September 20, 2017

The Confederate Monument in Oak Woods Cemetery, Chicago

Confederate monument, Oak Woods Cemetery

In Chicago’s Oak Woods Cemetery, covering the mass grave of 4,000 Confederate soldiers, captured and held prisoner at Camp Douglas, there is a large monument, pictured above. Here is the National Parks Service’s description of it:

Confederate Mound is an elliptical plot, approximately 475 feet by 275 feet, located between Divisions 1 and 2 of Section K. The most prominent feature of the plot is the Confederate Monument, a 30-foot granite column topped with a bronze statue of a Confederate soldier, a figure based on the painting “Appomattox” by John A. Elder. At the base of the tapered square shaft are three bas-relief images: “The Call to Arms” showing a group rallying for the cause, “A Soldier’s Death Dream” depicting a fallen soldier and his horse on the battlefield, and “A Veteran’s Return Home” showing a soldier arriving at a ruined cabin. General John C. Underwood, a regional head of the United Confederate Veterans, designed the monument and was at its dedication on May 30, 1895, along with President Grover Cleveland and an estimated 100,000 on-lookers. In 1911, the Commission for Marking the Graves of Confederate Dead paid to have the monument lifted up and set upon a base of red granite; affixed to the four sides of the base were bronze plaques inscribed with the names of Confederate soldiers known to be buried in the mass grave.

It was dedicated on May 30, 1895. It resides on private land. It in no way glorifies the Southern cause. The statue of the Confederate soldier is in an attitude of surrender or resignation. In the Chicago Tribune Ted Slowik remarks:

President Grover Cleveland and his entire cabinet were among the estimated 100,000 who attended the monument’s dedication on May 30, 1895. In 1903, Congress appropriated funds to improve the monument by adding six bronze plaques inscribed with the names of 4,243 Confederate soldiers known to be interred at the site.

More than 100 years later, many Chicagoans may be simply unaware their city is home to among the largest Confederate graveyards and monuments in the North. Its tendency to be forgotten might explain some of the lack of controversy regarding Confederate Mound.

Yet, local media have periodically rediscovered Confederate Mound. TV, radio, print and online reporters spotlighted the memorial in 2015 when white supremacist Dylann Roof shot to death nine black parishioners during a service at a church in Charleston, S.C.

As the official Report of Proceedings Incidental to the Erection and Dedication of the Confederate Monument prepared by Gen. John C. Underwood makes clear, the monument is explicitly a sign of reconciliation between the North and the South. Here’s an excerpt from the remarks of Rev. H. W. Bolton on the occasion:

Today we stand with comrades at the graves that are not simply houses for the dead, but vaults in which the Nation’s power, fame and glory are stored. Thirty years have swept over these graves, the dust of wasting forms, and yet they are centers of sufficient power to arrest a nation in its march and call a generation, born since they were made, of home, hothouse and conservatory, hillside and valley with flowers gathered, selected, arranged and transported for the decoration of the sacred dead. Every heart in this broad land is made broader and more patriotic by the services of this day in this place. If there were no words spoken or songs sung, an hour among the dead who gave up their lives for convictions, with muffled tread and silent prayer would impress us with a sense of that self-sacrifice which is most sacred to a nation’s well-being. None can move among the disembodied spirits of such men without being inspired for better service. We come not as the soldiers of the Grecian and Roman armies, but as brothers of one country. We have had trouble, ’tis true, and every thinking people will have. We entertained different ideas relative to government and polity—ideas that begot convictions resulting in war, but we fought, not to destroy but to maintain, and now that the Union is preserved and all men, north and south, cheerfully accept the results, support the government and obey the constitution, why should we be enemies or keep up a line of defense?

Recently, there have been calls for removal of the monument as an affront to the neighborhood, calls that were not in evidence prior to the events in Charlottesville.

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Should the monument be removed?

This post was originally published at The Glittering Eye.