Forsyth Park is the site of several monuments to Savannah’s war dead, all located on the main path that runs through the center of the park along its north-south axis.
The largest and the oldest is the Confederate Monument, which occupies a prominent position in Forsyth Park’s more open lower section.
Two 20th-century memorials are located near the northern and southern entrances of the park, respectively: the Marine Monument, dedicated to Chatham County Marines killed in action, and The Hiker, honoring the soldiers of the Spanish-American War.
This memorial, situated at the northern entrance of Forsyth Park, was erected in 1947 to commemorate Chatham County Marines killed in the Second World War. The monument has since been updated to honor Marines killed in more recent conflicts too.
The monument consists of a large, white block of Georgia marble, fitted with bronze plaques upon which are inscribed the names of the Savannah and Chatham County Marines who lost their lives in the course of their service.
The original dedication of the monument was to the 24 Marines killed in World War II. It was erected by Savannah members of the Marine Corps League, and unveiled on Armistice Day, November 11, of 1947.
The Marine Monument, erected only two years after the conclusion of the Second World War, is believed to be the first monument dedicated in memory of that conflict’s Marines. A memorial in honor of all Chatham County veterans of World War II was rather longer in coming, erected only recently along River Street.
In the late 1970s, the monument was hit by a car and damaged. It was restored in 1981, at which time it was decided to add additional plaques to commemorate Marines killed in the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Savannah’s Ladies Memorial Association erected this monument to the Confederate dead in 1875. It stands in the center of the Forsyth Park extension. Fundraising for the roughly $10,000 cost of the monument (equivalent to more than $200,000 today) began in 1868, and took five years.
Canadian Robert Reid designed the monument. The original work included two statues, Judgment and Silence, respectively atop and in the central portion of the structure, but popular opinion considered this design to be overdone.
The statues were removed, a bronze statue of a Confederate soldier placed at the monument’s top instead. Judgment was moved to Thomasville, GA’s Laurel Hill Cemetery. Silence was moved to the Confederate section of Laurel Grove Cemetery North.
The busts of Civil War Generals Lafayette McLaws and Francis Bartow were placed at either side of the Confederate Monument in the early 20th century, moved from their original location in Chippewa Square to make way for the Oglethorpe Monument.
At the southern entrance to Forsyth Park, on Park Avenue, stands “The Hiker,” also known as the Georgia Volunteer or the Spanish War Soldier. It is dedicated to the Georgia Volunteers who fought in the Spanish-American War of 1898.
Although the monument honors soldiers from across the state, Savannah was chosen as its location because it sent more men than any other Georgia city. Savannah, incidentally, also served as one of several embarkation camps for soldiers going to and returning from the war.
Savannah’s Hiker was dedicated in 1931. In contrast to the city’s other memorials, the statue is not a one-off commission. In fact, an estimated 50 copies of the monument exist across the United States.
The statue was first created in the early years of the 20th century by Theodora Alice Ruggles Kitson (1871-1932), a native of Massachusetts. Kitson, a noted female sculptor at a time when women were rarely accepted as serious artists, was the creator of several war memorials, of which The Hiker is probably the best known.
The original copy of the statue was unveiled in 1906, at the University of Minnesota. It depicts a soldier in period uniform appropriate for the tropics, carrying a Krag-Jørgensen rifle, used by the United States army as its standard rifle from the mid-1890s to 1903.
The figure is based on a real-life Spanish-American War veteran: Leonard Sefing, Jr of Allentown, Pennsylvania, who was selected by means of a national contest. It is named for the term veterans of the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars used to describe themselves, a reference to the long distances the soldiers were required to walk over the difficult terrain of Cuba and the Philippine islands.
Another version of the Hiker statue exists, created around the same time as Kitson’s by Allen George Newman. Likewise designed to honor the soldiers of the Spanish-American and Philippine-American wars, it proved less popular than Kitson’s memorial, with around 20 copies known of today.