“Old Joe” statue may not be such a Rebel

Associated Press, 10/09/05


GAINESVILLE, Ga. — Does Gainesville's Johnny Reb have Yankee roots?

Standing proudly on the town square, the city's 28-foot statue of a Civil War soldier strikes an imposing glance northward, clutching a rifle atop a marble pedestal adorned with a Confederate flag.

But beneath the soldier's bronze cast lies a deep secret, betrayed by the kit bag that reveals the letters "U.S." when the sun reflects at the right angle.

The beloved statue is actually cast from the mold of a Spanish-American War veteran, says Athens architect Garland Reynolds, who made the discovery while researching the city's memorials.

The soldier's gun may be the biggest giveaway. It's a model of a Springfield rifle that dates to 1873 — eight years after the Civil War.

Although the history buff is armed with proof of the soldier's Yankee grounding, some residents of this northeast Georgia town — the adopted home of Confederate Gen. James Longstreet — are reluctant to accept it.

Reynolds says he was "almost run out of town" by a handful of Civil War buffs and longtime residents at first.

Jeane Parker, president of the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, admits that she can't refute Reynolds' claim since the chapter no longer has the records for the century-old statue.

William Norton Jr., a retired federal bankruptcy judge and chairman of surrounding Hall County's historical society, said he believes Reynolds is correct but admits that he's in the minority among the city's longtime residents.

"Some of the older members resented him making that statement because they've always thought and considered that it was a special-made Confederate veteran statue," Norton said.

The Gainesville chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy started to raise money for the statue in 1898 — the same year the United States declared war on Spain after the Battleship Maine was sunk in Havana's harbor.

The women raised $2,500 by selling baked goods and hosting thrift sales.

When they finally took the funds to the now-defunct American Bronze Foundry Co. of Chicago, Reynolds said his research has revealed they had to settle for an altered version cast from a mold of the Spanish-American War soldier that included some modest changes, like the CSA on his belt buckle.