Remembering the war
Arkansas has own share of Confederate markers
The recent removal in New Orleans of three monuments to the Confederacy has drawn attention to the myriad of such monuments in Arkansas. In locations across Arkansas stretching from Lake Village to Bentonville, more than 30 Confederate memorials can be found in the state — as well as a few honoring the Union Army. The Confederacy lost the Civil War, but it certainly won the battle to memorialize the conflict and in the process recast the war as “a noble lost cause.”
The prevalence of Confederate monuments is in large measure due to the efforts of the United Confederate Veterans, the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans. However, as historian Charles Russell Logan wrote in his excellent history of Civil War commemorative sculpture in Arkansas, until the 1890s “most memorial and monument activities in the South were performed by local ladies’ memorial associations.” Such was certainly the case in Arkansas.
Within a year of the Confederate surrender in 1865, Confederate memorial groups began springing up — perhaps the most prominent in Columbus, Ga. According to Logan, the typical memorial association was “composed of women who had lost a loved one or had been part of a ladies’ relief organization during the war.” These early efforts usually involved creating cemeteries, celebrating a memorial day and building monuments.
Fayetteville and Helena were home to well-organized ladies’ memorial associations. In 1869 the Phillips County Memorial Association created Helena’s Confederate Memorial Cemetery, which includes the graves of about 100 Confederate soldiers, many of whom were killed in the Battle of Helena on July 4, 1863. The body of Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne, a Helena resident and outstanding Confederate commander, was relocated from Tennessee to the new Helena cemetery in 1870.
Thirty-eight Fayetteville women organized the Southern Memorial Association in June 1872 with the purpose of creating a Confederate cemetery. Within a year the Association dedicated the Fayetteville Confederate Cemetery, which would become the final resting place for almost 1,000 Confederates — including many killed at battles at Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove. Most of the Confederates killed at Prairie Grove had been buried in a trench. In 1897 the Association unveiled a bronze statue of a Confederate private. The Southern Memorial Association still exists.
Most of the women’s memorial associations disappeared over time as new, more vocal and diverse, organizations arose. In 1889 the United Confederate Veterans (UCV) were organized in New Orleans. Confederate Col. Benjamin T. Duval established the Arkansas Division of the UCV. The UCV established a cemetery at a former Confederate site known as Camp Nelson near modern Cabot where 500 soldiers succumbed during a measles epidemic. The UCV also helped build a memorial to the “boy martyr of the Confederacy,” David O. Dodd.
Perhaps the most significant monument erected by the Arkansas UCV was a monument to Confederate women, known as the “Mother of the South” statue located on the state capitol grounds in Little Rock. The UCV both nationally and locally devoted much of its efforts to honoring the women of the Confederacy, sometimes resorting to lofty and excessive prose — what the later southern writer W.J. Cash once described as “downright gyneolotry.”
Here is how a male speaker at the 1915 dedication of a women’s memorial on the courthouse lawn in Camden described the role of women in the antebellum South: “…that beam from her beautiful and lovely face is a prototype of the high civilization of the time in which she appeared in the tragic drama … a time when patriotism stood at full tide and fair Arcadia pulsated with knight errant, and chivalry and honor decorated and adorned her loveliness.”
The role of women in memorializing the Confederacy took a great leap in 1892 when the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) was organized. The first chapter in Arkansas was organized at Hope in 1896. Eventually 103 UDC chapters were organized in the state. The UDC helped build monuments, but its most important and lasting effort was to shape the way the Confederacy was depicted in published histories, especially public school textbooks.
Interestingly the Sons of the Confederate Veterans (SCV), the male equivalent of the UDC, was not nearly so successful as the women’s group. Founded in 1896, the SCV in Arkansas built only one monument, though it assisted in creating others. The Robert C. Newton Camp of the SCV unveiled a bronze memorial at what is today MacArthur Park in Little Rock in May 1911, during the national UCV reunion. The monument honored the Capitol Guards, a prestigious unit known as “the flower of Little Rock.” More than 100,000 people attended that national convention in Little Rock, with thousands being present when the statue was unveiled and more than 20,000 rose blossoms showered down on the crowd.
Two Confederate monuments were built in the state without the help of the Daughters or Sons groups. In 1914 private subscriptions were used to fund a memorial on the courthouse grounds in Newport honoring the Jackson Guards, and three years later private funds were used to build the Searcy Confederate Memorial at the White County Courthouse.
Arkansas monuments to the Union cause were built by the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), a national Union veteran’s organization founded in 1866 in Illinois. The first chapters in Arkansas included many black veterans, which alienated some white Union veterans, but the GAR had a resurgence in the 1880s. The GAR Department of Arkansas was established in Little Rock in 1883. More than 100 GAR chapters were formed in the state. The group built monuments in Judsonia (White County) and Siloam Springs, and the state of Minnesota built a monument at the Little Rock National Cemetery. An effort was made in the 1911 legislature to authorize a Union monument on the state capitol grounds, but it was defeated.
A complete listing of Civil War monuments in Arkansas may be found in Charles R. Logan’s informed and comprehensive history of the topic titled Something So Dim It Must Be Holy: Civil War Commemorative Sculpture in Arkansas, 1886-1934, Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, www.arkansaspreservation.com.