While it seems ironic and somewhat humorous that a town named Union would have a monument dedicated to Confederate soldiers, when looking at the Civil War history of Southern West Virginia, the statue’s existence makes sense. While West Virginia succeeded from Virginia to become a Union boarder state, there were many Confederate supporters in the new state, particularly in Southern West Virginia. Monroe County was no exception. Thirteen companies were formed from Monroe County alone for the Confederate States Army. The town of Union was occupied by Union troops for several days in 1864. During their stay, Union troops camped in the fields where the Confederate monument now stands and raided several nearby homes.
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.
The monument was erected in a field directly outside of Union in hopes that the town would grow around it. Unfortunately, the town didn’t grow in the direction that it had hoped and thus the statue continued to guard an empty farm field.
“From 1901 to 1982, it just stood out in the field. You had to jump the fence and walk up through the field to get to the monument” 2
In 1982 the stone entrance-way was constructed so that people wouldn’t have to climb over a fence. In 2011 the site received even more drastic improvements. The statue was cleaned, a paved walkway leading from the stone entrance-way to the statue was built. A white fence was also added around the monument and the walkway.
The monument is a stop on the Civil War Trail. Visitors to the monument can also learn about the Civil War history of the area from a plaque on the trail up to the statue. The plaque, while a little weathered, summarizes the occupation of the town by Union troops and even provides the story about how a gold medal stolen by a union soldier was returned to the family thirty-three years later. Two historic markers stand along the road to tell visitors about the dedication of the monument and the other about Monroe County native Allen T. Caperton who served on the Virginia Legislature before the succession of West Virginia, served in the Confederate Senate, and finally was a West Virginia U.S. Senator after the war.
The existence of this monument shows how West Virginia was not as united in support of the Union as history books make it out to have been. Monuments such as this one show how the people still remember their history.
“The statue still stands. It is a tribute to our ancestors who lived and fought the Civil War on this soil. But it is much more. It is America’s history.” 3
Every Memorial Day residents gather at the monument to pay respect to those who fought to protect their state and their beliefs. The event shows that these soldiers will never be forgotten.