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The complicated history of St. Paul’s Soldiers and Sailors Memorial

Crowning the monument is a statue of Josias R. King, who is widely regarded as the first US volunteer in the Civil War. King also participated in violent campaigns to punish Dakota people after the US-Dakota War of 1862, known as the Punitive Expeditions.

Soldiers and Sailors Monument
A crowd estimated at 4,000 attended the monument unveiling at Summit Park.
MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson

Designed to commemorate people who served in the US military during the Civil War, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in St. Paul (sometimes called the Josias King Memorial) was erected in 1903. Crowning the monument is a statue of Josias R. King, who is widely regarded as the first US volunteer in the Civil War. King also participated in violent campaigns to punish Dakota people after the US-Dakota War of 1862, known as the Punitive Expeditions. These included the Massacre of White Stone Hill, in which the US military killed hundreds of Native men, women, and children. King’s participation in the massacre has complicated his presence in the monument.

The effort to erect a monument honoring Minnesotans’ service in the Civil War began immediately after the First Battle of Bull Run. As the war continued and the US-Dakota War of 1862 engulfed much of the state, however, the project stalled.

Members of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) took up the work again over thirty years later, when St. Paul Acker Post 21 passed a resolution to erect a monument on Summit Hill. Then, in 1897, after a GAR encampment was held in St. Paul, the conversation widened. GAR members brainstormed ideas about how to memorialize the Civil War. Realizing that the new State Capitol would provide space to remember the war, they focused on a complementary monument. Women of the GAR, supported by the Schubert Club, formed a soldiers’ monument committee and started raising funds.

In 1903, Joseph J. McCardy, a member of Acker Post 21, spearheaded the final drive to erect the monument. He appointed his own committee, raised funds, and planned the unveiling of the monument. His control of the event offended members of Garfield Post 8, the other GAR group in St. Paul, who had begun a dialogue about a monument the year before. Women of the GAR were also offended.

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A crowd estimated at 4,000 attended the monument unveiling at Summit Park. Members of Acker Post and a few from Garfield led the ceremony. Minnesota National Guardsmen, Sons of Veterans, Phillipine and Spanish-American War veterans, and military units from Fort Snelling participated in a parade. Due to cold weather and snow, the statue of King had not yet been set atop the monument shaft. After the parade and a thirteen-gun salute, King and Susan Doran, the daughter of a Civil War veteran, unveiled the statue. The face of the statue was sculpted by John K. Daniels, and the body is a cast of a generic US soldier. The shaft is made of Vermont granite. Henry A. Castle, a Civil War veteran, GAR member, and former politician, spoke at the event. St. Paul Mayor Robert A. Smith accepted the monument on behalf of the city.

Soldiers and Sailors Monument
MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson
Occasional commemorative events held by Civil War veterans, the descendants of veterans, and Civil War re-enactors took place at the monument over the decades.
Garfield Post continued to criticize the monument after its unveiling. In 1906, it was moved to allow for the realignment of Summit Avenue and the construction of the St. Paul Cathedral. Occasional commemorative events held by Civil War veterans, the descendants of veterans, and Civil War re-enactors took place at the monument over the decades. The monument itself stood untouched for over a century. The histories of the monument, King, and especially King’s involvement in the Punitive Expeditions were largely forgotten.

Lighting was installed at the base of the monument in 2013. In 2016, the Minnesota Historical Society awarded Public Art St. Paul $60,000 to restore it. Additional money was raised, and restoration was completed in 2017. Amid the memorial debate, a Native American activist and a Minnesota historian brought to light King’s participation in the Massacre of Whitestone Hill. They argued that King’s presence on the monument indirectly celebrates state violence against Native Americans without naming it—a failure that erases Native people’s experiences. As of 2020, the monument stands on St. Paul city property and is owned and maintained by the city.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.