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“The Blue
and the Gray”

It was at Friendship Cemetery in April 1866 that four Columbus women decorated the graves of Confederate and Union soldiers with spring flowers. The impartiality of these women was honored in a poem by New England poet Francis Miles Finch, “The Blue and the Gray.” It was first published in “The Atlantic Monthly” in 1867.

By the flow of the inland river,
Whence the fleets of iron have fled,
Where the blades of the grave-grass quiver
Asleep in the ranks of the dead;
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgement day;
Under the one, the Blue,
Under the other, the Gray.
These in the robings of glory
Those in the gloom of defeat,
All with battle-blood glory
In the dusk of eternity meet;
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgement day;
Under the laurel, the Blue,
Under the willow, the Gray.
From the silence of sorrowful hours
The desolate mourners go,
Lovingly laden with flowers
Alike for the friend and the foe;
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting for judgement day;
Under the roses, the Blue,
Under the lilies, the Gray.
So, with an equal splendor
The morning sun-rays fall,
With a touch impartially tender
On the blossoms blooming for all;
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgement day;
Broidered with gold, the Blue,
Mellowed with gold, the Gray.
So, when the summer calleth
On forest and field of grain,
With an equal murmur falleth
The cooling drip of the rain;
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgement day;
Wet with the rain, the Blue,
Wet with the rain, the Gray.
Sadly, but not with upbraiding
The generous deed was done,
In the storm of the years that are fading
No braver battle was won;
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgement day;
Under the blossoms, the Blue,
Under the garlands, the Gray.

No more shall the war cry sever,
Or the winding rivers be red;
They banish our anger for ever
When they laurel the graves of our dead;
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgement day;
Love and tears for the Blue,
Tears and love for the Gray.

A monument known as “The Weeping Angel” in Friendship Cemetery perhaps is the most-photographed. It is the grave of the Rev. Thomas Teasdale, a beloved pastor of First Baptist Church in Columbus.

A city to be desired
Tennessee Williams’ hometown drips with Southern charm

Published: May/June 2003
By Lynn Grisard Fullman

Stately Lowndes County Courthouse (above). Tennessee Williams’ first home (below) now is the Mississippi Welcome Center for Columbus and Lowndes County.
It is quiet here. The clock on the courthouse spiral ticks but even its hands seem mired in molasses. Time moves at its own slow pace in the northeast Mississippi town of Columbus.

If a visiting motorist pauses in traffic to read a map, residents take it all in stride, rarely honking their horns or becoming impatient.

That’s the charm of small-town America, where the crickets seem to chirp a bit softer, the night wind blows more gently and fame once brushed past.

Columbus’ dance with celebrity came with little fanfare with the birth of Thomas Lanier Williams on March 26, 1911, who would later choose the pen name Tennessee Williams and become the South’s most prolific playwright.

Always entertaining, Williams’ plays often were tied to the place of his childhood. Somewhat dark and decadent, they dwelled upon the foibles of life in the South.

“Home is where you hang your childhood, and Mississippi to me is the beauty spot of creation, a dark, wide spacious land that you can breathe in,” Williams once said.

Williams lived his early life with his maternal grandparents, the Rev. and Mrs. Walter Dakin, in a Victorian rectory in Columbus. Built in 1878, the gray and yellow house eventually was used as a parish office. In 1995, the former rectory was moved to its current location at the corner of Main Street and Third Street South, less than one block from its original site adjacent to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on College Street. The relocated house has been converted into a Mississippi Welcome Center.

There is plenty to welcome visitors to in this town that is 10 miles from the Alabama line and known for antebellum homes (many open daily for tours), antique and specialty shops, access to outdoor adventures and elegant or casual restaurants.

Places to visit

One of the area’s most noted and photographed homes is Waverley Plantation Mansion, off Mississippi Highway 50 between Columbus and West Point. Completed in 1852, the Greek Revival home has a distinctive octagonal cupola and curved stairway.

Another of the area’s remarkable homes, the 1847 Italianate Lee Home Museum today holds Civil War memorabilia and personal items once belonging to Gen. Stephen D. Lee. Lee, who gave the order to fire the first shot of the Civil War upon Fort Sumter, later became the first president of Mississippi State University.

A visit to Columbus should include a drive through Mississippi University for Women. Founded in 1884, it was the country’s first public college for women. With 24 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, the college, despite its name, has been admitting men since 1982.

Admission is free to the Plymouth Bluff Museum, which holds cultural history exhibits and artifacts dating to the Cretaceous and Pleistocene ages.

A wonderland of shops are clustered in downtown Columbus. Plan to spend a bit of time at the Stained Glassworks, which specializes in the artistry and craft of stained glass creations. The shop (by appointment) offers tours through its workshop. There’s also a showroom and gift shop.

Other downtown shops include The Beehive (with gifts and flowers); Marilyn’s Cottage (specializing in Mississippi products); the Purple Elephant (with decorative accessories and whimsical gifts); The Toy Shelf (selling educational and specialty toys); and Holly’s Christmas Shoppe.

Cemetery outing

The Library of Congress recognizes that the first Memorial Day celebration was in Columbus, where a group of women met in April 1866 to consider how to honor the Civil War dead at Friendship Cemetery.

Using fresh flowers from their gardens, they began by decorating Confederate graves. Struck, however, by the starkness of Union graves, the women laid flowers there as well.

Founded in May 1849, Friendship Cemetery, which is open daily, is the final resting place for five Confederate States of America Army generals, two former Mississippi governors, merchants and lawmakers.

Countryside tours

To discover out-of-the-way places, visit Ole Country Bakery, a traditional Mennonite bakery serving pastries, baked goods and their specialty, Po-boy sandwiches.

If you’re in town on Monday afternoon, check out the Cattle Auction Barn where auctions are free and open to the public.

Bring back memories with a visit to the ABC Store (open Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoons) which offers Coca-Cola memorabilia.

If you have adventure on your mind when visiting Columbus, you’ll find plenty of places to play. For starters, you may want to sample one of Tombigbee Dundee Riverboat Tours’ one- and two-hour or half-day tours on the Tenn-Tom Waterway.

See what fun you can stir up at Lake Lowndes State Park. With a 150-acre lake offering great fishing, the park is the place for picnicking, discovering nature, trying bike and equestrian trails or playing softball, football and soccer.

Set up camp at DeWayne Hayes Recreation Area and Town Creek Campground, each with 100 campsites with concrete pads, picnic tables, grills, lantern posts, fire rings, and electric and water hook-ups.

Welcome home

Whether you choose a fine motel, park your camper, pitch a tent or luxuriate in a bed-and-breakfast inn, you’ll find plenty of overnight options.

Dining choices also abound in Columbus, which offers Southern cuisine, down-home cooking, ethnic dishes and continental dining.
Upon arriving in Columbus, ponder the truth to the line that Williams wrote for a fictional Blanche DuBois in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Arriving to visit her sister, Stella, and her husband, Stanley, Blanche said, “I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

Proud of their town and its history, Columbus residents are eager to bestow kindness both to strangers and to those who visit time and time again. Come and see for yourself.

Lynn Grisard Fullman is a contributor from Birmingham, Ala.

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