Celebrating 200 years: 1911
The Arkansas Gazette published a special edition May 16, 1911, on the first day of a 50-year reunion of men who’d fought for the South during the Civil War.
Downtown Little Rock decked itself in Confederate banners and U.S. flags for the 21st confab of the United Confederate Veterans. A tourism coup fought over by Southern cities, it included the United Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Confederate Southern Memorial Association: 38,000 visitors were expected to come and go.
Judge W.M. Kavanaugh worked for a year with a committee to arrange block rates at hotels, restaurant discounts and a mess hall to serve 5,500.
On May 15, 38,300 visitors stepped out of passenger trains, but more were coming — 106,800 in all, more than twice the city’s population.
General headquarters was a tent array in City Park (MacArthur Park). With free cots for veterans, “Camp Shaver” was organized into states, divisions and military units and named for an 80-year-old Mena lawyer, Robert G. Shaver. As a Confederate colonel, “General Shaver” had led an Arkansas infantry outfit.
The turnout swamped Camp Shaver. Kavanaugh said: “We were notified of 1,500. We prepared for 5,500. Now we have 11,000 to entertain.”
Lodging was found in schools and homes as far distant as Hot Springs. Elderly men slept on bare cots so other old men could use their mattresses on the ground. Camp “militia” ejected sons and buddies some veterans had smuggled in.
Throngs packed speeches, socials, dedications. The Little Rock Athletic Association held a ball at its Boathouse; the Eagles Aerie staged a minstrel show with 100 actors; a “captive balloon” gave tethered rides. A big attraction was Jefferson Shields of Lexington, Va., an “ancient negro” who cooked for Gen. T.J. Jackson and claimed he’d heard Robert E. Lee bestow Jackson’s nickname, “Stonewall.”
At 10 a.m. May 18, an epic parade flowed from the Old State House to City Park and back, with so many buglers, fife and drum bands, grizzled marchers, tattered flags and carloads of pretty girls it took one hour, 47 minutes to pass single points. Near the end, a gray-haired black man wheeled his “old master” in a chair. Afterward, visitors rushed to the train depot to go home.
The special Gazette edition was packed with essays extolling the wonders of Arkansas as well as war stories, soldiers’ letters, touching anecdotes, page after page of poems and song lyrics, and biographies of living and dead soldiers, including not one but three “boy martyrs.” At 70 pages, it took much longer to read than the parade did to watch, and extra copies were sold as souvenirs.
— Celia Storey
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