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The long, controversial history of Garfield Park's Confederate monument

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The long, controversial history of Garfield Park's Confederate monument

As controversy about Confederate monuments in public spaces heats up across America, Indianapolis finds itself in the spotlight over a large memorial in Garfield Park dedicated to Confederate soldiers.

Debates over whether the monument should stay or go have dominated local social media discussions and in-person conversations among neighbors. This past weekend an arrest was made after one man vandalized the monument with a hammer. Since then, a barrier of fencing has been erected and police presence increased, with Fox59 reporting at least one armed civilian has held watch over the monument. 

While no official talks about relocation are currently underway, members of the City-Council released a statement Monday acknowledging the growing debate and calling for civil discourse in discussions of what, if anything, should change.

“Our city has found itself involved in the national conversation about community monuments that symbolize a time in our history that for many, evokes great pain,” said Council president Maggie A. Lewis. “I ask that as we work together to address this issue and explore a more suitable location we do so in a spirit of cooperation and most of all we remain calm.”

Linda Broadfoot, director of Indy Parks, released a statement last week stating in part that the monument is currently “not in a location appropriate for its original purpose,” and that Indy Parks will work with the City Council to find a location that places it in the appropriate context.

Unlike statues of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis or other Confederate icons at the center of controversies, the monument here memorializes the names of Southern soldiers and civilians who died and were buried in Indianapolis while prisoners of war. It was one of the many monuments ordered by the federal government in the early 1900s to mark the graves of Confederate POWs buried in Northern states.

The Indianapolis memorial is unique, however, in that it was the only one of those monuments created to mark a mass grave. It is also the only one to have been moved from a cemetery and placed in a public park.

In considering the future of the Confederate monument, it is imperative to consider its past. The history of how and why it came to be moved to Garfield Park is as important as the history of the monument itself. Unfortunately, that history is undeniably and inextricably linked to proponents of white supremacy and the Indiana Ku Klux Klan.

BURYING THE DEAD

Indianapolis was a major staging ground for the Union at the beginning of the Civil War, and the State Fairgrounds became army headquarters. Initially a troop training and staging area, Camp Morton began housing POWs in February 1862 when the first wave of Confederate soldiers arrived following the Battle of Shiloh and fall of Fort Donelson.

Many of the prisoners were injured from battle. A good number were sick with infections caused from wounds and/or poor living conditions; still others were afflicted with weather-related issues from exposure to the elements in the record-breaking cold that winter.

The camp was ill-equipped to handle the massive number of medical emergencies, and City Hospital was soon enlisted to help save the lives of whatever prisoners possible. By the fall of 1862, more than 1,000 had succumbed to their injuries. When the camp closed in 1865, the number of Confederate dead was closer to 2,000.

To accommodate burials, the U. S. Army purchased five sections at the city cemetery known as Greenlawn specifically for the Confederates. Located just south of downtown between Kentucky Avenue, West Street and the White River, the cemetery had served as burial place for Indianapolis residents since the city’s founding in 1820. During the war, it was also the site for burial of Union soldiers.

Confederate bodies originally buried in trenches at Camp Morton were soon dug up and reburied at Greenlawn. Once the new location was established, local undertakers Weaver and Williams provided transport to the cemetery where the dead were laid side by side in 20-foot trenches dug by their imprisoned comrades. Graves were marked with wooden placards painted with identification numbers.

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White nationalists and counter-protestors clash in Charlottesville on August 12. The rally, which lead to three deaths and several injuries, was planned in the wake of outrage by white nationalist groups over removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee.

HONORING THE DEAD

City officials were already in the process of establishing a new cemetery at the north end of town when the Civil War broke out and held services for the dedication of Crown Hill in June 1864. Burials began at the new cemetery soon after.

Two years later, the federal government purchased acreage within Crown Hill and established a national military cemetery. Bodies of more than 700 Union soldiers buried at Greenlawn were soon transferred to the site. The Confederate soldiers stayed at Greenlawn. Some of the dead were reclaimed by Southern families after the war, but the majority remained in unmarked graves — the wooden ID sticks long since disappeared.

A fire in 1866 destroyed original cemetery records making it impossible thereafter to match names with burial locations. A few years later, a railroad company received permission to dig up and relocate hundreds of POW graves to make room for new tracks and an engine house. No records were kept of which bodies were moved or the location of new burial sites.

Indianapolis wasn’t the only Northern city to ignore or neglect the Confederate dead following the Civil War. At Arlington National Cemetery, for example, not only were Confederate graves unmarked, it was expressly forbidden to place flowers or hold any type of vigil.

Attitudes changed after the Spanish-American War, and efforts to treat Confederate soldiers as veterans worthy of respect eventually reached Washington. In 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt signed a bill allocating funds for markers to be placed at the approximately 30,000 graves of soldiers who died as POWs and were buried in Northern cemeteries.

