ST. LOUIS • “The Confederacy is a lost cause, and we feel that those who supported it should abandon it.”
Dr. F.W. Groffman, a leader of the local Sons of (Union) Veterans, uttered those words two years before a memorial to the Confederacy was dedicated in Forest Park on Dec. 5, 1914. Disagreement over its installation soon faded from public discourse. Over time, so did the monument itself.
For most of the past century, the few newspaper mentions about it were in articles on the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which had raised most of the $23,000 to build it. The 32-foot-high stone monument, in a nook of trees near Lindell Boulevard, eventually became an item of occasional idle curiosity.
“I never heard much about it either way,” said former St. Louis Alderman Daniel McGuire, who represented the Forest Park area for 16 years until 1997.
That suddenly changed in April 2015, when then-Mayor Francis Slay suggested in a Web posting that the monument might not be appropriate for contemporary times. He proposed a committee to consider its future.
He made that suggestion eight months into the Black Lives Matter protests following the fatal shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer in August 2014. Slay invited public discussion on whether the monument “should be relocated to a more appropriate setting.”
Two months later, on June 17, 2015, avowed racist Dylann Roof murdered nine people in a church in Charleston, S.C. A photograph of Roof holding a Confederate battle flag sparked a renewed effort in South Carolina that finally removed the flag from the state capitol grounds.
The Charleston massacre also probably inspired vandalism of the Confederate monument in Forest Park the following week. Across the stone was written in paint: “BLACK LIVES MATTER.”
Slay’s call inspired local letters to the editor and lively social media commentary on the issue. Those who wanted it removed said the monument glorifies an era of white supremacy. Defenders accused their opponents of politically correct efforts to obliterate history and heritage.
In December 2015, Slay’s advisory committee recommended removal of the statue. Their report estimated it would cost about $130,000 to dismantle and store the monument, and nearly $270,000 to move and reassemble it in another location.
At those prices, not much more was heard of it. Negotiations with the Missouri Civil War Museum in Jefferson Barracks County Park to take the monument fell through.
The issue was revived shortly after Mayor Lyda Krewson was inaugurated in April, as a spinoff from controversy in New Orleans, where Mayor Mitch Landrieu was ordering that city’s Confederate monuments removed. Krewson said May 16 she was committed to doing the same in Forest Park.
The next day, city Treasurer Tishaura Jones, who had narrowly lost to Krewson in the March Democratic mayoral primary, created a GoFundMe account to raise money for removal. Jones said the monument “needs to be removed and should have been done so years ago.”
Last Tuesday, small groups of demonstrators for and against the monument faced off in Forest Park. Defenders flew American and Confederate battle flags and held a large sign calling the dispute a “monumental misrepresentation.” Anti-monument protesters held “Black Lives Matter” signs.
Krewson’s office promised Wednesday to develop a plan within three weeks for removing the monument. As of Friday, Jones’ site had raised more than $11,000, a spokeswoman said.
The cause and the monument
Missouri, a slave state, remained in the Union during the Civil War by inches, largely because of prevailing unionist sentiment in St. Louis. But there also was significant minority view for secession. Union soldiers and Southern protesters died in street battles here in the first month of the war. Members of prominent local families went south to fight for the Confederacy.
The Confederate battle flag includes a star for Missouri in honor of Gov. Claiborne Jackson’s failed effort to draw the state into the South. Nearly three times as many Missourians joined the Union ranks as the Rebel army, but the state was ravaged by many bloody small clashes — a civil war within the Civil War. And at places like Vicksburg, Miss., which the army of Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant captured on July 4, 1863, Missourians in blue and gray fought each other.
After the war, many former Southern soldiers returned home to Missouri, where they soon rejoined society and commerce with their former adversaries. A good example is John Sappington Marmaduke, who was raised on a plantation in the Little Dixie region of western Missouri and became a Confederate general. He moved to St. Louis after the war and was elected governor in 1884.
Meanwhile, Southern writers and politicians were forming a justification of their war and culture that became known as the “Lost Cause” — a tale of noble planters and brave barefoot farmers who heroically fought for their honor and homes, only to fall inevitably to the much larger and better-equipped armies of the Union. The Lost Cause movement played down slavery as a cause of the war, often preferring a mythical memory of happy slaves who knew their place. (Think of the book and movie “Gone with the Wind.”)
In 1906, most of the St. Louis women who founded the St. Louis Confederate Memorial Association were socially prominent. Its president was Mrs. Robert C. Moore of Vandeventer Place, then one of the city’s toniest blocks. Moore promised a monument to honor “brave deeds, the patriotic spirit and loyal devotion of the Confederate soldiers and sailors.”
Local leaders of the Grand Army of the Republic, a Union veterans’ organization that was a major national political force after the Civil War, expressed dismay over the idea, but most did not officially oppose it. Said James Dobyne, commander of a Grand Army chapter: “If it is to be a monument to the brave deeds of the Confederate soldiers, I can see no objection to it. If it is to be erected as a monument to the ‘Lost Cause,’ I can see no reason for it.”
The St. Louis monument ended up being some of both.
Dedicated in 1914
Before winning City Hall approval in 1912, the memorial association agreed not to include weapons or the Rebel flag or uniform. Unlike the standard Confederate monuments in cities across the South, with their armed soldiers and cannon, the monument’s bronze work is of a mother embracing a young man in civilian clothes on his way to Confederate service. A child holds an unfurled flag. (The cannon nearby is a memorial to the Spanish-American War, not the Confederacy.)
Up to the final vote, some elected officials argued that the monument was an offense to Union veterans. Mrs. Robert Funkhouser, a local Daughters of the Confederacy leader, called the opposition “the height of narrow-mindedness.” The Post-Dispatch published an editorial supporting the monument for the sake of city business. “The intimate relation which St. Louis sustains to the South and Southwest is of first importance,” says the editorial, headlined: “Will St. Louis Offend Southerners?”
Organizers had agreed to drop the words “noble cause” from the proposed inscription. But the final version, etched into the 40-ton shaft of Vermont granite, says of the Confederates: “With sublime self-sacrifice they battled to preserve the independence of the States which was won from Great Britain and to perpetuate the constitutional government which was established by the fathers. Actuated by the purest patriotism, they performed deeds of prowess such as thrill the heart of mankind with admiration.”
News articles from the time of the vote don’t quote anyone about slavery or restrictions upon black citizens. About 500 people attended the dedication in December 1914, including a representative of then-Mayor Henry Kiel, who called the monument a fitting memorial to Rebel bravery. A band played “Dixie.”
Today, its defenders object that it is imperiled by “revisionism” intended to cleanse the region’s history of its Southern heritage. Darrell Maples of Jefferson City, a national board member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said the monument says nothing of race, literally or symbolically.
“We see it as a piece of history, a memorial to the bravery of soldiers plain and simple,” said Maples. “To start removing history is almost Orwellian, or fascist. We don’t have to approve everything about it, but to deny history and bury it is lunacy. Slavery was a national sin, not just a Southern sin.”
But Bridget Flood of St. Louis, who first raised the issue with Slay’s office — and ended up serving as chair of the mayor’s study committee — said removing the monument “isn’t erasing history. We’re getting rid of propaganda about the Lost Cause. It makes it sound like the (Southern) cause was totally just.”
Flood, who grew up in the city, said she had no idea the monument was there until she got lost in the park while driving to a book-club meeting. She said she read the inscription and told fellow club members, black and white, who shared her discomfort. She called Slay, who wrote his opening essay a few days later and soon asked her to serve on the committee.