As Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward moves forward with plans to remove Pensacola’s most prominent Confederate monument, here are five things you should know about the history of both the monument and Lee Square.
1. Before 1889, Lee Square was named Florida Square.
Originally, Lee Square was named Florida Square — one of a trio of squares in North Hill named for the states of Florida, Georgia, and Alabama.
Located along Palafox Street on high ground which the British had called “Gage Hill,” Florida Square overlooked the city’s downtown and was home to the city’s first public school — erected on the square in 1886 and renamed Pensacola High School in 1905.
In the years following Reconstruction, a wave of Confederate revisionism often called the “Lost Cause” movement swept the South, seeking to reframe and romanticize the war as an honorable struggle for the Southern way of life and to minimize the role of slavery as a central cause of the war.
Despite the fact that Pensacola played a minor role in the Civil War and was under Confederate control for just 16 months, from January 1861 to May 1862, the city wasn’t immune to the Lost Cause movement. In 1889, the city commission renamed Florida Square in honor of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, a man with no particular connection to Pensacola. Records indicate Lee likely only ever set foot in Pensacola one time, in 1846, visiting Fort Pickens in his role as a U.S. Army engineer as part of a tour of U.S. coastal defenses.
2. The monument was dedicated on June 17, 1891.
The Confederate monument at Lee Square was a decade in the making, dating back to an unsuccessful 1881 effort to erect such a monument in Tallahassee, the state capitol. In 1890, Confederate veteran and railroad tycoon William Dudley Chipley revived the project in Pensacola, and on August 15 of that year, the Ladies Confederate Monument Association of Pensacola was established to plan and execute the monument.
Over the next nine months, the Association staged a series of events to raise funds for the monument, which cost a total of $5,000 — about $135,000 in today’s dollars. Built by J. F. Manning & Company of Washington, D.C., the monument is made of granite from Richmond, Va. — one-time capital of the Confederacy — and stands about 50 feet tall.
The monument’s dedication was originally scheduled for June 3, the birthday of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, but was delayed by two weeks due to a lost shipment and the illness of the project’s foreman. The June 17 dedication ceremony was attended by thousands of Pensacolians and visitors from across the state. At 4:00 p.m., a procession paraded up Palafox Street to the square, where those assembled sang “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” the band played “Dixie,” and Florida Governor Francis P. Fleming spoke to the crowd.
3. The renamed square and monument were approved after former Confederates overthrew the city government.
In the years following the Civil War, Pensacola’s city government was controlled by Republicans — the party of Lincoln — and even included black and creole aldermen. Meanwhile, many former Confederates flocked to the Democratic Party.
In 1885, four years before Florida Square was renamed for Lee, Florida Gov. Edward Aylesworth Perry — a Democrat, Pensacola native, and Confederate veteran — convinced the state legislature to revoke Pensacola’s charter, effectively seizing control of the city government. The legislature dissolved the Republican city government and replaced it with the “Provisional Municipality of Pensacola,” governed by a state-appointed commission which Perry filled with Democrats. It’s this body that renamed the park and approved plans to erect the Confederate monument.
The Provisional Municipality of Pensacola lasted from 1885 to 1895, when the city adopted a new charter.
4. The monument specifically honors three Confederate figures as well as the “uncrowned heroes” of the Confederacy.
The north, west, and east sides of the monument’s granite base honor Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen R. Mallory and Confederate brigadier general Edward Aylesworth Perry — both of Pensacola — as well as Confederate President Jefferson Davis, whom the monument calls a “soldier, statesman, patriot, Christian, the only man in our nation without a country, yet twenty million people mourn his death.”
The south side, facing downtown Pensacola, features with the large words “Our Confederate Dead” along with the following inscription: “The Uncrowned Heroes of the Southern Confederacy, whose joy was to suffer and die for a cause they believed to be just. Their unchallenged devotion and matchless heroism shall continue to be the wonder and inspiration of the ages.”
5. The statue at the top of the monument is a copy.
The 8-foot figure that tops the monument’s granite column is a copy of an 1889 statue erected in Alexandria, Va., which was in turn modeled after the painting Appomattox by John Adams Elder, which depicts a solitary Confederate soldier in the aftermath of Lee’s 1865 surrender to Union forces.
In 2016, the Alexandria City Council voted to move the monument to another location, but such moves are barred by Virginia state law, and lawmakers have thus far declined to approve Alexandria’s request for an exemption.