We all suffer from some biases. That is part of human nature. There is, these days much discussion about the Confederate statues and what they represent. Here in San Antonio, we have one Confederate monument in Travis Park. County Commissioner Tommy Calvert, a fine person, insisted last week that that statue represents racism. He stressed that the Secession Declaration from 1861 mentions slavery as the motive for Texas’ secession. He did not explain how the how the secession declaration is related to the Travis Park Monument. In reality, the connection is tenuous.
The statue depicts one Confederate soldier with his finger pointed skyward and his rifle at rest. The statue does not represent Gen. Lee or any of the Southern leaders. It represents the average Confederate soldier. In today’s Army, we refer to the lowest soldier as Joe Snuffy or Private Snuffy. Pvt. Snuffy gives no one orders. He has to take orders from everyone. Pvt. Snuffy is the average soldier. Joe Snuffy is the soldier who stepped up when his state and what he believed to be his country called. We may disagree today with Pvt. Snuffy’s choice, but we cannot disagree about the sincerity of his beliefs.
Commissioner Calvert and others insist that the soldier in Travis Park represents racism and Jim Crow laws. I cannot say, and I think no historian can state categorically what all motives lead to the erection of that monument. But, if we look closely, the statue does not represent the things it has been accused of.
The statue was designed by Virginia Montgomery. We know from newspaper articles of the time period that Virginia was the daughter of Julia Montgomery, a former member of the Daughters of the Confederacy here in San Antonio. The statue’s critics have assumed that because of the connection to the Daughters of the Confederacy, there must become hate-filled motive behind the erection of that statue. But, beware of assumptions. Every discrimination lawsuit is based on someone’s false assumption.
Virginia Montgomery was an artist living in New Orleans. How did her mother end up in San Antonio? Mrs. Julia Montgomery was simply trying to make ends meet. Her husband was John Alfonso Montgomery, a captain in the Confederate army. He enlisted in April, 1862. He enlisted a year after the big rush to join. The more patriotic Southerners tended to join in April-May, 1861, when the war first started. Joining in May, 1862 suggests Capt. Montgomery was not among the more patriotic or devout Southerners. Two years later, he was dropped from the rolls of active soldiers in June, 1864, indicating he was probably wounded and could no longer perform his duty.
Capt. Montgomery was a Quartermaster for the 32nd Alabama Infantry regiment. Prior to the war, he was a “cotton merchant” in Mobile, Alabama. “Cotton merchant” is a generic term that probably means he was a cotton broker. Cotton brokers accepted crops of cotton from a planter or farmer and then took the risk of selling it to overseas or New York markets. Cotton brokers generally lived well. They were solidly in the middle class. It was an occupation, for example, that was generally not open to the Irish and German immigrants of the time. So, John Montgomery was doing well. That was good, because he and his wife, Julia, had seven children. The youngest child was Blocker Montgomery, born 1861-62. Blocker was Julia’s maiden name.
It was said that John came back from the war “broken in body and fortune.” He returned to Mobile after the war. The family suffered. John was listed with no occupation in the 1870 census. That means he was not working. In the 1871 Mobile City Directory, his occupation is simply listed as “merchant.” A description that means nothing for that time period. It is equivalent to describing someone in 2017 as a “businessman.”
A year later, John is a policeman. A year later, he has no occupation. The next year, he is listed as a “cigar dealer.” The next year, he is a clerk. At the age of 50 years old, he is employed as a clerk. The next year, he is not listed in the Mobile City Directory, at all. Like many returning veterans, he could not hold a job. Even worse, every year, the address for the family of nine persons changed. Capt. Montgomery could not even hold onto the family home.
In 1873, Mrs. Julia Montgomery appears in the New Orleans City Directory. That appearance suggests she left Mobile looking for work as a teacher.
The next year, 1877, John, the former captain does not appear. Instead, his son, John A. Montgomery, Jr. is listed. That likely means John, Sr. died or moved away. Since we know Julia will later be described as a widow, it is likely he passed away. And, now surprisingly, his son, 25 years old, is the head of the household. Normally, the widow would be listed as the head of the home and she would be described as the widow. But, Julia does not appear in the 1877 Mobile City Directory. We can only surmise that she was living elsewhere, perhaps in New Orleans trying to earn a few dollars.
Julia was surely in San Antonio by 1899 because in that year she is described in San Antonio papers as a member of the Daughters of the Confederacy here in San Antonio. She is described as someone who lived in San Antonio for many years. That sort of movement means she was moving for work. Year later, she will be described as an educator for some 50 years. It is likely, she was moving to San Antonio or New Orleans or both for work.
And, where was Virginia during this time? Virginia appears in the 1880 census living with her sister Faith. Faith Montgomery married a farmer, David Dunlap, in upstate Alabama. They were not wealthy. They listed a net worth of $350 in 1880, which was normal for a working class family.
By 1878, John A. Montgomery disappears from Mobile records. Apparently, he too passed away. The whole family was scattering to the four winds.
By 1887, Virginia is living in new Orleans on her own. Shock. Take a breath. It was very unusual for a single woman to live on her own, not with family. We know she was alone, because other family members who were working would have been listed in the City Directory for the same address. But, no other Montgomery’s appear.
Virginia was listed as an artist. This was a time when female artists were very unusual. When she designed the Travis Park monument in 1899, she was described as the first woman to ever design a monument. That could very well be true. In 1899, Virginia designed the Confederate monument for free. So, she was still in touch with her mother in San Antonio.
Julia attained some notoriety. She died in 1922. Her lengthy obituary explained she was very active in clubs, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Daughters of the Confederacy, the Woman’s Club and others. She was one of the leaders of the suffragette movement in New Orleans. She voted for the first time in her life just two years before – in the 1920 presidential election. She was said to be the oldest voting woman in New Orleans the 1920 election. When she passed away, her age was given as 99. The 1870 census indicates she was born in 1830. Regardless, her age was advanced, but he was still very active up to her death.
Virginia acquired some local fame as an artist. In 1930, she wrote a lengthy article for the New Orleans Times Picayune about “Bachelor Girl, A World Leader.” In the article, she explains that a single woman is not “unnatural” and that she can be a “world leader.” Virginia never married. But, she lead a full life. In one year, she is mentioned teaching Bible Study to students in Lower Algiers, a working class neighborhood across the river from New Orleans. In another lengthy Times Picayune article, her artistic approach is described. She favors, she said, three watercolors about “Negroes.” Doubtless, Virginia shocked readers again by suggesting African-Americans were appropriate subjects for serious art.
Julia passed away while living with Virginia. The home was and still is located at 7924 South Claiborne. It is a humble home. Nearby is a small park known as Palmer Park. The DAR planted a tree there in honor of Julia.
It is said in a 1911 San Antonio Light article that Julia came up with the concept for the Travis Park monument. That likely means she suggested that it represent a typical soldier, not a general. If Julia developed the concept and Virginia designed it, they are not what we expected from the Daughters of the Confederacy. I think most of us would expect the Daughters to be more like Gone with the Wind if we were to meet them. Perhaps, Commissioner Calvert and Councilperson Trevino expected the same.
The two Montgomery ladies were not Gone with The Wind. Julia struggled, having to move from city to city to work. She had to leave her family to make things work. Her children were scattered or dead. Yet, through all that, she maintained her love and affection for her veteran husband. Capt. Montgomery was a failure by some standards. But, to those who knew him best, he was apparently much more. To his family, he was Pvt. Snuffy of the CSA.