Man finishes homegrown memorial

Suffolk man’s work honors his Confederate forebears
By Tracy Agnew (Contact) | Suffolk News-Herald
Published Friday, May 29, 2009

David Tatum admits he takes his hobby a little overboard.

In fact, he said, he’s even a little “obsessive-compulsive” about it.

Some of his neighbors might agree — after all, the occasional sound of cannon fire just doesn’t blend very well with the into the quiet environment of White Marsh Road.

However, everything Tatum does — from his projectile-free cannon fire to his collection of hundreds of pieces of Confederate memorabilia — is simply to honor his ancestors, he says.

“Maybe I take it a little overboard, but I do what I want to do,” he said.

Inside his home on the western edge of the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, an entire room is filled with Confederate flags, model cannons, books on the Confederacy, and his rarest piece — his great-grandfather’s original certificate of service in the Confederate Army.

However, the crowning achievement of Tatum’s quest to honor his ancestors is the memorial to his great-grandfather in his front yard.

Tatum’s great-grandfather, J.C. Tatum, was a member of the Richmond Howitzers during the Civil War. The Richmond Howitzers, organized by a grandson of Thomas Jefferson around 1859, had grown to a battalion of three companies by 1861. The unit fought throughout the war, serving at Manassas, Gettysburg and Cold Harbor, among others, and was present at the surrender in Appomattox.

For a long time, however, Tatum was unable to locate his great-grandfather’s gravesite — so he chose to make a memorial to him in his own front yard.

The monument began as a pyramid-style stack of discarded wood that Tatum took from construction sites he worked on. Atop the simple structure, Tatum placed a cannon, made of concrete, and a concrete Confederate soldier, purchased at the lawn art section of a local garden store and painted to look like an artilleryman.

Tatum thought that was the end of his monument-building. However, several events then occurred in quick succession — someone stole the cannon, he found his great-grandfather’s gravesite (next to his grandparents), and he lost his job.

That gave him not only plenty of time, but also the motivation to make the monument bigger and better.

Tatum had stockpiled an assortment of rocks from his job sites throughout Virginia, and he put these to good use. He stacked the rocks over the old wood frame and filled in the cracks with brick mortar to hold them in place. He then created an emblem with the seal of Virginia out of plaster of Paris, and placed the emblem on the front and back of the monument.

He made a new cannon and perched it atop the structure, and then gave the soldier a new cannon ramrod made of a painted piece of broomstick and a painted Pepsi can.

Now that the improvements are “almost done,” he’s contemplating a new monument, perhaps on the other side of his property.

“It’s not there to offend anyone,” he said of the monument, which elicited a complaint from a neighbor to the city when he first built it. A city inspector determined that Tatum didn’t need a permit, and he kept on building.

“Now it has that antique look,” he joked of the structure.

Tatum insists that the monument isn’t out there to offend anybody. He’s seen tour buses headed to the Great Dismal Swamp ride past, slowing down for cameras snapping photos through open windows.

“It’s a labor of love,” he said. “I love and respect my ancestors for what they did for Virginia.”

© 2009 The Suffolk News-Herald

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