Ghost Soldiers

A Civil War memorial outside Bolivar aims to shed light on a long-forgotten battle.

In 210 B.C., Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, ordered the construction of thousands of life-size statues of warriors and horses intended to be his protectors in the afterlife. More than 2,000 years later, in Hardeman County, Tennessee, Anderson Humphreys has a remarkably similar idea.

It's no postmortem defense tactic, but Humphreys' project, called "The Ghosts of Davis Bridge," aims to erect nearly 10,000 statues of Civil War soldiers in exactly the same formation they would have held during the October 5, 1862, Battle of Davis Bridge — poised like calcified ghosts on a forgotten battlefield close to Bolivar.

"I like to think of it in terms of making an emotional impact," says Humphreys, a former Memphis advertising agency president and Bolivar Development Corporation (DEVCO) board member. "When you walk out there and see this, it should take your breath away. You're standing up on Metamora Ridge, and you're looking down on what you're charging into. You see these bayoneted rifles up against their shoulders and all of a sudden — you've got a connection."

According to Humphreys' plan, a Civil War historian will meticulously research battalion positioning, while a technological advancement akin to 3D printing would facilitate quick, large-scale production of the statues. Using Computer Numerical Controlled (CNC) machines, designers could scan canteens, soldiers, and horses, and then craft to-scale statues from those 3D images. To complete the "ghost-like" effect, each statue will be sprayed with a coating the color and consistency of limestone. And as for developing the tract of land around Davis Bridge, Humphreys credits Herbert Wood and Rex Brotherton, Hardeman Country residents, for their decades-long effort to reclaim the old battlefield. "It's been a Herculean effort," he says, "and they're up to about 800 acres of preserved battlefield."

In all likelihood, such an ambitious approach is the only prospect for resurrecting an event heretofore dubbed "the forgotten battle" by Civil War buffs. Dwarfed by the storied conflicts of Gettysburg and Shiloh, the Battle of Davis Bridge is virtually unknown. All told, at least 20,000 troops fought during this clash between Confederate troops sweeping up from Corinth, Mississippi and Union troops moving south from Jackson, Tennessee.

"The Ghosts of Davis Bridge" would also round out a four-pronged effort to resurrect Hardeman County's local economy, an effort that includes a complete overhaul of downtown Bolivar, the construction of Lake Silerton, and the preservation of the Hatchie River. Humphreys expects to elevate the Battle of Davis Bridge to the ranks of Shiloh, Gettysburg, and Chickamauga, while bringing visitors and revenues to Hardeman County. He believes his particular brand of Civil War memorial will draw in over 100,000 tourists a year by reinventing the traditional template of war battlefields and catering to our increasingly "visually oriented" society.

A $15-$20 million pilot grant from the state — one of six distributed to towns from west, central, and east Tennessee — was the initial impetus for the project. But the extent of the redevelopment proposal calls for more than the state grant provides, and because Humphreys wants to stand apart from the traditional Civil War memorial, he is adamant about keeping the state park system out of the plans. As a result, he has gotten creative with his marketing strategy.

"We'll have a library of uniforms," he says. "Then, if somebody makes a contribution, they can come in and pick out a uniform, put it on, and we'll do a 360-degree scan with the CNC machine. They actually become one of the statues."

It's an interesting idea, especially if you've been searching for an opportunity to dress up in Civil War garb and cast yourself in stone. If you haven't, a model would stand in and a small plaque at the base of the statue would be dedicated in your honor. (Of course, the trick would then be finding historically accurate models. The average Civil War soldier stood about 5 foot 8 inches tall and weighed in at about 143 pounds, an inch or so shorter and 48 pounds lighter than the average American male today. To say nothing of antebellum facial hair fashion.)

If successful, Humphreys' project could shed some light on the most devastating war fought on American soil. Then maybe 2,000 years from now, archeologists will uncover "The Ghosts of Davis Bridge," dig their way through the assemblage of limestone bodies, and determine that we were a society that tried to understand the horror of war. 

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