Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Prattville Dragoons August Camp Meeting - Part 2

Bill Rambo, Director of Confederate Memorial Park was the guest speaker for the Dragoons August camp meeting.  Bill thanked the Dragoons for stepping up to volunteer as first responders for the Park in the event of a natural disaster to secure the area.  Jefferson Manley Faulkner of the 8th Alabama Cavalry and his law partner Thomas Goode Jones created the Old Soldier's Home.  Faulkner owned 102 acres in Mountain Rest and donated this to build a Confederate veterans home in Alabama. They formed a United Confederate Veterans camp with the specific mission to provide a home for indigent Confederate veterans. There were nine cottages including one for the camp Commandant, the first of whom was a Confederate veteran and the final three were doctors.  Each cottage held eight veterans and even had plumbing which was a rarity for home of that era in rural Alabama and the men decorated the grounds around the cottages with shrubs and flowering plants. There was also a dairy barn and a fish pond and the entire Home was a 22 building installation which included an Auditorium (which burned down in 1924).  Meals were served to the veterans by four servants initially but a Mess Hall was later built where they enjoyed their meals.  A wagon would take the veterans to Mountain Rest daily where a post office and train depot were located. 

The Auditorium was built of logs about the foundation which had commemorative bronze plaques mounted on them in the memory of or to honor veterans.  One of these plaques is on display in the museum which was found in the ruins of the burnt building and is the only one known to be in existence. The bottom floor of the Auditorium had a  library with artifacts from the War and busts of Confederate generals, a sitting room and a UDC meeting room.  An obelisk with a bronze plaque is still there in the Park and it originally acted as a support for the Auditorium porch. There was a 25 bed hospital with a wrap around porch where the men would often sleep to take advantage of the cool breeze as of course there was no air conditioning to combat the stifling hot Alabama summer days. The hospital was often full of old veterans.

The last soldier died in 1934 and by 1939 there were just five widows residing there and they were transferred to Montgomery and the Home was closed.  Wives were permitted to live at the Home if the soldier proved to be indigent and in 1918 widows without their husbands were permitted to reside there.  After it's closing the State Soil and Conservation Department held it and it fell into disrepair.  In 1964 Governor George Wallace created Confederate Memorial Park as part of the Centennial observances but essentially just the cemeteries were cleaned up.  In 1974 the camp was assigned to the Alabama Historical Commission.  Some of the original fence next to the church is a woven wire erected in 1904 and is some of the only original building material left at the site.  The church dates from 1885 and was moved to the Park in 1983 from a site a mile away.  The Mess Hall which was erected in 1904 stood til the 1960s when it fell down after being occupied by squatters for many  years; the foundation still exists.  Most of the buildings were torn down in the 1930s and 1940s.

The Park has nature trails maintained by a grounds crew.  The 2nd largest poplar in the state is found in Confederate Memorial Park which was a sapling in 1789 and there are hardwood and pine forests throughout.  There are two pavilions including one with restrooms and lighting.  There are 298 soldiers and 13 wives/widows buried in the cemeteries in the Park.  Cemetery #1 had the first burial in 1902 and the last in 1915 and Cemetery #2 had the first burial there in 1911 (a veteran accused of being a deserter and so he and others so accused were not permitted in the first cemetery.  In 1912 the UDC replaced the original wooden crosses with upright stone markers and the Veterans Administration provided in-ground plaques.  Some of the veterans who resides there included John Tucker for whom the museum has photos dating from 1861 and 1916.  Major John Carter was a Cherokee who served with Forrest and lived and died at the Soldiers Home.

The library was the original museum and dates from 1979.  The new state-of-the-art museum was built in 2007.  In front of the museum fly Battle flags known to have been used by Alabama regiments.  Artifacts in the museum include an old steamer trunk belonging to a Soldiers Home resident.  Numerous old bottles found on the grounds are in the museum as well as flag displays.  A UDC quilt dating from 1928 is on display in the museum.  There is an Alabama Soldier's Gallery of Honor and a Heritage of Honor display showing generations of Alabamians who have served their country from the Confederacy and the War for Southern Independence to the United States Vietnam War.  Other artifacts include old shells and bugles and other War period pieces. There are civilian artifacts too including an old spinning wheel and an 1850s day dress. 

Bill explained that in 1891 there was a property tax assessment used as a Confederate Soldiers Fund from which monies were used to support the Soldiers Home.  Over the years less and less money has been allocated from this millage as funds were reappropriated after the Old Soldiers Home closed.  Bill and members of the SCV have fought to maintain the small remaining amount which provides funds to maintain this wonderful historic Alabama state treasure despite almost continuous assaults from those who would ignore or erase our Southern and Confederate Heritage. If you have never visited Confederate Memorial Park, you need to and write your Congressmen to defend and preserve our state history and heritage.
Confederate Memorial Park Director Bill Rambo Addresses the Prattville Dragoons

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