For the last five years, questions about the origins of the Murfreesboro Confederate Monument have come my way. I thought that perhaps a post focusing on the primary sources from the years of its creation could be useful to many people.
The push for the monument began in the 1890s with the creation of the segregated white Evergreen Cemetery (at North Highland Ave) and the removal and reburial at the cemetery of an estimated 2,000 Confederate soldiers from the Ladies Memorial Association cemetery that stood south of the square on the shelbyville pike (now S. Church Street). An article from the first volume of the Confederate Veteran in 1893 announced that the Ladies Memorial Association thought that a proper monument was needed, as related in the story below
The following year, 1894, the editor of the Confederate Veteran praised the Murfreesboro effort.
The newly formed local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy would take over the fundraising. By 1899 enough was in place to build a huge limestone base for the eventual monument. At the dedication of the stone base in the summer of 1899, Jesse W. Sparks, the commander of the Tennessee Division of the United Sons of Confederate Veterans, was the major orator.
The intention of the monument was crystal clear to Sparks: “It is the purpose of sympathizers with the Southern cause to here erect a monument to Confederate heroes as lasting as brass.” His closing words were just as direct. The monument should be “the most precious of our possessions,” because “from the monuments erected throughout our Southland we gather a harvest for the soul, the inspiring food of patriotism.”
And by patriotism, Jesse Sparks was speaking of loyalty to the Confederacy, a point made obvious by the elaborate ceremony dedicating the completed monument in November 1901. As the Nashville Banner reported the evening of the event: “Johnnie Rebs Take The Town.”
There are three primary source accounts of the monument dedication from Nashville publications: the newspapers Banner and Tennessean and the magazine Confederate Veteran. The Banner published the first story and largely summarized the day’s events. It noted that Murfreesboro was “in full holiday attire, and the business houses of the entire city and a number of residences are gaily decorated in bunting. At different points on the Square and on principal streets battle-scarred flags are fanned by the breezes.”
The Tennessean on Friday morning gave a full account of the day in a long story credited to Wm Moffitt, Jr. The reporter noted the many public officials in attendance including Governor Benton McMillan. His observation that “all of the comrades stood upon an equal footing; they were all comrades in the strongest sense of the word engaged in a love feast” with the Confederacy is fascinating.
Moffitt quoted at length the featured address by Col. Bennett H. Young of Kentucky who had served in the command of Gen. John Hunt Morgan. Why a Kentuckian, when the Governor of Tennessee, Benton McMillan, attended? Remember Morgan had married Mattie Ready in Murfreesboro in 1862. There was an obvious local connection and Young was a noted orator. He did not disappoint the estimated 3000 in attendance.
Young’s words were a constant salute to one thing and one thing only—the Confederate cause. As the reporter wrote:,”his frequent reference to the hallowed dead aroused the old-time enthusiasm of the Southern people gathered around him.” Young concluded that “Words are powerless to depict or paint the glory which lingers around the memories of the Confederate dead….they shrank at no sacrifice that patriotism exacted, and they denied their country no service its needs demanded.” And by country Young referred only to the Confederacy, not the United States of America.
The third Nashville account was the summary story in the Confederate Veteran, which the editor called the “proudest day” in the “old city”’s history. The Knoxville Journal and Tribune also reported on the Confederate celebration.
All of these accounts emphasize that the monument was to honor the Confederate dead and the Confederacy. The monument was not about the Civil War— the speakers and sponsors never acknowledged the veterans of the U.S. Army who also lived in Murfreesboro: those who had gone to that same town square in 1863-64 and joined the U.S. Colored Troops.
The monument first stood directly in front of the courthouse. With the automobile age and increased traffic it was later moved to its present location for reasons of public safety. And it continued its role as a memorial, as Jesse Sparks said in 1899, “to Confederate heroes as lasting as brass.”