Sunday, March 13, 2011

Monument to a warrior

Suffolk man’s yard art has some neighbors seeing only red


• Reach Linda McNatt at (757) 222-5561 or linda.mcnatt@pilot
SUFFOLK — When Dave Tatum gazes across his front lawn, near the edge of the narrow, rural road he lives on, he sees a monument to a man he considers a hero.

When his neighbors look at the same scene, they see a “huge structure with a cannon on top.”

That’s what a neighbor told city officials, when calling to report Tatum for building without a permit.

When the inspector visited last week, according to Tatum’s wife, Fran, the woman smiled and called it a “garden structure, with yard art.” No permit required.

Tatum said he’d been thinking about the memorial to his great-grandfather, John Calhoun Tatum, for a while. When steel bars started coming into the construction job site where he works in Virginia Beach as a safety director, an idea popped into his head. The timbers supporting the bars would have been thrown away.

Now Tatum has constructed a wooden pyramid – shaped to resemble the Confederate monument at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond – at the front of his home on the edge of the Dismal Swamp.

It does have a cannon on it. And a little soldier dressed in gray.

“It ain’t coming down,” Tatum said. “People come by and wave. I’ve gotten a couple of eee-hah’s. This really means something to me.”

Tatum recently learned that his greatgrandfather was a private in the Richmond Howitzers, an elite group of volunteers formed just before the Civil War.

Soon after Virginia seceded, the Howitzers, numbering about 300, were mustered in. They served in major battles and were there when Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox.

William Henry Tatum, a Richmond merchant, joined first, his descendant learned. Later, a little more than a year before the end of the Civil War, John Tatum, barely 18, joined.

Tatum learned more about his grandfather through letters written home by the older brother. William told his parents how John taught others in the unit that last winter of the war, when the South was short on things such as manpower and ammunition, how to trap birds for food.

And, Tatum said, when the Union forces hurled cannonballs , John would dig them up for recycling. William told the family he didn’t know what he was going to do with his younger brother.

William, his great uncle, is buried in Hollywood Cemetery, said Tatum. He hasn’t found his grandfather’s grave. Meanwhile, he has a memorial to John Calhoun in his yard.

“The inspector gave me a piece of paper saying I don’t need a permit,” he said.

The soldier is made of concrete. The cannon is concrete, too.

“My wife wouldn’t let me get a real cannon,” Tatum said, grinning.

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