A monument to peace

Hank Segars

Lakelife Associate Editor

Atlanta's peace monument

One of the most interesting and unusual sculptures in our state is the Peace Monument located at the entrance to Atlanta’s Piedmont Park on 14th Street. Dedicated by the Old Guard Battalion of the Gate City Guard, this unusual sculpture defies what we might assume about war monuments with its themes of reconciliation and remembrance. And, remarkably, the historical group that dedicated this memorial back in 1911 still remains active and meets on a regular basis.


The Old Guard Battalion of the Gate City Guard, one of the state’s oldest historical organizations, first chartered in 1857. As the Gate City Guard of Atlanta, this local unit was the first militia company to volunteer for Confederate service during the outbreak of the Civil War, serving with the First Georgia Regiment in Florida and Virginia. In 1862, members returned to Atlanta after their 12 month enlistment; many of the soldiers subsequently joined other Confederate units for the duration of the war.


At the end of hostilities, the Gate City Guard disbanded and did not meet again until 1877 when federal reconstruction had ended. Under the leadership of Joseph Burke, the group planned a friendship tour of the North with the mission of helping to heal divisions and ill-will that had developed after the war. This “Peace Mission” included friendly visits to Boston, Philadelphia, New York and other northern cities to foster reconciliation and to demonstrate that the South had not lost her military expertise and patriotism.


“We come among you divested of the pomp and circumstance of war,” proclaimed Captain Burke. “Our cartridge boxes are not lined with ammunition for our rifles, nor our haversacks with hard tack for ourselves . . . here on Northern soil the sons of those who were estranged in deadly conflict but a few years ago, meet and embrace in the bonds of fellowship – united once more under the same roof . . . the past is buried, and now we must look to the future.”


The eloquent words of Colonel Burke were well received and these friendship visits by Georgians helped bind the wounds between North and South.


As time passed, the older members of the unit decided that it was time to reorganize into “The Old Guard Battalion” of the Gate City Guard. These members, numbering 140 and mostly Confederate veterans, were now too old for militia service. The younger members remained named as “The Gate City Guard” and were subject to state service similar to today’s Georgia National Guard.


In 1909, Col. Burke conceived the idea of erecting a monument in Atlanta that would commemorate the earlier peace missions by the organization. A committee was formed, funds were raised, and an impressive and emotive memorial dedication took place on October 10, 1911 before an appreciative crowd estimated to be 75,000 people.


Prior to the dedication, thousands of veterans from the North and South marched together down Peachtree Street to Piedmont Park. The mayors of Boston, Baltimore and several other northern states were in attendance along with five state governors – a memorable but sometimes forgotten part of American history.


The exquisite “Old Guard Peace Monument” features beautiful sculptures of an angel appearing to a soldier who is lowering his musket to the angelic proclamation of “Cease Firing – Peace Proclaimed.” Four significant dates appear on the memorial, and they are associated with the Old Guard’s founding and the group’s desire to build and commemorate this monument to peace.


From the time of the dedication, the memorial has meant different things to different people and, in particular: patriotism, reconciliation, the pledge of good will and national optimism. And, according to current members of the present-day organization, “there is much historical evidence to suggest that it also represents a tribute to a proud people who, even though defeated, still remained unconquered.”


The Old Guard Battalion of the Gate City Guard conducts a rededication observance of the Peace Monument each fall. This observance is an important part of our state’s history and, hopefully, will never end.


Historic memorials are among our greatest national treasures and can still teach us, even a century later.


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