Descendants Unveil Civil War Memorial

By CHERYL KUCK, Tribune correspondent
Published: November 24, 2007

PLANT CITY – A memorial to a Civil War-era unit that helped feed Confederate troops was dedicated Nov. 17 in a ceremony that included some of those whose ancestors fought in the nation’s bloodiest conflict.

The bronze sculpture on a granite base inscribed with names of members of Company B 1st Battalion-Florida Special Cow Calvary was unveiled on the grounds of the 1914 Plant City High School Community Center. Members of Plant City Chapter 1931 United Daughters of the Confederacy dressed in period costume, and men in Civil War replica uniforms carried flags.

The Daughters of the Confederacy worked for many years selling cookbooks and at other fundraisers to make their dream of a memorial come true.

Sculptor Mike Bethune, a self-taught artist who owns Bethune Signs in Thonotosassa, created the sculpture featuring a man with a rifle standing guard over cattle. His wife is a member of the Daughters of the Confederacy, and his lifelong friend, contractor Cecil Murray of Plant City, installed the granite base and the brick walkway leading up to the memorial at the community center, 605 N. Collins St.

A brief history of the Cow Calvary is inscribed on the memorial along with the names of cavalry members, many of whom have descendants living in the Plant City area. From 1863 until 1865, the cavalry rounded up wild cattle in Florida and drove them to railroad stations where they were shipped to provide beef for Confederate troops.

"I am moved by the history," Bethune said. "My great-great-grandfather was in Florida’s largest Civil War battle in Olustee, Fla. That is why I do what I do and I never charge a dime for my work. I create memorials throughout Florida to honor my ancestors."

Bethune said he has created signs and memorials for such places as Lowry Park Zoo and MacDill Air Force Base.

"My real dream is to create memorials for the veterans of all our wars," he said.

Members of Daughters of the Confederacy’s Plant City chapter Carole Shelton, along with her sister Kay Buffington, are the great-granddaughters of chapter founder Mary Noel Moody, who also founded the Florida division of the Daughters of the American Revolution and other organizations. The Daughters of the Confederacy held its first meeting at the community center, then a high school, in 1928. The organization holds monthly meetings there.

"The memorial is a testament" to pioneer families, said Shelton, who added that her group decorates Union and Confederate memorials with flags on Memorial Day.

"We only have 15 members left to carry on the traditions. We elected to create this memorial instead of a book so people will begin to contemplate their local genealogy and family history."

The chapter is hoping to defray some expenses through the sale of engraved bricks. Each brick sells for $50 and is available through the Daughters of the Confederacy Web site: www.plantcityudc.com.

MEMORIAL INSCRIPTION

Here’s the inscription on the memorial to Company B 1st Battalion – Florida Special Cow Calvary:

"By 1863, the Confederate Army was suffering severe food shortages. Capt. John T. Lesley was commissioned to recruit from Ichepucksassa (Cork area of Plant City) a company of pioneer men to round up and drive the wild cattle of Florida north to railroad stations. Many were too young or too old for regular military service. With great effort, along with eight other companies in Florida, these men successfully completed their mission overseeing drives as far north as Charleston."