Monument to the Confederate Soldiers of Monroe County
While some might find it ironic that a town named "Union" has a Confederate monument, especially considering the unique history of West Virginia, it is important to remember that this monument was dedicated in an area that sent many men to Confederate regiments. The monument was created many years after the Civil War and reflects the history of organizations such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The most influential of these, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, was an organization based in Richmond that was created to vindicate the antebellum South. The UDC published books that defended the KKK and minimized the tragic consequences of slavery, but they made the creation of monuments celebrating the Confederacy their highest priority. Several monuments were created throughout West Virginia as a result of these campaigns, while others in parts of the state were created with a mixture of local support and outside influence. As recorded by the Monroe Watchman, the 1901 dedication ceremony for this monument features a keynote speaker who was a politician from Virginia. His speech included praise for the fortitude of Confederate soldiers in language that was similar to the dedication of other Civil War monuments, but he stated that Confederate troops fought to uphold "Anglo-Saxon" ways of life. Similar to other Confederate monuments in the state of West Virginia, scholars are working to provide historical context to help people understand why these monuments were created.
Perhaps ironically, this Confederate monument is located in Union, West Virginia. The Italian granite base weighs 40,000 pounds and the monument itself is nearly 20 feet tall.
These white arches that were erected for the parade in Union on the day of the unveiling. Reports indicate that the audience were also dressed in all white.
Backstory and Context
The cornerstone of the monument was laid September 6, 1900. Newspaper accounts from the Monroe Watchman indicate that the bulk of the fundraising and organizing that led to the monument was done by women. While all of the speakers at the dedication ceremony were men, the day's largest events were picnics organized by women and parade of over hundreds of area girls and women who were all dressed in white.
Similar to many Confederate monuments that were dedicated in the Border States, most of the remarks at the dedication indicate that the driving force behind the monument was the desire to honor the former soldiers while many were still alive. At the same time, the dedication ceremony revealed a defensive posture with many of the speakers offering their assurance that the cause of the Confederacy "had been just." This part of the dedication speeches were typically vague, with praise to the valor of soldiers on both sides of the conflict.
Given the high number of Confederate supporters in this section of West Virginia, the growth of Confederate reunions in the South and the Border States led to several encampments of former Confederates meeting in this area each year throughout the 1890s. These reunions included speeches and resolutions calling for the creation of a monument to honor Confederate veterans along with speeches that reflected the "Lost Cause" ideology that lauded the antebellum South. Dedication speeches made no mention of slavery but contained many subtle references to the Lost Cause and the nobility of the Old South. Perhaps most surprising given the unique political situation that led to the creation of West Virginia, none of the speakers at the dedication mentioned the issue of secession or West Virginia statehood in their remarks. Records of the voting returns for the statehood referendums sponsored by the Wheeling Unionist government on October 24, 1861, April 3, 1862, and March 26, 1863 show that citizens of Monroe County did not participate in any of these votes to be included in the new state.
"The Confederate Monument." Monroe Watchman, August 29, 1901.
Vote Totals by County on the West Virginia State Constitution April 3, 1862, West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History. Accessed January 22nd 2021. http://www.wvculture.org/history/statehood/constitutionvote.html.
Curry, Richard Orr. A House Divided, Statehood Politics & the Copperhead Movement in West Virginia, Accessed January 22nd 2021.
Karen Cox, Dixie's Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture, University Press of Florida, 2003.