By Ed Hooper
SAVANNAH, Tenn. – More than 2,000 people from across Tennessee and the south gathered at Shiloh National Military Park for the official unveiling of the first official Tennessee memorial to Tennessee Confederates who fought and died at Shiloh. The event, which included a banquet the night before in Jackson, TN, also marked the first time in more than 80 years that a state had erected a monument of this size in a national park.
The 14-foot tall $250,000 bronze sculpture called “Passing of Honor” was created by Pampa, Texas artist G. L. Sanders. The sculpture depicts a sergeant taking a Confederate flag from the hands of a dying soldier while another stands guard over them. The artwork also features eleven stainless steel stars representing the states of the Confederacy. It sits on a black granite base and is adorned with bronze plaques naming the Tennessee units that participated in the battle.
“I can’t tell you what an honor and privilege it was to be able to do this monument,” said G.L. Sanders. “And I hope it will always mean something to those who see it here at Shiloh.”
The unveiling ended what has been a 15-year project to erect a monument to Tennessee’s Confederate soldiers. The project was a joint effort between the Tennessee Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, state and federal officials. Jackson’s John Ingram Camp is credited with finally pushing it forward and getting the project off the drawing board and underway. Past Camp Commander Jerry Lessenberry was one of the driving forces behind the campaign and fought back tears as he finally saw the monument unveiled.
“This has been a tremendous project for us,” said Lessenberry. “I started on this 15 years ago and it has taken the efforts and patience of a lot of people to see that the sacrifices of Tennessee’s Confederate soldiers are finally honored in a proper way. This is a beautiful monument and we couldn’t have asked for a better artist to do it. This should be in every National Military Park where Tennesseans fought and served. I can’t tell you how overwhelming it is to finally see it sitting in this park and know that the memories of these brave men are not forgotten.”
Representatives from the Tennessee National Guard Adjutant General’s Office, the legislature, members of Congress and the state’s historical commission were on hand for the unveiling ceremony, which was done by park officials and local children.
Shiloh officials were surprised by the turnout for the event.
“I wish we had printed more programs and planned for this number,” said Shiloh NMP Superintendent Woody Harrell. “I was told Rangers ran out of them within a few minutes of handing them out. This was something I have been working on since I first arrived here and am glad that it is finally accomplished. I think the turnout today by people and public officials shows how much and how many care about Tennessee’s history and heritage as a state.”
The Tennessee Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, reenactors and the Tennessee National Guard provided honor guards for the ceremonies that marked Confederate Memorial Day at the park. Reenactors kept a 24-7 vigil at the statue until the tarp was removed.
During the ceremony, Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen and U.S. Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-Franklin) officially transferred the title of the monument over to the national park service.
Governor Bredesen said it was an honor to be a part of the ceremony adding that people need to remember what happened during the Civil War by visiting and learning from parks like Shiloh.
“This is a beautiful monument and I was proud to be able to do this in my term as Governor. It is sad that it’s a hundred years too late, but this is a fitting tribute to the men who fought and served the state of Tennessee. During my tour, the most surprising thing I learned is the fact this battle was not fought on open fields as most people with would assume from what they see and hear. This was more like a “Vietnam” in the Civil War with the dense forests and ponds.”
Tennessee National Guard Brigadier General David Greer from the Adjutant Generals Office was among the officials in attendance and revealed the monument bore a personal meaning to him.
“I remember visiting this park when I was 12 and saw all these monuments and wondered why there wasn’t any for Tennessee’s soldiers. My great-great grandfather fought and was wounded here at Shiloh and to see him and those brave Tennesseans properly honored for the first time is a great thing. This was long overdue. I was just looking over the program of the units here and found another grandfather’s unit that was here, which was something I didn’t know and will have to check out.” General Greer said.
The Passing of Honor monument is located off of Corinth-Pittsburg Landing Road between the Confederate Burial Trenches. For more information, you can contact Shiloh National Military Park at 731-689-5275.