The South's Defender's Monument was dedicated on 3 June 1915 on the grounds of the Calcasieu Parish Courthouse in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Giving the dedication speech was a highly respected community leader and Confederate veteran, Hardy C. Gill. Below is his story and the speech. The monument was rededicated on 3 June 1995 after it was extensively renovated. At that time, the late Dr. John K. Griffith Jr., a member of Captain James W. Bryan Camp 1390 in Lake Charles, read Gill's memorable speech. (Photo by Mike Jones)
H.C. Gill around the time he was
promoted to 2nd lieutenant.
(McNeese State University Archives
Maude Reid Scrapbook.)
Hardy Coward Gill was the principle speaker at the dedication of The South's Defenders Monument on 3 June 1915. He was a veteran of Company B, 1st Louisiana Infantry regiment in the famous "Louisiana Tigers" brigade of General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Gill was born 17 February 1844 in Brookhaven, Mississippi, and came with his family at a young age to what would become Vernon Parish, Louisiana in the western part of the state. He was educated at Mount Lebanon University in Rapides Parish, Louisiana.
He was just 17-years-old when he enlisted on 2 August 1861 in New Orleans in Company B (2nd) (Red River Rebels) of Rapides Parish of Nelligan's 1st Louisiana. His original rank was second corporal and he was promoted by election to junior second lieutenant on 28 April 1862 at age 18. He was marked present for the following battles: 1 July 1862, Malvern Hill; 2 September 1862, Chantilly; 15 September 1862, Harper's Ferry; 17 September 1862, Sharpsburg; 13 December 1862, Fredericksburg; 2 May 1863, Chancellorsville; 3 May 1863, severely wounded at Chancellorsville; present 2-3 July 1863, Gettysburg; 27 November 1863, Payne's Farm; severely wounded 5 May 1864, Wilderness; present 1 September 1864, Shepardstown; 10 September 1864, Smithfield; 18 September 1864, Winchester; captured 22 September 1864, Fisher's Hill. He was held a prisoner of war for the rest of war and wasn't released until 14 June 1865, two months after Appomattox, when he finally agreed to take the oath. At that time he was described as 6 feet 1 inch tall, dark complexion, dark hair, grey eyes. He was 21-years-old.
SPEECH of H.C. GILL
Unveiling of the Confederate
Lake Charles, Louisiana
June 3rd, 1915
Mr. Chairman, R.E. Lee Chapter, United Daughters of the Confederacy, Comrades, Ladies and my Fellow Citizens:
The Daughters of the Confederacy, having charge of these dedicatory ceremonies, have placed the responsibility upon me of responding on behalf of the veterans, and having closed all avenues of retreat there was nothing left me to do but capitulate.
An occasion of this kind is one of reminiscence. More than fifty years ago the North and South were seriously divided upon a great political and constitutional question. It has always seemed strange to me that the question was not appealed to the Supreme or some diplomatic court, but it was not. Every state in the Union appealed to arms, both sides with equal enthusiasm and patriotism lined up on the question, both sides called their witnesses and the argument was promptly opened at Fort Sumter. When Thomas Overton Moore, governor of this state, called to the colors its citizens, I claim those who responded performed as highly patriotic duty, as any man who responded to the call of Abraham Lincoln.
For more than four years the argument raged with tremendous energy and fury.
Looking backward a half century from the 9th of April last, we catch a vision of Appomattox. On that eventful and historic day two giant characters, two strong men, two great captains met on a patch of nature’s greensward, under an apple tree, in the full fruitage of flower, and without blare of trumpets, without noise, but in the simplicity of greatness, made a covenant honorable to both sides, and closed the argument forever. The commissary wagons were pulled in, refreshments were served and a plug of Brown’s Mule was passed and everybody took a bite, the blue and the gray withdrew to their homes to mend the broken and heal the wounds. How faithfully that covenant has been kept and how well the blue and the gray have wrought, you have but to observe today with what unanimity the hundred million of loyal Americans are standing behind and supporting our chief magistrate and his policies, and not enough Jingoes on the gunwales to rock the boat. Gathered under the shadow of this monument are veterans of the blue and the gray, that squatted on the greensward around the apple tree at Appomattox on the 9th of April, 1865. We have forgiven. Today we send our children to the same schools, we attend the same churches, have extended the right hand of fellowship and would eat chuck together if we had the chance. But we have not forgotten. Would you have us forget? This monument and every Confederate and Union monument in the land answers in one universal chorus — No. We stand for something.
Back in the eighties, when our western frontiers were infested and dominated by a restless, reckless, desperate, lawless, wild and woolly element of daredevil cowboys and rustlers, on one of their carnival occasions at the end of a gun play one of the gang quit the trail and they laid him in the little village cemetery. His friends erected a little modest memorial over his grave. Strolling through the little cemetery, and coming to the plain marble slab, I found this simple inscription: “Bill Boone,” and underneath this unique epitaph, “Bill always done his derndest.” Catching the inspiration of the thought that brought out that inscription I pulled off my hat to that epitaph, and my hat is off to it still.
Search the literature and classics of the world, could you find five words and group them that would give a higher or loftier encomium to human endeavor? If the drapery should be removed from that statue and there should be anything lacking to make it complete and I were called upon to supply it, I would say copy the epitaph in the little village cemetery, and write on that shaft “They always done their derndest.”
And now to this splendid band of women, the R.E. Lee Chapter, United Daughters of the Confederacy, who have been so faithful and worked so hard, consistently, persistently and successfully to this end, and to every donor to the fund that has made this splendid memorial possible, on behalf of these veterans and on behalf of our fallen comrades, whose graves lie in the green bosom of every battlefield from the Rio Grande, and the Round Tops of Gettysburg, I sincerely, reverently and affectionately extend our thanks.
These veterans assembled here have all reached their three score years and ten and better, and in a few more years, at best, will be the lost generation. Their faces are turned toward the sunset of life, and as they move across the stage of action, with warped frames and halting gait, and whitening crowns and visions growing dim, you may catch the faint echo of their receding steps, as they enter upon their last campaign the thin gray line growing shorter and thinner and thinner and thinner as the years go by until they reach the border land and, as the rear guard of the heavy battalions straggle over the line, taps will be sounded, lights extinguished and the thin gray line will fade forever into a memory. The rear guard will cross over the river and mingling with the spirits of their comrades, who have gone on before, together they will lie down to rest under the shade of the trees, on “Fame’s eternal camping ground, the bivouac of the dead.”