COMMENTARY | The first Civil War monument is said to have been made in Grant County, Wisconsin, to honor those from the region who died in the war between the states. But the best Civil War monument has to be the one to honor the Northern and Southern soldiers who died at the Battle of Nashville, which took place on December 15-16.
The fighting itself doesn’t get much attention. The North was led by highly competent General George H. Thomas, ironically a Virginian, who saved the Army of the Cumberland at Chickamauga with his brilliant defense. Then, his forces smashed General Braxton Bragg’s on Missionary Ridge at Chattanooga. On the Atlanta Campaign, his forces distinguished themselves.
Thomas faced the incompetent Southern General John Bell Hood. Though personally brave, as evidenced by his success at the Battle of Gaines Mill and the losses to limbs at Gettysburg and Chickamauga, Hood was foolish and wasted valuable men in hopeless attacks at Atlanta and Franklin, and missed a chance to capture an entire Union Army at Spring Hill when he ordered his men to bed, allowing General John Schofield’s troops to slip away at night. It is no wonder General Lee did not want Hood in charge of an army.
Few pay attention to the two-day battle because Thomas’ destruction of Hood’s forces resembled a lopsided game, like the University of Alabama facing a Division II team. Thomas lost 387 men while Hood lost 1,500 killed and nearly three times that number wound up being captured, effectively ending the Army of the Tennessee.
But the real story wasn’t the battle itself, but what happened afterwards. Hard feelings still remained in Tennessee, where half the state was loyal to the Union and the other half wasn’t. Historian Stephen Ambrose notes that such bitterness lasted through the Spanish American War at the turn of the century, and speculates that the conflict was an attempt to unite the country.
Such bitterness lasted until World War I, where American faced common enemies. American ships were being sunk and Germany threatened America by encouraging Mexico to attack from the South. No longer could this nation afford to be divided by lingering resentment. It took all of America’s strength to rescue the British and French forces, exhausted by fighting Germany, the strongest power in Europe at the time, who had knocked out Russia and threatened to do so in the West to the remaining Allied Powers.
Moved by the willingness of Northerners and Southerners to put aside old hatreds, the Ladies Battlefield Association, led by a Mrs. James E. Caldwell, commissioned sculptor Giuseppe Moretti of Italy to design a monument that would link the North and South together, in 1926. He did, where a youth rides a Northern and Southern horse, with a banner titled “Unity.”
A powerful tornado destroyed the sculpture in 1974. But the Tennessee Historical Commission chose to rebuild it, with Federal and state funds as well as private contributions. You can find it at Granny White Pike and Battlefield Drive, a short jog from Lipscomb University, a block from where my folks live. Tennessee has shown the country it can stand united, and not be undone by brutal weather and petty disputes over long-settled issues.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga.