"The First of Our Hundred Battle Monuments": Civil War Battlefield Monuments Built by Active-Duty Soldiers during the Civil War

By Panhorst, Michael W. | Southern Cultures, Winter 2014 | Go to article overview

"The First of Our Hundred Battle Monuments": Civil War Battlefield Monuments Built by Active-Duty Soldiers during the Civil War


Panhorst, Michael W., Southern Cultures


The New York Times was wrong in more than one respect when it heralded the dedication of two monuments to Union fatalities at First and Second Manassas with its June 13, 1865 headline, "The First of Our Hundred Battle Monuments." Those two memorials (see pp. 37-39) were predated by at least four, and possibly five or six, memorials that were erected on Civil War battlefields by active-duty soldiers during the war to mark where their comrades fought and where some were buried.

These wartime memorials represent the earliest efforts to commemorate Civil War combat and combatants and the earliest attempts to mark Civil War battlefields for posterity. Their history illuminates the sentiments of soldiers who memorialized their very recently fallen comrades and the heroic events of the war on the very ground where the historic actions occurred. However, these monuments have received little attention from historians of the war and the collective memory it has spawned. The soldiers' sentiments, and the manner in which they expressed them, reveal much about the veterans, about Civil War-era American culture, and about why Civil War battlefields have become sacred ground deserving preservation and interpretation.

Colonel Francis Bartow (1816-1861) was shot through the chest while leading the Seventh Georgia Volunteer Infantry regiment in the first major battle of the Civil War at Manassas, Virginia, on 21 July 1861. He died moments later and is generally recognized as the first brigade commander to die in the war. His wife was in Richmond and learned the news from Mrs. Jefferson Davis. Bartow had been an avid secessionist, a member of the Confederate Congress, Georgia House of Representatives and the state Senate. The fatherly Bartow was popular with his predominantly youthful troops, some of whom called themselves "Bartow's Beardless Boys." (1)

Bartow's body lay in state in the capitol at Richmond and later was buried in Savannah's Laurel Grove Cemetery. Soon his comrades initiated efforts to mark the spot where he fell--activities that were covered by the southern press, but not by the New York Times. Southern newspapers reported that the Eighth Georgia's officers ordered a plain, round marble column to mark the spot where Bartow fell. (2) Melvin Dwinell, a second lieutenant in the Rome Light Guards, Co. A, Eighth Georgia, and editor and proprietor of the Rome Tri-Weekly Courier, said "the Shaft is plain white marble, six feet long, four feet above ground and about eight inches in diameter at the top." (3) [See Sidebar.] This print pictures the monument as somewhat taller and broader than the post Dwinell recorded, and about twice the diameter of the stone's base (p. 27), which remains on the battlefield today near twentieth-century monuments to Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, who earned his nickname at this spot.

"But the roll of the drum reminds us of our wandering ..."

According to Melvin Dwinell, a second lieutenant in the Rome Light Guards, Co. A, Eighth Georgia, and editor and proprietor of the Rom Tri-Weekly Courier, at about eight in the morning of 4 September, the Eighth Georgia left Camp Bartow at Manassas Junction and marched seven miles to the battlefield, arriving before 11 AM. Dwinell says that on arrival, they stacked arms and were "dismissed until the necessary arrangements could be completed for raising the shaft, or, perhaps, it would more properly be called a post." Dwinell was an excellent writer, and his ruminations as he ambled around the battlefield while waiting for the ceremonies to commence are a telling commentary of what must have been on the minds of many soldiers who had first "seen the elephant," as Civil War soldiers referred to their first battle experience, just six weeks earlier. Consequently, they are worth quoting at length to illuminate the soldiers' sentiments and to set the stage for the dedication ceremony for the first Civil War monument:

   Only the 7th and 8th Regiments of this Brigade were in the battle
   . … 

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