of Marshall.
Elliot reiterated the statue is not meant to be an offensive relic — just a memorial.
“I would love to put flags upon that thing. I would love to put flowers up on there on Confederate Heroes day, but I knew that would offend people, so we don’t,” Elliot said. “We don’t fly the battle flag, because it offends people, and I understand that.
“But it’s been turned around, so it’s a flag of embarrassment, when it is actually a flag of pride for our ancestors that served under it,” he said.
He said it’s already at a museum, situated on the grounds between the historical museum and the new military museum.
Like Leigh Ann Buchanan, who started one of the counterpetitions to keep the statue where it is, Elliot said he would love to see the statue idea of James Farmer on the opposite side of the courthouse come to fruition.
Local late historian Gail Beil had started a movement to raise funds for a statue, to be erected also on the courthouse grounds, of the late Marshall native, civil rights leader and member of the renowned 1935 Wiley College Great Debaters, to no avail.
Elliot said the Confederate monument is a part of history, which is what Marshall prides itself on.
“Marshall was an important part of the Confederacy. It was the headquarters of everything that come in and out of Texas to do with the Civil War, from mail to supplies, to money,” Elliot said. “That’s history.”
Elliot said there’s nothing on the monument alluding to the superiority of a race.
“So let’s not divide our community,” he said. “Let’s do what we can today to move Marshall forward.”