Indianapolis was the only location where it was deemed impossible to identify the individual graves. As a result, the government awarded a $6,000 contract to Van Arming Granite Company of Boston for one monument listing the names of more than 1,600 Confederates known to be buried at Greenlawn.

The memorial was erected at the presumed site of several burial trenches in the fall of 1911, just as large portions of the cemetery were being sold and many bodies were being relocated. By the 1920s, Greenlawn had all but disappeared -- with the exception of the the large monument listing the names of the Confederate soldiers enclosed by a small iron fence.

SOUTHERN SYMPATHIES

Social clubs were all the rage in Indianapolis during the early part of the last century with groups ranging from the Dramatic Club, Bicycle Club, Flower Club and Gymnastics Club. There were also a large number of business and philanthropic clubs, as well as those based on heritage and ethnicity.

Joining the roster in 1916 was the newly formed Southern Club of Indianapolis. From its inception, the purpose of the group was to celebrate and preserve Southern traditions and culture — particularly the romanticized attributes of the pre-war South. Membership was limited to 50 couples and required at least one of the spouses to have been born below the Mason-Dixon line.

Founders William T. Young and his wife Eddine were both from Tennessee and had been living in Indianapolis since 1910 when they invited fellow transplanted Southerners to come together officially as a social organization in March of 1916.

Mrs. Young, club vice-president, was often the main attraction at the group’s events, having gained notoriety as a gifted performer well-known for her Southern songs and stories. According to press reports at the time, these minstrel shows were “celebrations and functions of everyday life dear to the heart of colored people […] performed in entertaining dialect.”

On other occasions, the Southern Club hosted large scale events like the “Evening in the Old South” gala at the Propylaeum. Advance publicity promised “a Negro doorman in costume, a costumed Negro string quartet which will play old Southern melodies during dinner hour and sixteen club members in costume who will dance the quadrille and Virginia Reel.”

Beginning in 1918, the Southern Club became official organizers of Memorial Day services for the Confederate soldiers buried at Greenlawn. Almost immediately, they took issue with the now heavily industrialized surroundings and began a campaign to move the monument to a more suitable location.

They took their request to the state legislature where they found a sympathetic ear in Sen. Harry Negley of Indianapolis. During the Indiana General Assembly Session of 1919, Negley sponsored a bill on the club’s behalf asking the state to provide a new location for the monument. It passed without dissent, and directed the governor, state board of parks and Southern Club to work together selecting a new site.

D.T. Praigg, chairman of the Southern Club committee advocating for the relocation explained the purpose of their quest to the press: “The monument was erected by our federal government as a public record of the names of those men who gave up their lives faithfully believing that they served a just cause, however erroneous that belief may have been, and is a thing of beauty deserving more appropriate surroundings than are now accorded it.”

Initially, the group pushed to have the Confederate monument moved to Military Park, but that idea met swift opposition. University Park downtown was also considered and rejected. Finally, the Southern Club accepted an offer from the city of Indianapolis for a small piece of land at the southern edge of Garfield Park.

“The next move will be to get a bill through Congress granting an appropriation for the removal of the monument to its new site,” reported the Star in May 1919. “It is estimated that the cost of the removal will be between $1,500 and $2,000.”

A TEN-YEAR FIGHT

Acquiring federal funding for the relocation wasn't easy for the Southern Club. Year after year, the group gathered at the monument in Greenlawn for an its annual Memorial Day service and updated the public and press on their progress.

In 1923, club president Edward Fisher told the crowd, “Speaking for the South, we are not ready to say our fight was lost, because it inspirited patriotism through the country and proved to the world what the United States is. We wish to perpetuate here in the North a fraternal union.”

A few years later, a similar speech was given by B.H. Caughran, an Indianapolis attorney. “The achievements [of the South] are worthy of the credit to men who lie beneath our feet and who gave their lives for the Southern cause. The old South is dead, but it lives ten thousand fold in the the good things that have sprung out of it.”

The persistence of the Southern Club finally paid off in the Spring of 1928, almost a decade after the fight began. On April 3, the Star reported that removal of the Confederate monument from Greenlawn cemetery to Garfield Park had been approved by Congress “under sponsorship of [Republican] Representative Ralph E. Updike, of Indianapolis.”

A few weeks later, the Southern Club hosted its final Memorial Day service at Greenlawn cemetery with much fanfare in celebration of their success. The key note speaker at the event was Albert Stump, Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in the upcoming election.

Our evening with the Klan

"Our evening with the Klan," NUVO reporting from November 1991 

KLAN CLOUT

It’s a rarely discussed but well documented fact of history that the Ku Klux Klan wielded incredible power in Indiana during most of the 1920s, particularly in Indianapolis where KKK Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson set up his headquarters and led the KKK to a dramatic resurgence. By most estimates, more than 30 percent of white men in Indianapolis were members.

