27 June 2012

Highland Cemetery Honors the Blue & the Gray

Civil War Heritage 150 Years
Remembering Our Civil War Heritage and Heroes:

Highland Cemetery Honors the Blue & the Gray
By Ken Robison
For The Great Falls Tribune
May 27, 2012 Sunday Life

An exceptional monument stands front and center in Highland Cemetery. Soldiers Monument, dedicated May 30, 1901 to honor those who died in service of our country, is nationally unique—it is the first monument in the United States dedicated to honor both the fallen soldiers of the “blue” (Union) and the “gray” (Confederacy).

Highland Cemetery, now called Old Highland, was formed in 1888, in time for Decoration Day May 30, 1889. Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day, a day to remember those who died in service during the Civil War. This day of honor was first observed May 30, 1868 when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. By the 20th century Memorial Day was extended to honor all Americans who have died in all wars.

In 1895 local veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic (G. A. R.) together with Confederate veterans formed a committee to prepare a soldiers monument at the cemetery. Captain Josiah O. Gregg, Medal of Honor veteran, chaired the committee as they selected a plot for the monument, half an acre at the right of the [then] entrance to the cemetery.

A key part of the monument arrived in Great Falls in October 1897, an 8-inch Columbiad cannon to surmount a monument of sandstone. The cannon was cast at Watervliet Arsenal, New York in 1858, sent to Norfolk, Virginia in 1860, and appropriately captured and recaptured and fired by both the south and north during the war. At war’s end the cannon was transferred to New York harbor where it mounted guard until forced to “make way for liberty” when the Statue of Liberty arrived.

The monument, built from 1898 to 1901, is ten feet square at its base and from the ground to the muzzle of the cannon is fifteen feet in height. The monument is constructed of cream-colored local sandstone and a tablet of pink Tennessee marble placed in each side. The tablet in front (east) and directly under the muzzle tells the history of the gun. On the other three tablets, the one on the north bears the inscription, “In memory of the boys who wore the blue 1861-1865.” The south tablet reads the same except “the boys who wore the gray” and the tablet on the west reads, “In memory of the boys of 1898-1900 the Indian wars and regular service.”

As a final touch, a copper box shaped to fit the bore of the gun was slipped into place with an iron plug dipped into red lead and driven into the muzzle with a sledge. Many letters including one from Confederate General Longstreet, photographs, newspapers and other documents were hermetically sealed in this box.

With the monument complete, a dedication was held Memorial Day May 30, 1901. Governor Joseph K. Toole attended the ceremony at Highland Cemetery, with an elaborate program honoring forty deceased veterans whose bodies had been laid to rest in circular rows around the monument, Union veterans interred on the north and Confederates on the south.

Unveiling Soldiers Monument were six children related to and representing Union veterans; Confederate veterans; Spanish and Philippine war veterans; white soldiers as well as Indian participants in Indian Wars in Montana; and regular army service in Montana.

Capt. Gregg, past Montana Department Commander of the G. A. R. and chairman of the committee dedicated the monument for the veterans, speaking these words:
            “I dedicate it to the memory of those who in the navy guarded our inland seas and ocean coasts, and fell in defense of the flag.
            “I dedicate it to the memory of those who in the army fought for our hillsides, valleys and plains, and fell in the defense of the flag.
            “I dedicate it to the memory of those who on land and sea fought for our union, and fell in defense of the flag; for those on land and sea who fought for the authority of the constitution, and fell in defense of the flag.
            “I dedicate it to the memory of our fellow-citizens, the confederate veterans, who on land and sea fought for the south, and fell in its defense.
            “Comrades, salute the dead!”

This year as you attend the Memorial Day services at Highland Cemetery look toward Soldiers Monument with its tablets honoring Civil War veterans, Union and Confederate. You are viewing history during this 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

1.     Soldiers Monument looking south [Photo by Ken Robison]
2.     Soldiers Plot, Highland Cemetery looking northwest [Photo by Ken Robison]

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