Cooper: Park may not be place for bust

Cooper: Park may not be place for bust

October 8th, 2017 by Clint Cooper in Opinion Free Press

Monuments in the Chickamauga Battlefield depict the average soldier rather than the battle's generals.

Photo by Jay Bailey /Times Free Press.

The 6-2 vote last week by the Hamilton County Commission not to move the Hamilton County Courthouse lawn bust of Confederate Lt. Gen. A.P. Stewart may quiet the trumped-up controversy for the moment, but the issue is unlikely to go away.

Though the resolution did not suggest where the bust should go, "the Confederate cemetery" (Chattanooga has two), "the battlefield" (presumably Chickamauga Battlefield, where Stewart served and was a park commissioner) and a "museum" (the Hunter Museum of American Art? the Children's Discovery Museum? the Towing and Recovery Museum?) all were mentioned.

We wonder what would have happened if Commissioner Greg Beck, instead of reacting with his resolution on the bust to protesters in Southern cities insisting anything Confederate-related should be erased, had acted instead to contact the U.S. Department of the Interior to ask if the battlefield could receive, if offered, and appropriately erect such a bust in a manner that would be befitting of Stewart's status as a peacemaker and park commissioner.

A positive resolution that detailed a new resting place for the bust, with perhaps further explanation of why the bust was created in the first place (no, not out of racism, Jim Crow laws or any of the other lies told in recent weeks) might not have passed the commission, but it might have received further support.

We believe, in the meantime, the commission was correct in its decision to oppose such a vague, reactive resolution.

Should Stewart ever be offered to the park and accepted, he would be among about 1,400 commemorative features, which include monuments, markers, tablets and plaques, across the units of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.

If such a placement were to occur, it would be the first such commemorative feature put there since 1977.

Many of the features across the park units are simple markers. Other monuments are carved in granite or marble. The bulk of the markers and monuments are located where a specific military unit did its most memorable fighting. As a visitor reads the inscriptions on many of them, the visitor is facing the direction in which the soldiers were facing during the fighting. In other words the monuments are facing away from the fighting.

Monuments marking the positions of regular army units were paid for by a federal government appropriation, according to a National Park Service history publication. Monuments dedicated to specific military units were placed by surviving members of the units and the individual state governments, according to the online National Park Planner, which is not associated with the National Park Service. A few are dedicated to individual soldiers and were placed by the soldier's family.

Many of the monuments feature soldiers — carrying flags, standing with a pointed gun, urging on their fellow soldiers, standing with a torch, lying prone with a pointed gun, charging on their horse, standing with gun at the ready, crouching with fellow soldiers or attending to their wounded comrades.

Others feature riderless horses, acorns, draped cannon, and cannon balls.

But don't look for Union Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans (Union), Gen. Braxton Bragg (Confederate), the two leaders of the Battle of Chickamauga, or Gen. Ulysses S. Grant (he didn't arrive until the Battles of Chattanooga), Gen. Robert E. Lee (he wasn't there) or Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest (though he was at Chickamauga). They're not there.

That, says Jim Ogden, chief historian at the park, is for multiple reasons.

"Even as this battle unfolded, in a mostly wooded or forested environment," he said, "it was recognized as a soldier's battle. The leadership at the top did not have a great deal of influence."

So would Lt. Gen. Stewart be welcome at Chickamauga Battlefield?

Ogden wouldn't say, but he said the park, in its origins, did not "allow monuments to generals."

Stewart's bust certainly would be an outlier to the other monuments, which depict the general soldier. But his history as a park commissioner, as a significant factor in the completion of the nation's first ever national military park, might allow him a prominent space overseeing the park headquarters in Fort Oglethorpe.

His late-in-life role as a peacemaker, after all, is in keeping with the symbolism depicted in one of the military park's most prominent monuments, the New York Peace Monument in Point Park.

That monument, erected by veterans from New York in 1907, features at the top of its 85 feet two bronze soldiers, one Union and one Confederate, shaking hands underneath the United States flag. The monument, in further symbolism, was constructed of Tennessee marble and Massachusetts granite mixed together to signify the rebirth of the country.

That construction was 117 years ago. If we put the past aside then, why can't we now?

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