The election of November 1924 brought sweeping Klan political victories to Indiana and the around the country, including the election of Indiana Congressman Ralph Updike in the first of his two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Touting their victories, the Fiery Cross newspaper reported “Indiana Klansman are jubilant at their overwhelming victory at the polls,” including the large margin by which Updike “ran away from his Roman Catholic opponent.”

Updike was at the end of his second term and running for reelection in 1928 when he sponsored the bill on behalf of the Southern Club and courting the support of a waning Klan membership. The same is true of Albert Stump, a Democrat who was running for U.S. Senate and who gave the keynote speech at the Southern Club’s Memorial Day Service following the successful passage of Updike’s bill.

Stump was familiar to Indianapolis residents, having made multiple headlines since gaining the local Democratic party’s nomination to run as one of six candidates for an open senate seat. He was a political neophyte, best known as a local attorney and president of the Indianapolis Lions’ Club, who first ran independently before joining the Democrats.

Unlike Updike, a known member of the Klan outed by a Marion County grand jury during Stephenson’s 1925 murder trial, Stump’s KKK connection is more ambiguous. He did make campaign speeches at Klan rallies, and rumors of his candidacy being financially backed by the Klan found their way into a Time Magazine article just prior to the election.

Updike, Stump and the majority of Klan candidates all the way down to the IPS school board lost their respective races in November 1928, and the KKK’s hold on Indiana politics substantially decreased thanks in large part to the conviction of Stephenson on abduction, rape and murder charges.

The money to allocate the relocation of the Confederate monument from Greenlawn to Garfield Park had already been approved, however, and the following spring the Southern Club oversaw the transfer.

Confederate monument detail

Detail of Garfield Park's Confederate monument 

MONUMENTS AND MEN

On May 25, 1929, a small group of Indianapolis residents huddled under umbrellas on a rainy afternoon in Garfield Park. The occasion was the Memorial Day rededication of the Confederate monument at its new location. The attendees numbered less than 100 and were almost exclusively members of the Southern Club of Indianapolis; the guest of honor a U. S. Senator from Georgia.

Prior to the event, the Indianapolis Star reported the Southern Club’s plans for “an elaborate ceremony” proceeded by a downtown luncheon and automobile parade to the park. The weather shortened the Garfield Park services, but couldn't dampen the club’s spirits. After a few brief remarks, members laid flowers at the base of the memorial and closed by singing “America.”

It didn’t take long for veterans groups to notice the abandonment of the Confederate bodies in Indianapolis, and in 1931 the federal government decided to relocate the remains at Greenlawn and the Garfield Park monument to Crown Hill. Immediately, the Southern Club objected.

“Any attempt to remove the remains of these soldiers would seem like sacrilege to us,” Southern Club president Edward Fisher told the press following the announcement. “Furthermore it would be ineffective and an absolute waste of money.”

The Star called it “unexpected opposition from Southerners” and noted not a single Northerner seemed to care. “The group also plans to protest any efforts to move the Confederate monument [and] regards Garfield Park as a much more desirable place for the monument. Belief being that many more people will see it at Garfield than if it were re-erected at Crown Hill.”

A few weeks later, the federal government overruled the Southern Club’s objections and announced the Confederate graves would be moved in the fall. By way of compromise, and for cost-saving purposes, the decision was made to leave the original transplanted monument in Garfield Park and build a new memorial at the new location.

Twenty-five boxes of relics were all that remained of 1,616 soldiers and 22 civilians when the army dug up the Greenlawn graves. On October 27, 1931, those relics were buried with full military regalia at Crown Hill. During the ceremony, a coffin was carried as a symbolic gesture, draped in a Confederate flag. Six members of the Southern Club served as pallbearers.

Over the next 60 years, the presence of the monument in Garfield Park went relatively unnoticed. The Crown Hill Confederate Plot at Crown Hill was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and became universally recognized as the final resting place and official memorial to Confederate soldiers who died in Indianapolis as prisoners of war.

In 1990, however, renewed efforts to reunite the monument and soldiers by relocating the Garfield Park memorial to Crown Hill gained widespread support from a variety of sources including the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, Republican Senators Richard Lugar and Dan Coates, and Democrat Andy Jacobs Jr. Local historians, veterans groups and even police officers also joined the cause.

Support wasn’t unanimous, however. Residents of Garfield Park, particularly neighborhood activist Marjorie Nackenhorst, saw it as a loss of park history and vowed to fight the move. Ultimately, lack of Congressional interest and funding kept the monument in Garfield Park — just as it once kept it in Greenlawn.

Prior to current debates, the monument most recently made headlines in 2014 when members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans called for restoration and needed repairs. Park officials and city leaders made it clear there were other budget priorities. The group has since launched a private fundraising campaign that has yet to meet its goals.

Arrangements for a possible relocation of the monument -- or even formal community conversations -- have yet to be made at press time. But monument momentum continues to sweep the country, and Indianapolis won't be left out of the conversation.  

Laura McPhee is a former News Editor at NUVO and current resident of Garfield Park.

Full timeline of Garfiled Park monument
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