Long before the Civil War, in the mid-1700’s, a phrase was coined to signify the humbleness with which one person would approach another when needing to ask forgiveness of a debt or to request a similar act of mercy. The phrase is, “with hat in hand,” which describes the literal posture one would take in that situation. Head slightly down, eyes lowered and slow movement also contribute to the demeanor as well as removing the hat and holding it in hand. “Hat in hand” also describes the image of the representative Confederate soldier atop the monument in Pensacola’s Lee Square. No flag. No uniform. No weapon. The pose was chosen with care and purpose by local designers of the monument, several of whom were members of First Baptist Church.
The First Baptist Church of Pensacola, established in 1847 is and has been an adjoining neighbor of the beautiful tree-filled square since 1895 when the church was relocated from East Government Street. The trees have not always been there. When the monument was erected in 1891 the property was a sandy and almost barren hilltop. As young trees have grown to maturity the young man still stands above their tops and can be seen from most directions. Children call him “the man in the trees.”
The church and the intention of the memorial share a lengthy history and heritage. Acknowledgement of need for forgiveness, the humbleness to ask, strength to carry on and the willingness to seek unity are among them. The 168 years of being a fellowship of believers, loving and serving Christ, have brought many humbling incidences and challenges, not the least of which was the Civil War.
Pensacola’s on-line history tells us that the memorial was originally to be in Tallahassee but due to fund raising difficulties was moved to Pensacola where a committee of ladies took up the cause. The cause was not to glorify the Confederacy but to honor the brave men who were willing to give their lives for a cause in which they believed. Eventually their lives, in an ironic way, helped to eliminate a great wrong and to re-unite a divided country.
An original painting entitled “After Appomattox” by John Adam Elder, from which the memorial image is adapted, depicts our “man in the trees” wearing blue pants, gray jacket and a red shirt. His grief over lost lives is plain for all to see and share.
How grateful to God we should be that we are now the United States of America and that our unknown soldier had the heart and the wisdom to hold his hat in his hand.
(Toni Clevenger, 8/15/15)