President Donald J. Trump has intentionally or unintentionally shifted the focus of the news from the demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia and the propriety of Confederate monuments on public lands to NFL players and their conduct during the playing of the National Anthem.
According to Trump, white people carrying Confederate and Nazi flags were “fine people,” but the NFL players — mostly black — who take a knee during the playing of the National Anthem are “SOBs” and should be fired. This shifting of focus should not allow the discourse over the existence of Confederate monuments on public land and the propriety of displaying Confederate flags to be forgotten.
When weighing the various sides of the debate, residents of Cuyahoga County should take a moment to reflect on and explore their own unique remembrance of the American Civil War. Located on the southeast quadrant of Cleveland’s Public Square, the Cuyahoga County Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument is a Union monument — one of the largest in the nation — that commemorates the service, patriotism and valor of the soldiers and sailors from this community who served on the Union side of the American Civil War — a war that ended slavery and preserved the Union.
The idea for the monument was conceived in the late 1870s by local Union veterans who came together to determine a way to honor those who served. The dream came to fruition on July 4, 1894 when the monument, designed by Cleveland architect and Civil War veteran Levi Schofield, was dedicated by President William McKinley, a native of Canton, Ohio, and himself a Civil War veteran.
In his dedicatory remarks, President McKinley emphasized the patriotism and valor of the 9,000 veterans from Cuyahoga County, whose names are inscribed on the inside of the monument’s wall. The listing of the names perpetuates the dominant them of the monument — remembrance of those who served.
The most striking features of the exterior of the monument are the four bronze battle groups representing the Artillery, Infantry, Calvary and Navy. These graphic images have none of the idealistic forms demonstrated in many memorial sculptures, but instead are gritty, poignant remembrances of the horrors of war. The careful observer will note that the violence of the battles depicted in each battle group increases as the visitor goes around the exterior of the monument.
On the west side of the monument is a scene depicting a Calvary encounter with a rebel soldier. And yes, there is a Confederate flag in the scene. Quoting William J. Gleason, who wrote the history of the creation of the monument in 1894, “The Confederate soldiers were introduced in this historical group to show to posterity what they (the rebels) and their flag were like.”
In other words, the scene shows that the rebels were the enemy trying to kill the Union troops and in this case Ohio troops. Those who carry that same flag in the 21st century obviously fail to understand that the Confederate flag is the symbol of those who caused the death of more than 620,000 people in the Civil War.
As the visitors enter the interior of the monument, they see the first of four reliefs. The initial encounter is with the ladies of the Ohio Sanitary Commission, a precursor of the American Red Cross. These valiant women saw the need for much needed military hospitals and medical treatment for the troops, and raised money for doctors, nurses and hospitals.
On the east interior wall, President Lincoln stands with Ohioans U. S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman, depicting their meeting at City Point, Virginia, in March of 1865 as they plan the final days of the war. It was at this meeting that Lincoln told Grant to “Let the South down easy…” and instructed him to pardon the Confederate Officers allowing them to take their horses and side arms and return to their homes. But for this directive, General Robert E. Lee and other members of the Confederate military would have been charged with treason and subject to trials for war crimes, like the proceedings in Nuremberg in the aftermath of World War II — a point that should be considered when Lee supporters want to maintain monuments to his honor.
On the west wall are the Ohio governors and public officials who planned Ohio’s involvement in the war, which included the induction of more than 320,000 Ohioans into the Union Army — 7,000 of whom died in the conflict.
The most impressive relief is the one that symbolically faces north, delivering a strong message regarding emancipation of the slaves and their right to vote. There stands Lincoln, as the “Great Emancipator,” boldly presenting to the world the shackles of slavery that have been removed from the former slave. In his other hand, he holds a rifle. This is believed to be the only image in existence where Lincoln is holding a weapon and, in this case, he is presenting that weapon to a freed slave. At the same time, Lincoln is inducting the former slave into the United States Colored Troops.
Lincoln is flanked on either side by Ohio abolitionists Senator John Sherman; Chief Justice of the United States, Salmon P. Chase; Congressman Joshua Giddings; and Senator Benjamin Wade, who did so much to gain emancipation and the right to vote for the enslaved millions, showing that Ohioans not only fought on the battlefield but also in the courts and Congress for the Union cause; for freedom and for the right to vote for all Americans.
The images of the women of the Sanitary Commission and the emancipation relief — both unique in Civil War Monuments — show that those who proposed the monument, long after the battles had ceased, wanted to honor all those who contributed to the war effort — men and women, blacks and whites — and also preserve the memory of those who gave their last full measure of devotion and those who returned, for generations to come.
As residents of Cuyahoga County ponder the maintenance of images of the Confederacy on public property, I urge every citizen to visit the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, which honors those from Cuyahoga County and Ohio who served in the Civil War. Do not let the memory of those brave and valiant souls be forgotten. And do not praise the images and symbols of those who sought to destroy the Union and maintain the enslavement of millions.
The Cuyahoga County Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument is located at 3 Public Square and is open Tuesday through Sunday 10:00 AM to 5:30 PM. Admission is free. Donations are accepted. www.soldiersandsailorsmonument.com.
C. Ellen Connally is a retired judge of the Cleveland Municipal Court. From 2010 to 2014 she served as the President of the Cuyahoga County Council. An avid reader and student of American history, she serves on the Board of the Ohio History Connection and the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument Commission. She holds degrees from BGSU, CSU and is all but dissertation for a PhD from the University of Akron.