The bronze figure known as Old Joe celebrated 100 years in Gainesville on Sunday at a ceremony sponsored by the General James Longstreet Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
Each year, the United Daughters of the Confederacy places a wreath at the statue of Old Joe. This year, the group planned a larger ceremony to commemorate the centennial anniversary, said Kimberly Wright, the president of the group.
“He is such an icon of the city and the county,” Wright said.
The women of the group exuded old-fashioned Southern charm throughout the ceremony, from their white hats and dresses to the delicate pastries and lemonade served afterward.
Douglas Young, a professor of political science and history at Gainesville State College, spoke at the gathering on the square in downtown Gainesville about the significance of Old Joe and Southern history.
The United Daughters of the Confederacy raised $2,500 in the early 1900s to commission Old Joe — about $2.2 million in today’s terms.
“It’s supposed to be just your average Confederate soldier but it’s dedicated to all the Confederate veterans of the 9th (Congressional) District,” Wright said.
Though chapters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy throughout the South worked to create memorial statues, Gainesville’s is unique.
“Old Joe is our state’s only Confederate soldier statue proudly standing with gun in hand ‘at-ready,” Young said.
In 1999, historians discovered the statue actually depicts a Spanish-American War soldier, according to Times archives.
The United Daughters of the Confederacy were adamant about having the statue “at-ready,” so it was created from a mold of a Spanish-American War soldier when they found no such mold existed for a Confederate soldier.
The statue was altered slightly to include a Civil War-era rifle and the initials “CSA,” which stands for Confederate States of America, were engraved on the belt buckle.
During his speech, Young pointed to the importance of seeing history from a variety of perspectives.
“With the War Between the States, today’s politically correct multiculturalists zealously seek to castigate or even demonize any effort to pay homage to our Confederate kin,” Young said. “Let us enthusiastically explore our fascinating and endlessly exciting heritage to better understand not only our forebears but ourselves, both our virtues and vices with all the many debatable variations of ambiguity in between.”
Following the placement of a wreath at the base of the statue, members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ 27th Georgia Infantry Regiment performed a military salute.
Dressed in Confederate uniform, the men shot antique firearms into the air in a salute.
Keeping history alive through events like the Old Joe anniversary is one of the group’s goals.
“That which is held in memory still endures,” Wright said.