A Federal Monument Surrounded by a Un-reconstructed Fence

by Phil Spaugy

Another quick Civil War post from Cayo Hueso…aka Key West.

Long one of my favorite Civil War spots in Key West, this monument, located in Clinton Square in the heart of Old Town was erected in 1866 by the Navy Club of Key West and inscribed with the following “To the memory of the officers, sailors & soldiers of the Army, Navy & Marine Corps of the United States who lost their lives in their country’s service upon this station from 1861-1865” was most certainly one of the first such monuments in the country erected after the Civil War.

 

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Upon approaching the monument your eye is quickly drawn to the fence which surrounds the memorial, with a small plaque upon the gate your eye is drawn to the small plaque upon the iron gate:

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And there in lies a story….

Born in South Carolina in 1839,  Jeptha Vining Harris grew up in both South Carolina and Mississippi where he graduated form the University of Mississippi with a medical degree in 1859. He married Mary Perkins of Mississippi in the spring of 1861, and putting his medical education to good use served as a Asst. Surgeon in both the Confederate States Army and Navy, where he was assigned to the Mobile Squadron, serving  upon the CSS Morgan. After the war he moved his family to Key West, where among other things he was the customs collector, residing in the magnificent red brick Custom House which sits across the street from this memorial. Doctor Harris died in 1914, and is buried in the Key West Cemetery.

Upon his arrival in Key West and obviously very proud of his service to the Confederacy, Harris erected the fence around the Federal monument and while the fence bears no other inscription other than the simple plaque on the gate, the symbolism of a “Rebel” fence surrounded a Federal memorial speaks with much more meaning and emotion than words might ever express.

 

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Bust of J. Vining Harris in the Key West Memorial Sculpture Garden http://www.keywestsculpturegarden.org/

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Plaque describing Dr. Harris’s rather illustrious career and rather full life. http://www.keywestsculpturegarden.org/

Yes, there is no doubt in my mind that the good Doctor was most certainly a “Good Old Rebel” to the very end!

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