Confederate statues remain part of Ohio Civil War landmark
MARBLEHEAD — Rain slices down the bayonet of the bronze Confederate soldier guarding the entrance to a Civil War cemetery on Sandusky Bay where some 267 Rebel officers and soldiers are buried.
The 19-foot-tall statue that has been dubbed “The Lookout” for his gaze out over the water, was erected in 1910 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy as a memorial to the fallen soldiers.
But that gaze may be tinged with concern in light of recent actions in New Orleans to remove four statues relating to the Confederacy and the aftermath of the Civil War, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
One statue, the “Battle at Liberty Place” obelisk, commemorated an attack by a white supremacist group on the U.S. Custom House in New Orleans in 1874 that killed seven city police officers.
The other three statues honored Confederate leaders Jefferson Davis, president, and Generals Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard.
The New Orleans City Council had the statues declared public nuisances, and Mayor Mitch Landrieu said they “celebrated a fictional, sanitized Confederacy, ignoring the death, ignoring the enslaved, ignoring the terror that it actually stood for.
“This is about showing the whole world that we as a city and as a people are able to acknowledge, understand, reconcile — and most importantly — choose a better future,” Landrieu added in a statement.
“We can remember these divisive chapters in our history in a museum or other facility where they can be put in context — and that’s where these statues belong.”
Alabama lawmakers, however, recently approved sweeping protections for Confederate monuments, names and other historic memorials, prohibiting “the relocation, removal, alteration, renaming or other disturbance of any architecturally significant building, memorial building, memorial street or monument” that has stood on public property for 40 or more years.
Ohio, which contributed more than 300,000 soldiers for the Union during the Civil War, has about 300 monuments dedicated to that war. Fewer than a half dozen represent the Confederacy.
These include a bronze plaque in memory of Robert E. Lee, erected in 1928 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy at Old Dixie Highway and Hamilton-Middleton Road in Franklin, Warren County.
Two of the largest monuments are located at cemeteries for former prison camps that held Confederate POWs — at Johnson’s Island, near Sandusky, and Camp Chase in Columbus.
Both cemeteries are owned by the federal government, and are currently maintained by the Department of Veterans Affairs, National Cemetery Administration.
The Camp Chase prison held about 8,000 prisoners at its peak in 1864. Diseases including smallpox, typhus and pneumonia killed nearly eight percent of the prison population.
After the war, the prison cemetery fell into disrepair until a former Union soldier who had moved to Columbus began restoration efforts in 1893.
A large boulder was placed in the center of the cemetery, bearing the inscription, “2260 Confederate Soldiers of the war 1861-1865 buried in this enclosure.”
In 1902 a stone arch, inscribed “AMERICANS,” was added over the boulder. The arch was topped by a zinc sculpture of a Confederate soldier at parade rest.
The Johnson’s Island prison opened in 1861 as the first facility to be constructed by the Union solely for imprisoning Confederates — mostly officers and a small number of enlisted men.
At its peak, the 16-acre prison held 3,200 Confederates. But as with Camp Chase, disease and illness steadily thinned their ranks, and the dead were buried on the pastoral island in what became known as the Confederate Stockade Cemetery.
In 1904 the prison site was purchased by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The group donated it to the U.S. government in 1932, and the Johnson’s Island Civil War Prison site was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1990.
The Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery (OWRNC) maintains the one-acre site as a satellite cemetery, along with a portion of Woodland Cemetery in Cleveland.
During a monthly visit to scrub the cemetery’s marble headstones, OWRNC worker Jesse Getz noted that the Johnson’s Island community has a benevolent, protective attitude regarding the cemetery, and notifies the national cemetery whenever maintenance is needed.
“Everyone on this island is attached to this,” he said. “They come over all the time when we’re out here, asking ‘What are you doing today?'”
Steve McLoughlin, 63, of Reynoldsburg, and his wife Judi, 62, were recent visitors to the cemetery, and aware of the controversy in New Orleans.
“As I was looking at the statue, I thought about all those poor boys who went to war to fight for something that they believed was right, irrespective of what really was right,” Steve McLoughlin said.
He believes the soldier should continue to stand at the cemetery. “Not so much to honor what the Confederacy was fighting for, but to honor the people who were kind of forced to fight for what their country sent them here to fight for,” he said.
As a native of Columbus, he’s also familiar with the Camp Chase Confederate monument, and said, “it’s kind of the same thing. You walk in and you sort of feel the ghosts of these boys.
“Despite what was the philosophy of the Confederacy, it’s important to remember that these were human beings, and they mattered just as much as the side they were fighting against,” he added. “So their resting place in these secluded areas should always be preserved.”
His wife agreed that the statue should remain intact. “It’s a cemetery. It’s not like it’s on the Statehouse grounds,” she said. “This is different.”
That point was echoed by Mary Abroe, a Civil War enthusiast and history teacher from Chicago, who was visiting the cemetery with her sister Jane Weese, of Columbus.
Location and context make all the difference between Johnson’s Island and New Orleans, according to Abroe.
This monument and this cemetery, with its educational displays, are appropriate in their context as a remembrance of the past, she said.
“You can’t wish away the Civil War. You can’t wish away the fact that men died,” she said. “This is a monument remembering them, that they lived, that they died, and they served in a cause in which they believed.”
She does agree with the decision to remove the “Battle at Liberty Place” statue in New Orleans. “That’s about racism, and that’s inappropriate,” she said. “A monument honoring that has no place in our country.”
Don Young, president of the Johnson’s Island Preservation Society, which maintains a Johnson’s Island museum at the Ohio Veterans Home in Sandusky, described the statue removals in New Orleans as “terrible. I think lot of history is being moved around where it shouldn’t be.”
Young said he is not aware of anyone interested in removing the Confederate statuary and monuments at Johnson’s Island.
“No, and I hope they don’t, to be honest with you,” he said. “That statue should stay there. I’m very much against pulling anything of historical significance, and what that stands for, down.
“It’s a historical landmark and belongs with the soldiers that fought for what they believed in, that are buried there,” he added.
The cemetery itself may provide an opinion on the subject in the presence of an American flag flying over Confederate graves.
Once — many years ago, according to Young — a Confederate flag flew there, and little Rebel flags marked the headstones.
Those symbols are long gone, replaced by the victor’s banner.
But a bench at the base of that American flag bears the inscription: “Dedicated to the valor of all American soldiers past and present.”