The Bust of Robert E. Lee is located in the median on Monroe Street across from the Art League of Fort Myers in the City of Palms Parking Garage. It is a memorial not to the general who led the Confederate Army in the war between the states, but to Lee’s iron integrity and utter devotion to truth. It is also a symbol of Lee’s generosity and legendary concern for his fellow man.
The work was commissioned at a cost of $6,000 by the Laetitia Ashmore Nutt Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (chapter 1447). But not in 1966, when it was finally installed. The chapter began collecting funds for the memorial soon its formation on February 12, 1913. But in 1915, “the chapter turned over its Lee Memorial money for use at the hospital,” said Chapter 1447 President Lalla R. Moore at the 1966 dedication. A very Lee-like act.
The chapter immediately began a new drive for the memorial, but between World War I and the Great Depression, contributions were small and sporadic. They’d only accumulated $500 when, in 1940, the hospital again found itself in need. This time, the nursery needed to be furnished and, as before, the chapter willingly gave up all the money in its memorial fund.
The chapter launched a third and final funding campaign in 1953. This time, they raised enough money to commission an Italian sculptor by the name of Aldo Pero to cast the bronze bust. But they still needed money for the granite pedestal, so they placed General Lee in the courthouse lobby with a collection box for nickels, dimes, quarters and half dollars. Hundreds made donations and the pedestal was carved and inscribed by the Crone Monument Company of Memphis, Tennessee.
The monument was unveiled in a dedication ceremony that took place on January 19, 1966, a date selected to mark the occasion of the 159th anniversary of Robert E. Lee’s birth. At the time, there was no monument to Lee south of Richmond.
Few outside of the local chapter of the UDC know that a dozen battlefield relics are entombed in the concrete beneath the pedestal. They were provided by James William Clifford, a member of the Civil War Commission who had been collecting Civil War memorabilia for more than 40 years. The relics came from places like Harper’s Ferry, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg and a handful of battlefields throughout Virginia. Clifford and Edna F. Grady Roberts, Chairwoman of the Robert E. Lee Monument Fund, placed them within the concrete footers that support the monument “as a symbol of unity between the North and South.”
Ironically, Fort Myers was a Union stronghold in the waning months of the Civil War. On February 20, 1965, elements of the 2nd Regiment of the United States Colored Troops repelled an attack by the Confederate Cow Calvary which was intent on liberating 4,500 head of cattle that the Union soldiers had seized from cattle ranchers between Punta Gorda and Tampa in order to deprive Lee of beef needed to feed his troops.
One of the members of the defeated Cow Calvary was Francis Asbury Hendry. When Fort Myers broke away from Monroe County in 1887, Hendry was the one who moved to have the new county named after Lee. But he wasn’t motivated by comeuppance.
“[My great-grandfather] spoke of [Lee’s] iron integrity – his utter devotion to truth,” said Lloyd Hendry at the 1966 dedication ceremony. “This quality of Lee is legendary. [H]he spoke of Lee’s deep and abiding concern for his fellowmen. These are the qualities [my great-grandfather] hoped the people of Lee County would emulate.”
[For more information about the Robert E. Lee Bust, please click here. Readers may also learn more about Fort Myers’ role as a Civil War post by clicking on the profiles appearing on Art Southwest Florida for Fort Myers: An Alternative History and Clayton.
A special thanks goes out to Alice Macomber, Historian, United Daughters of the Confederacy Chapter 2614. Without her research and assistance, this article could not have been written.]