TAMPA — Efforts to mark America’s bloodiest conflict proved divisive as Hillsborough County made plans to erect a Civil War memorial.
But the final result was dedicated Saturday morning in peace and solemnity, with a nod to those who fought for both the Confederacy and the Union.
"No matter what side they fought on, we dedicate this memorial in their honor," said Bob Silmser, the chairman of the veterans council of Hillsborough County’s Civil War committee, who emceed the event at Veterans Memorial Park and Museum, 3602 U.S. 301 N.
Some 15,000 Floridians fought for the Confederacy during the war, and 2,000 more fought for the Union. Hillsborough County sent about 150 soldiers to join the Confederate cause, and about two dozen of them died.
The new memorial features two granite obelisks mounted with informational plaques and separated by a few dozen feet of blue marble meant to symbolize the Hillsborough river. Completion was delayed by the discovery earlier this year of a typo in one of the plaques, "calvary" instead of "cavalry."
Missing from among the few dozen people in attendance Saturday was David McCallister, leader of the local Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter, who charged in a lawsuit that Hillsborough County changed the name and design of the original plans for a "larger" and "more dynamic" memorial after initially approving them. A county judge dismissed the lawsuit.
"An inferior presentation was ultimately produced in my opinion," McCallister said in an interview Saturday. "I would have liked to have seen what was originally the vision of the original committee."
McCallister also fought the decision last year to relocate a Confederate memorial from the old public courthouse downtown to a private cemetery in Brandon.
Still, he said he was glad the county has done something to honor the people from Hillsborough who died during the darkest time in American history.
Until Saturday, Veterans Memorial Park included monuments honoring local veterans from nearly every major American conflict — but no major monument dedicated to the Civil War.
Among those who did attend the dedication was Art Bagley of Tampa, wearing a hat stuck with dozens of pins and tickets from Civil War battlefields he’s visited across the country. Others wore military-themed patches sewn to vests, shirts emblazoned with the U.S. Constitution, and other patriotic garb.
The sun shone brightly as speakers including Hillsborough County Commissioners Stacy White and Sandy Murman extolled the need to remember America’s conflicts and the people who fought in them.
Re-enactors fired off a 21-gun salute with muskets and after the event, those attending were treated to an authentic Civil War-era meal — unleavened "hardtack" biscuit and beef stew from the North, hardtack and Navy bean soup with fat back bacon from the South.
Said Bagley, "This memorial was needed to reflect the broader history of the Tampa Bay region."
Contact Kirby Wilson at [email protected]