Past Times

UNC’s Silent Sam statue was unveiled in 1913 ceremony

This photo post card shows the festivities surrounding the Confederate monument’s unveiling.
This photo post card shows the festivities surrounding the Confederate monument’s unveiling. North Carolina Postcard Collection, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill

In the wake of the decision to rename a building on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, attention also landed on the Confederate memorial statue known as Silent Sam. The statue was unveiled 102 years ago Tuesday, to great ceremony. In 1913, writer S.R. Winters described the festivities, which coincided with that year’s commencement exercises.

The sons of Carolina of the outgoing class of 1913 and the memories of the sons of ’61, who took up arms for the Southern cause, each in striking vividness passed in review of the attendants upon today’s exercises.

The overlapping of the exercises of the class day proper and the unveiling of the monument to those sons of the University who answered the call of the country, featured by an address by his excellency, Governor Locke Craig, gave such momentum to the commencement exercises that the events of the succeeding days will gather acceleration until the crowning events of the arrival of Vice-President Marshall on Wednesday.

To the memory of that large percentage of students enrolled in the University in 1861, who at the call of duty laid aside the life of culture to do the bidding of country, the exercises this afternoon at the unveiling of the monument were impressive. The occasion paid tribute to the living old soldiers and honored the dead.

Gerrard Hall, where the exercises were held, was abundantly decorated for the event and the audience that heard Governor Craig and the other speakers on the program, bore testimony to the import of the unveiling.

As one of that band of students who left the University in ’61 to answer the call of country, General Julian S. Carr, of Durham, extended thanks on behalf of the students….

General Carr reviewed with thrilling description, the story of the boys that turned their backs on academic culture for a life of danger. He told with accuracy of how the University of North Carolina, save the exception of the University of Virginia, contributed a larger percentage to the wounded and killed on the battlefield than any other university in the country. The N&O June 2, 1913

As time went on, the statue acquired a name and other personality traits, but it also became a symbol of controversy. In 2000, Chapel Hill News columnist Linda Haac revealed some little-known details about the statue.

A few more thoughts on Silent Sam: He’s a Yankee.

According to old newspaper clippings located in Wilson Library’s North Carolina Collection on our university campus, the bronze statue of a Confederate soldier was modeled after a former Boston policeman.…

In 1986, when Silent Sam had turned green from oxidation, was chipped and in need of repairs, where was he carted? North, to Ohio.

Asked if she found anything ironic in the move, the woman in charge of the restoration at the time, Grace Wagoner (the university’s property officer), confirmed the Boston policeman story. As she said to student reporter Guy Lucas of The Daily Tar Heel: “It’s not ironic because the person who posed for it was a Yankee.” To which, Lucas wrote: “In fact, Silent Sam is a Confederate memorial posed for by a Bostonian, sculpted by a Canadian, and being restored in Ohio by a Greek.”

A bit more context: The Canadian who sculpted the statue was John A. Wilson. Reportedly, back in 1912 or 1913 when Silent Sam was cast, according to university alumnus and history buff Roger Kirkman who spoke to The Chapel Hill Newspaper in 1983, “No northerner ... would do it.” The N&O April 12, 2000

Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/past-times.

Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

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