The statue was first proposed in 1908 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in memory of Chapel Hill students who left college and "joined our Southern Army in defense of our State," according to UNC's archives. The university itself did not fund the statue, but then-president Francis Venable solicited donations from alumni.
In 1913, Silent Sam was erected on commencement day. At the unveiling, Confederate veteran and UNC trustee Julian Carr gave a speech praising the Confederate army. Text of the full speech is available via the UNC library, which in flowery language alludes to Greco-Roman myth and the sacrifices of the women left behind, but also makes plain Carr's contempt for the North and for non-whites: