Photos by Lindsay Toler
Confederate Monument, on Confederate Drive in Forest Park.
During the official dedication of Forest Park’s only memorial commemorating fallen Confederate soldiers, in December 1914, Mrs. H. N. Spencer asked the city of St. Louis to “guard [Confederate Monument] as a sacred trust.
“It seems fitting that Missouri, so strongly Southern in sentiment, should have the shaft reared here in this, her great metropolis,” said Spencer, who led the $23,000 effort to build the monument, according to Confederate Veteran magazine. “It is the embodiment of our love.”
A century later, in a city still struggling to find unity, Mayor Francis Slay is asking local experts whether preserving the 32-foot granite memorial to the Confederacy would mean continuing to display it in one of St. Louis' most popular attractions.
For now, the monument sits on Confederate Drive in Forest Park, just a stone’s throw from a statue honoring German immigrants who fought for the Union during the Civil War. Slay announced Tuesday that he's forming a “centennial reappraisal committee,” made up of representatives from the Missouri History Museum, Forest Park Forever, and the Incarnate Word Foundation, to determine the monument’s future, including a possible relocation.
“Their charge would be to recommend whether, with the benefit of a longer view of history, the monument is appropriately situated in Forest Park—the place where the world was asked to meet and experience St. Louis at its best and most sublime—or whether it should be relocated to a more appropriate setting,” Slay wrote in a blog post.
Whether the memorial is moved or not, Slay also asks the commission to propose a new name for Confederate Drive, suggesting names based on the words “freedom” or “justice.”
Update, 4/22: The Missouri History Museum responded to SLM's inquiry with this statement: "As requested by the mayor, we will use our historical resources to assist the city as it addresses this issue."
Confederate Monument began stirring up controversy even before it was built, and organizers agreed during the planning stages that it would not show a soldier in uniform or with any weapons. Instead, the monument includes a bronze sculpture of a young man leaving his family for war, protected by the “Angel of the Spirit of the Confederacy.” Below is the inscription, “Erected in the memory of the soldiers and sailors of the Confederate States by the United Daughters of the Confederacy of Saint Louis.”
The Daughters of the Confederacy agreed not to show a Confederate soldier in uniform or holding weapons on the monument, erected in 1915.
On the back of the monument are two other inscriptions, offering a romanticized view of the Confederacy’s motives during the Civil War, the first written by Confederate soldier and St. Louisan Robert Catlett Cave:
To the Memory of the Soldiers and Sailors of the Southern Confederacy, who fought to uphold the right declared by the pen of Jefferson and achieved by the sword of Washington, 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 thrilled the heart of mankind with admiration. Full in the front of war they stood and displayed a courage so superb that they gave a new and brighter luster to the annals of valor. History contains no chronicle more illustrious than the story of their achievements; and although, worn out by ceaseless conflict and overwhelmed by numbers, they were finally forced to yield, their glory, on brightest pages penned by poets and by sages shall go sounding down the ages.
Below Cave’s words is an inscription quoting Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee: “We had sacred principles to maintain and rights to defend for which we were duty bound to do our best, even if we perished in the endeavor.
Just two months after the memorial’s dedication, in February 1915, former Army Capt. George Bailey wrote an essay criticizing Cave’s inscription for comparing the Civil War to the Revolutionary War.
“Their respective causes, like those of [Union Gen. Ulysses S.]Grant and Lee, were as irreconcilable and antagonistic as freedom and bondage, as a Declaration of Independence founded on human liberty and a Confederacy whose boasted cornerstone was human slavery,” Bailey wrote.
A century later, Slay says he wants the commission tasked with finding a new home for the monument to suggest a way to memorialize the “reality and brutality of slavery over which the war was waged,” as well as its legacy of discrimination and segregation.