Two weeks ago, we began discussing ways in which Suwannee County has honored its veterans over the years. Most of the previous article focused on the 1909 State Convention for Confederate soldiers, one of my most frequently asked-about topics. Today, we’ll continue to look at how Suwannee County attempted to honor its veterans of later wars.
The Spanish-American War, fought in 1898, was one of America’s shorter wars. The causes of the war are somewhat multifaceted, but the final straw was the destruction of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana, Cuba. Initially ruled to be an attack by the Spanish. The loss of Maine (“Remember the Maine!” being the battle cry) is one of the biggest examples of “Yellow Journalism,” in which some reporters push their agenda based upon sensationalism and exaggeration (in this case, for war with Spain) without having all the facts. Later, more thorough investigations determined that the most likely culprit was that coal dust within the ship’s bunkers had exploded, tearing the ship apart from inside. By then, however, the Spanish-American War was long over.
Unfortunately, we really have no way of knowing how Suwannee County honored its Spanish-American veterans because the newspapers for those years are gone, destroyed by fire in the first years of the Twentieth Century (not the last time fire would destroy much of our newspaper history). Since the war itself was short, and Suwannee County’s soldiers did not really get into the fight before it ended, there may have been little done to honor them other than veteran markers on their tombstones as they passed away decades later.
Less than 20 years after the Spanish-American War, Suwannee County citizens again served their country in what would later be called World War One (1914-1918), but often called “The Great War” or “The War to End All Wars” at the time. Many Suwannee County citizens went to France to help push back the Germans and their allies in the final year of the war. The end of the war in November 1918 brought many veterans home, and Suwannee County soon wished to honor those who had gone to foreign fields to fight. A July 1919 Suwannee Democrat article noted that Sheriff W. H. Lyle was in the process of getting the names of all soldiers who served in the war. Unfortunately, the design of the monument (and the 1919 article) had the common outdated, racist, segregationist ideas of the day:
“Mr. Lyle plans to erect two tablets at the Courthouse, containing the name of every soldier who served in any branch of the service. One tablet would contain the names of the white soldiers and the other one the Negroes.
“The list will be artistically gotten up and will be in the form of a memorial tablet, with suitable decorations, and will be placed on both sides of entrance to the Courthouse.”
Since many of the Suwannee Democrat newspapers from that period were destroyed in a fire in 1995 and County Commission minutes of the period were very brief, it is unknown whether or not the tablets were ever placed at the Courthouse. Photographs that I have of the Courthouse from that era do not show any tablets near the front entrance, so I would assume that the tablets were never erected. If anyone knows of a memorial for veterans of the Spanish-American War or World War I, please let me know.
More on veterans’ memorials next week.
Eric Musgrove can be reached at email@example.com or 386-362-0564.