For all those clamoring for Confederate statues to be destroyed or put in a museum, a statue that once stood in downtown Gainesville went through both those fates years ago – but without a mob or protesters involved.
The statue of Confederate soldier Col. Christopher Columbus Sanders was once an eye-catching sight, with Sanders seated atop a stone base supported by four columns at the U.S. courthouse at Green and Washington streets.
The tornado of 1936 swept away the monument, as it also brought tremendous damage and death to the surrounding area. Parts of the statue were scattered throughout town, with parts of it, including Sanders’ head, ending up in the possession of residents.
Through residents returning pieces of the statue, Sanders today has a home at the Northeast Georgia History Center at Brenau University.
But he’s still in pieces, with the head separated from his torso and chair, inside the museum off Academy Street and two of the columns stored outside the museum. Also facing the elements is the monument’s round base, which describes Sanders’ Confederate military credentials.
Sanders, a Franklin County native, fought in the Army of Northern Virginia, which was led by Gen. Robert E. Lee.
“He served throughout the war and was wounded twice,” said Glen Kyle, executive director of the History Center. “He was at Antietam, at Gettysburg. He was wounded three or four days before Lee surrendered at Appomattox.”
“After the war, he went to South Georgia to do some business, then he came up to Gainesville and started a bank and became a prominent member of the community,” Kyle said.
Also after the war, he was offered the rank of brigadier general in the U.S. Army, but he declined, settling in Gainesville and later organizing and serving as president of the State Banking Company, according to his display.
A world traveler, Sanders also served as a trustee of then-Brenau College and on the Gainesville Board of Education. He died in 1908. The statue was unveiled on July 6, 1910.
The display has been in the museum’s tornado section “since I’ve been here,” Kyle said.
The History Center opened in 2004. Kyle was hired afterward.
Hall County doesn’t have quite the Civil War past of many Georgia counties. While local men went off to fight for the Confederacy, it wasn’t the scene of battles.
“When (Sanders) was a Confederate officer, he was not from nor lived in Gainesville, neither was (Lt. Gen. James) Longstreet,” Kyle said, referring to the second-in-command officer to Lee. “The legacy these men have with this area is in their post-war efforts – both of them as businessmen, as civic leaders, not as military men at all.
“Of course, their reputation preceded them, and that contributed to their social status.”
Also, Kyle noted, “the very fact that the statue is what it is … is an interesting lookback to Gainesville’s perspective of people in 1908 and 1910. He came here, he lived here, he gave to charitable causes … and yet, when he died, how does (the community) remember him? As a Confederate officer.”
The big “what if” is what would Sanders’ status be today if he had survived the tornado intact. In the museum, behind the Sanders’ display, is a wall-size photo of the Gainesville square after the tornado. It shows one Confederate memorial that clearly survived the tornado – Old Joe.
In recent days, protesters have called for the removal of the statue, which pays tribute to no soldier but rather to “southern convictions consecrated to southern valor.” The statue was erected in 1909 by the Gen. James Longstreet Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
Old Joe foes have called for the statue to either be destroyed or put in a museum.
That’s not such an easy chore, Kyle said.
“When people recommend (that), there are vast logistical issues, space issues, funding issues, what do we do with them, how do we show them,” he said.