If you are a viewer of the Pegasus program, “That’s My Opinion,” you may remember that a couple of years ago I did a program in front of the Civil War monument located at Evergreen Cemetery in Vinton, Iowa. I discussed the monument, which was a Civil War soldier standing in his battle gear.
I have been interested in such monuments ever since I watched a program a few years ago on one of the CSPAN channels. It was a college history class, and it discussed the feelings of people about the Civil War before, during and after the war.
According to this class, over time the feelings became romanticized about the war and the enemy. Most of the war monuments started to be put up 20 to 30 years after the war, both Union and Confederate. This is the time frame in which Perry’s monument was erected in Violet Hill Cemetery.
There were thousands of such monuments at Gettysburg erected during this time for both the Union and Confederacy as well as a lot of Daughters of the Confederacy-sponsored monuments for the South.
I bet that 99 out of a 100 people in Perry do not know or even care that we have a Civil War monument in the cemetery located on Park Street on the north side of town. We do have one that is visible from the road and has been there a very long time.
The only time that I remember any attention being paid to it was in 1996, when Civil War re-enactors, including Pegasus volunteer Nick Eakins, were in town for the Fourth of July, and they performed a ceremony and placed a wreath on the monument, both Union and Confederate re-enactors, much like a conventional Memorial Day ceremony.
The other day I was driving around town day dreaming, and I noticed that one of the steps on the base of the monument looked like it had fallen off. I did not think much about it because for the 22 years that I have lived in Perry, the base was badly cracked. Larry Vodenik even mentioned this issue when he wrote a brief article about the monument a few years ago.
I took a closer look at the monument and noticed that several areas along the bottom of the base were separated from the statue.
I had heard that cities in the South were talking about taking down Civil War monuments in public places. Some cities were adamant that they needed to be taken down from public places, and other cities were just as adamant that they needed to remain.
Then came Charlottesville, Va., with the clash of protesters and white supremacists and the killing of one of the protesters. This made the statue issue even more divisive. A hate group even took it upon themselves to pull down a Confederate soldier monument in Durham, N.C., which was erected in 1924.
Then the statue of former Chief Justice of the United Stated Supreme Court Roger Taney was removed in Baltimore because in 1857 he wrote the Dred Scott decision. The statue had been there since 1872.
Now some people want monuments to Christopher Columbus removed and Columbus Day renamed. Others want the destruction of Mount Rushmore, the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial because Presidents Washington and Jefferson owned slaves.
Some demand that the carving on Stone Mountain in Georgia be destroyed. Others want to change the names on schools, city streets and parks because of the pro-slavery beliefs of the people that the streets and parks are named after. Others want to rename Washington, D.C., and the state of Washington. When will it end?
Will someone demand that the statue of our past beloved Perry Mayor George Soumas be removed from Soumas court because of some belief that he may have had that the politically correct no longer agree with?
Returning to the subject of the statue in Violet Hill, I investigated further and found that the statue was obviously being worked on because of the deteriorated condition of the base.
I was of course relieved to learn the reason was not because of damage caused by some leftist hate group opposed to the glorification of war, which was the suspicion that first ran through my mind.
The monument is an obelisk in a shape similar to the Washington monument. If you drive by the Woodland Cemetery in Des Moines, where Hoyt Sherman is resting, you will notice several monuments of this design and era.
Three of the four sides of the Perry obelisk bear inscriptions. The fourth side shows a medal.
The inscription facing the east side reads, “Dedicated To The Union Soldiers and Sailors of the War of 1860-1865.” The south side states, “Erected Redfield Post No. 26 Dept. of Iowa G.A.R. 1896.”
The GAR or Grand Army of the Republic was an organization for Union veterans who served in the Civil War.
Although I am not sure, I believe the Redfield Post mentioned on the Perry monument was probably named after a Union soldier from the area and not after the town of Redfield.
According to Wikipedia, the town of Redfield was named after Lieutenant Col. James Redfield, an early settler who served in the 39th Iowa Infantry of the Union Army during the Civil War.
A native New Yorker, Redfield had come to Iowa in 1855 and bought the Dallas County area called New Ireland, and the name was then changed to Redfield.
Redfield was elected to the Iowa Senate in 1860. He was killed in battle in Georgia Oct. 6, 1864, and buried in a village near the battlefield, according to the Obituary Record of Graduates of Yale College.
The north side of the Perry obelisk reads, “May Future Generations Prize the Sacrifice Our Comrades Have Made.” The east side is a medal that I suspect is a GAR Veterans Medal.
I discovered on the internet that in 1889 Perry had 101 members in its GAR Post, and their Commander was one J. B. Bennington.
The GAR was founded in 1866 and ended in 1956, when 106-year-old Albert Wilson died. Wilson was the last surviving Union veteran of the Civil War, and the GAR ceased with his death.
The United Confederate Veterans was the Southern equivalent of the North’s GAR. The last Confederate veteran to die was Pleasant Crump at 104 on Dec. 31, 1951. There were three other men who claimed to be Confederate veterans and who died after this date, but they were later found out to be frauds.
The GAR lobbied Congress on veterans issues and held large annual meetings, called national encampments, from 1866 until 1949. The United Confederate Veterans held their final reunion in 1951. This would be the equivalent of World War II veterans meeting in 2029 and 2031, respectively.
In 1890 the GAR reached 490,000 members. They even had female members who had secretly served in the Civil War but disguised as men. There is still an existing former GAR Hall, preserved in Redfield by the Dallas County Conservation Board.
A GAR post would be much like a current American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars post.
There were women auxiliaries named the Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic and the Women’s Relief Core (WRC). A WRC chapter was still in existence in Winterset as recently as 10 years ago. The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War replaced the GAR and still exists as a national organization. They recently performed a ceremony Aug. 26, recognizing John Palmer of Bayard, the last Civil War veteran to die in Guthrie County in 1942.
Instead of speculating and risk being misled by fake news and other haters, I called the staff of Violet Hill Cemetery to see what was going on.
Indeed, the reason for the removal of the bottom step was because of its deteriorating condition and was not the result of an attack by a PC hate group. After 121 years, the weather had taken its toll on the base.
There were also never any metal supports or reinforcements put into the original cement. The top two layers of the base are not in good condition either. The cemetery representative said that the base has been bad during the 30 years he has worked with the cemetery.
The representative from Violet Hill Cemetery also told me that to do the repair correctly would cost $29,000, which would included the sidewalk. So far they have only been able to secure a grant for $5,000. Hopefully, veterans groups and other groups will take an interest in this repair.
Currently in Perry, we have money being raised for statues to honor area citizens who served in the military. Another fundraiser wishes to build a monument to our police. Maybe someday we can even erect a monument to area nursing home administrators, whose sacrifices are also heroic.
Speaking of me, I have at least two direct descendents who served in the Union Army during the Civil War, a great-great-grandfather and a great-great-great-grandfather. If I research more, I will probably find that I have other descendants who served in the Confederate Army.
It is important that we all help to preserve this monument in Perry. Currently, we make great efforts to honor our veterans. All war is terrible, and many suffer during each war. If we do not preserve this monument, we will have the answer inscribed on the monument: “May Future Generations Prize the Sacrifice Our Comrades Have Made.”
In that case, it would show that we do not prize the sacrifice. Sad.