Book Cover

Confederate Memorial

Stone Mountain, Georgia

The Confederate Memorial carving on Stone Mountain is the largest high relief sculpture in the world, towering 400 feet above the ground, measuring 90 x 190 feet, and recessed 42 feet into the mountain. The carving consists of three figures on horseback: Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America; Robert E. Lee, General in Chief of the Confederate Armies; and Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson, Lieutenant General of the 2nd Corps. The first sculptor presented his plans in 1915 and work continued intermittently on the carving under three sculptors through World War I, the Great Depression and World War II until it was finally dedicated on May 9, 1970, by Vice-President Spiro Agnew.

History of the Mountain

Due to its size and visibility from great distances, Stone Mountain has long been a landmark and gathering place. Pieces of soapstone bowls, dishes and other artifacts have been linked to people living around the mountain as early as 8,000-10,000 years ago . During the Spanish exploration of the New World, the Creek Indians occupied what is now Alabama and North Georgia – including the Stone Mountain area. Later in the 16th century, the Cherokee tribes forced the Creek nation farther south in Georgia. Stone Mountain was located in a buffer zone between the Creek and Cherokee tribes and was used as a neutral meeting place. Through colonial times, Native Americans farmed around the mountain and traded actively in the area with the Spanish, British and French.

History of the Memorial

The first public proposal for creating the carving as a monument to the Confederacy was put forth by William H. Terrell in a letter to the Editor of the Atlanta Constitution published May 26, 1914. Mr. Terrell, an attorney who lived in DeKalb County, Georgia, began his letter by saying, "In the opinion of many the time has come when the south ought to have some permanent memorial to the confederacy, its statesmen, heroes, and heroic women, and I believe no more fitting thing could be done than the purchase by the public of Stone Mountain and its dedication as such."

The Three Sculptors

Several designs were proposed by the three sculptors, whose work spanned a period of more than half a century.

Gutzon Borglum’s 1915 vision of the Panorama was to feature Confederate armed forces mobilizing around their leaders. Artillery was to appear at the summit as if coming over the mountain and numerous other cavalry and infantry figures were to be carved to the right and left of the central colossal group of seven figures representing the Confederate high command. Work was delayed until 1923 by funding issues and World War One.

The project languished and was not revived until early 1923. The first drill bit into the side of the mountain on June 3, 1923. The following year on Robert E. Lee's birthday, January 9, 1924, the partially completed head of the general was unveiled before a crowd of 10,000. In 1925 a dispute arose between Borglum and the managing association. As a result of the conflict, Borglum left, taking all of his sketches and models with him. Borglum went on to carve the famous Mount Rushmore sculpture in South Dakota.

In 1925 sculptor Henry Augustine Lukeman was commissioned to complete the carving. He advised that Borglum's immense project be abandoned due to its costliness in time, manpower and funds. He suggested a much smaller design which included the figures of Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Most of Borglum's unfinished work had to be blasted off the mountain to make way for the new carving.

granite sculptors

Although Lukeman realized that he could never complete the carving before the 1928 deadline, he worked as quickly as possible. Lukeman established a complex scaffolding system so that a dozen men could work at once. (Lawrence Thomas "Tommie" Kennedy was one of these workers and fell to his death in 1928.) The actual tool used in the cutting was a pneumatic drill. Unfortunately, the point had to be replaced every several minutes due to the hardness of the granite. Lukeman's diligence paid off. By March 20, 1928, he had completed the faces of Davis and Lee and also that of Lee's horse, Traveler. It was apparent that he could complete the project. But an extension never came, ending the Lukeman Era at Stone Mountain.

The project was abandoned until after the purchase of the Mountain by the State of Georgia in 1958. Walker Hancock was announced as the new sculptor in March 1963, and was responsible for completing the carving according to Lukeman’s design – whose models were still intact. With the help of a new technique using thermo-jet torches, Hancock’s chief carver Roy Faulkner was able to remove tons of granite each day. Vice President Spiro Agnew dedicated the carving on May 9, 1970, and finishing touches were completed in 1972.

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