NP: May 29, 1964 Petersburg Progress-Index: Siege Centennial, Part 5: Milestones On The Road To Reunion

   

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Milestones On The Road To Reunion

The following is the fifth in a series of articles related to the centennial of the 1864-65 campaign for Petersburg. On the eve of Memorial Day, it is not appropriate to take a glance at the Civil War memorials in and around Petersburg.

Also, it is in order to note that Memorial Day itself derives its inspiration from the decoration of the graves of the Confederate dead in Blandford Cemetery. By her own account, Mrs. John A. Logan, wife of the commander of the Grand Army of the Republic1, was impressed by the commemoration which she saw here and suggested to her husband that the victorious North should do likewise. He agreed and issued such an order. From the G. A. R. observance developed the national holiday.

In Petersburg and its immediate vicinity are 35 or more Confederate and Union markers and monuments, granite or bronze, including the large, the small, and the in-between.

This total does not include the plaques and windows in Blandford church, private memorials, the informational signs in the Petersburg National Battlefield, or the Confederate soldiers on nearby county courthouse lawns. The total falls far short of the acres of marble, granite, and bronze to be seen at Gettysburg, for example, but it probably is larger than one might suppose.

A survey would show that, although each one was erected as an individual effort or as one of a special series, in the aggregate they make a remarkably comprehensive record of the 1864-65 campaign for Petersburg.

If all other evidences were eliminated, these inscriptions would constitute at least a skeletal record of the subjects which they recall. Some of them are rather unfamiliar today because they are located in out-of-the-way spots or at roadside sites where, in present traffic conditions, one could stop to peruse an inscription only at the risk of life and limb.

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The oldest of the monuments is the 1890 Confederate soldier standing atop a tall shaft in Blandford Cemetery. The stone itself is of Dinwiddie granite, but like most Confederate soldiers in bronze the figure came from Connecticut.

The oldest Union monument here is the 1894 stone of the First Maine Heavy Artillery, in the Fort Stedman area of the Petersburg National Battlefield. Because it commemorates what may well have been the heaviest regimental loss in a single engagement of the entire Civil War, the desire of the people of Maine to erect it without great delay is understandable.

The most recently erected monument is the 1927 shaft place[d] on the Crater battlefield to the memory of General Willliam Mahone. Between, say, 1880 and 1927 there was a very era of Civil War commemoration, here and throughout the country.

As noted supra, the Confederate soldier statue which usually graces a Virginia courthouse lawn stands, in the case of Petersburg, in Blandford Cemetery. Hard by are two other Confederate memorials, an imposing arch and a speaker’s stand.

The three were erected by the Ladies Memorial Association, which also carried out the removal of thousands of bodies of Confederate soldiers to the cemetery and the conversion of Blandford church to a Confederate memorial.

A. P. Hill Camp of Confederate Veterans long years ago placed temporary wooden markers at places which its members regarded as historic, and some of the granite markers are successors to those early markers. The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans both erected many memorials.

The Rev. C. Braxton Bryan, Richard B. Davis, Francis R. Lassiter, Charles T. Lassiter, George S. Bernard, William E. Cameron, and William Hodges Mann were some of those who made the dedicatory addresses. Distinguished visitors for such occasions were numerous, but probably none commanded more interest than did the widow and daughter of General A. P. Hill—who has two stones in his memory, one of the roadside and another not far distant at or near the place where he was killed on the morning of April 2, 1865.

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One speaker who could not make the trip to Petersburg, to dedicate the speaker’s stand in Blandford Cemetery, was Captain William Gordon McCabe. In accordance with his summer custom, he was going to Europe. But in his letter of regret Captain McCabe incorporated words which must have warmed the hearts of his former fellow townsmen: “No city in ancient or modern times ever sent forth to battle more superbly gallant troops than did this heroic Virginia town, and none were ever worthier of commemoration for all time by the women of the South.”

The dedication which attracted maximum national attention was that of the Third Division, Ninth Corps (Pennsylvania) monument. Attended by President William Howard Taft, it was duly publicized at the time and has been recalled at intervals through the years. Petersburg was properly carried away by the proceedings. It became customary locally to call it the Hartranft monument and to describe it as having cost $50,000. Pennsylvania sources accordingly felt impelled to enter corrections—it was not a personal memorial to General Hartranft (who had an equestrian statue in Harrisburg), they said, and it cost $15,000, not $50,000.

The Gowan (48th Pennsylvania) monument could claim an unusual circumstance in that about one-fifth of its cost of $5,000 was contributed by the school children of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, in the form of nickels.

The Maine monument was constructed of Hallowell, Maine, granite; the Massachusetts and Third Division, Ninth Corps (Pennsylvania) monuments of granite from Barre, Vermont; but most of the memorials in the Petersburg vicinity are of Dinwiddie granite, sometimes called Petersburg granite.

Usually the dedicatory events were accompanied by elaborate civic and social circumstances. On the occasion of the dedication of the Massachusetts monument, there was some comment on the lack of cheering as the parade made its way through the city to the scene. The explanation offered was that the people of Petersburg were just not very demonstrative.

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If we were looking past the monuments and the events and persons they commemorate, in order to find some more philosophical meaning, it would not be far to seek.

When the Maine monument was unveiled, the Civil War was not quite 30 years in the past. Politicians in Congress were still waving “the bloody shirt” on occasion for their purposes, but not so the veterans. The Maine sponsors said they would like nothing better than to donate a portion of their site so that a Virginia monument could stand close by.

The Maine visitors gave three cheers for the people of Petersburg and for A. P. Hill Camp, Confederate Veterans, and the Confederate veterans cheered the First Maine Heavy Artillery.

When the 1911 Massachusetts monument was planned, the Massachusetts veterans rejected the use of laurel in the design, because laurel denoted victory, and chose olive branches, because the olive denoted peace. However, Colonel James Anderson, a Union veteran with many Petersburg friends, went a little too far when he suggested that Virginia had not been sufficiently zealous in honoring its own heroes. That brought Governor Mann to his feet with a statement that, to the best of his knowledge, there was a Confederate monument in every county in Virginia.

When the imposing Third Division, Ninth Corps shaft was erected, the Pennsylvanians made a point of asking that along the parade route the flag of the Confederate States of America should be displayed in equal number and prominence with the flag of the United States.

The point is that these events and exercises—and they commanded community interest and participation to a degree which is rare today—were truly important milestones on what has been called “the road to reunion.”2

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19640529PetersburgProgressIndexP4C1to2PetersburgNo05

 

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The Petersburg Progress-Index Siege of Petersburg Centennial Series, 1964-65:

Source:

  1. SOPO Editor’s Note: John A. “Black Jack” Logan was a Western Theater Union Corps commander, the very best of the political generals on the Northern side, and as this article states he took his turn as commander of the Grand Army of the Republic in the postwar years.  The GAR was the largest Union veterans organization in America, and a powerful political group.
  2. “Milestones On The Road To Reunion.” Petersburg Progress-Index.  May 29, 1964, p. 4, col. 1-2

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