The Nashville Centennial Park Monument
For over 110 years, a Civil War Memorial has stood in Nashville Centennial Park. Commissioned in 1909, the monument at Centennial Park made of gray granite with a bronze private soldier atop has functioned as a constant echo of confederate pride. This $3,000 statue includes the inscription of all 500 members of the first Frank Cheatham Bivouac—a group dedicated to honoring Confederate Tennessee Civil War soldiers. After over a century of this memorial sitting in Nashville Centennial Park, it was vandalized. On June 16th, 2019, the 500 names of the Frank Cheatham Bivouac were covered in red paint, and the words “They were racists” were spray-painted on the side of the monument. This vandalization runs parallel with challenges to some of the other 1,700 Confederate monuments in the United States today.
Backstory and Context
The monument in Nashville Centennial Park did not receive a lot of negative public attention after it was initially erected in 1909. 110 years later, disproval was anonymously displayed with red paint. This monument's meaning has transitioned from celebratory and prideful in 1909 to deeply controversial in 2019. The bulk of the controversy surrounds the erection of the monument by the first Frank Cheatham Bivouac—a Confederate group that preached the grand nature of the everyday Confederate soldier. This monument has existed in problematic territory that explicitly supports the ideology of the Lost Cause: that the ideas behind the Confederacy were just, honorable, and even heroic.
The unnamed monument in Nashville Centennial Park features a private soldier, the inscription of all 500 names of the first Frank Cheatham Bivouac, and a message inscription. The private soldier is wearing a military uniform with a rifle in his right hand. This life-sized soldier serves as a representation of all Confederate soldiers, honoring the everyday confederate that fought in the Civil War. The inscription of all 500 members of the Frank Cheatham Bivouac serves as an official dedication to the original Cheatham Bivouac members. Above the members’ names, the monument reads: “Duty Done Honor Won 1861-1865. To the heroism of the Private Confederate Soldier. Faithful to the end. Erected 1909.” While this $3,000 bronze and granite monument once served as a confederate celebration of heroism and honor, it currently serves as a symbol of oppression and racism to many.
When analyzing the inscription and context behind this monument, the celebration of Confederate honor and heroism on the monument purposely chooses to ignore any language of support for slavery, while perpetuating the idea of enslavement at the same time. The “honor” and “heroism” that the Frank Cheatham Bivouac praised was chiefly used by soldiers to fight for the enslavement of African Americans. The attempt to preserve these monuments today only continues to nourish the idea of the Lost Cause. Confederates that felt dishonored by the Civil War chose to honor themselves through memorials like the Nashville Centennial Park Civil War Memorial. Today, this monument—along with 70 other Confederate monuments in Tennessee—not only distorts history with their language, but continuously enforces a space and memory that belongs to white people.
On June 16th, 2019, the monument was vandalized. An unknown subject covered the 500 names of the Frank Cheatham Bivouac and the featured Confederate soldier in red paint. The words “They were racists” were painted on the side of the monument in red paint as well. There is no information on what actions were taken after the vandalization, with the exception of workers attempting to power wash the red paint off of the Confederate monument. The identity and prosecution of the vandalizer remains futile, and the Confederate monument still remains in Centennial Park.
The history and modern vandalism of this monument both add to the significant complexity of this monument. The controversy of the monument’s message can be given more context by explaining the history of the Frank Cheatham Bivouac #1. The Frank Cheatham Bivouac began as a cohort of United Confederate Veterans. Fifty years after the Civil War, former Confederate soldiers would gather at picnics across the state of Tennessee and share their pride for confederate beliefs. Eventually, these confederate members came together stress the importance of the “Confederate experience” through the creation of the first Frank Cheatham Bivouac. As this organization grew to 500 members, the Bivouac partnered with the Tennessee Confederate Memorial and Historical Association. This association served to fund commemorative monuments for Confederates—like the Nashville Centennial Park Civil War Memorial.
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Confederate Veteran: Published Monthly in the Interest of Confederate Veterans and Kindred Topics. Confederate States of America. 1909. 507 - 508.
Dance, Brooklyn. 'They Were Racists': Confederate Monument Found Vandalized in Centennial Park, The Tennessean. June 20th 2019. Accessed April 30th 2020. https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2019/06/17/nashville-confederate-monument-vandalized-centennial-park/1475708001/.
Dance, Brooklyn. Vandalized Confederate Monument in Centennial Park Had Kept Low Profile before Monday, The Tennessean. June 18th 2019. Accessed April 30th 2020. www.tennessean.com/story/news/2019/06/18/vandalized-confederate-monument-nashville-statue-erected-1909/1485556001/.
Natanson, Hannah. There's a New Way to Deal with Confederate Monuments: Signs That Explain Their Racist History, The Washington Post. September 22nd 2019. Accessed April 30th 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2019/09/22/theres-new-way-deal-with-confederate-monuments-signs-that-explain-their-racist-history/
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