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

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

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.

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.

Comments (21)

  1. Submitted by tom kendrick on 06/23/2020 - 12:13 pm.

    The study of statues is a fascinating and highly relevant one in any society, and here in the United States, statues and memorials say as much about who they don’t represent or include as who they do.
    It must be emotionally satisfying to participate in tearing down a statue that has long stood in your neighborhood but does not speak well of you or your people. But it is a shortsighted victory, at best. Tearing it down both prevents a more nuanced study of the character in front of you and the times in which they lived, and it also prevents us from being able to learn from history. Better to create a more enlightened interpretation of the history – the story – being told here than to try to obliterate it. Those become lessons lost.

    I propose, lest some fervent citizens of liberty take things literally into their own hands, that we as a community redesign the soldiers’ and sailors’ memorial into a walking tour that invites the viewer in and presents the history AND THE FULL STORY of the statue’s commission. It could explain not just who was represented by this statue but who was not, and why they were not, in light of the times in which this was created. An appropriate work of art could then be commissioned as a sort of answer to the original. The partial narrative that the original statue spoke to could be answered, so to speak, by bringing forth the stories that would tell another angle on this history, based on how much wider a lens we use today.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/23/2020 - 02:18 pm.

      It really depends on the statue. Statues of confederate soldiers – some of which can be found outside the former confederacy – having nothing to do with history. They distort history. They were mostly erected long after the fact with racist intent. There is no enlightenment and nothing to learn from.

      The same is true with Columbus. The idea that he was someone to be revered is a false history.

      If you want to put them all in a museum and explain how racism allowed the statues to be in public places and that truth eventually won out, I guess that’s ok.

      • Submitted by tom kendrick on 06/23/2020 - 04:17 pm.

        To the contrary, Pat, these statues (confederate, especially) have everything to do with history, which is to say the fictionalized history created by white power that took the entire black experience out of the story. THAT is the history of these statues, THAT is the history (even fabricated) that they tell, and that story of white dominance to the negation of any black experience is precisely the story that the current struggles today all point back to. This is precisely the history that must be told, and not pulled down and thrown into a river to rust or displayed in a museum as a quaint and bygone curiosity which you can engage with or not. No, this discussion belongs in the public square, and we all need to show up for it.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/23/2020 - 08:24 pm.

          Yeah, but that isn’t what is displayed. What is displayed is fake history honoring racist cowards and losers. Don’t worry, there is plenty of history acknowledging centuries of racism. That won’t be forgotten, even if the fictional statues are removed. Let the rusting commence.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/23/2020 - 04:49 pm.

      “Tearing it down both prevents a more nuanced study of the character in front of you and the times in which they lived, and it also prevents us from being able to learn from history.”
      How much history has anyone ever learned from a statue in the park?

      A statue of Gunnar Wennerberg has stood in Minnehaha Park for over a century. Without resorting to Wikipedia, can you tell me who he was, and why he was a big deal?

  2. Submitted by Tom King on 06/23/2020 - 12:59 pm.

    Let he or she among you who is free from sin including the maltreatment of others cast the first stone or remove stone statuary.

    Focus instead our collective energies to deal with problems of the present instead of the past. The past can’t be changed. Nor can the future. The present is all we have.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/23/2020 - 02:19 pm.

      I think the fact that there are statues honoring racists in public places is a problem today.

      • Submitted by Rory Kramer on 06/23/2020 - 06:44 pm.

        So then where’s the argument that statues of Washington and Jefferson should be removed as they were slave-owners? Do they get a pass because they were presidents? Isn’t what’s good for the goose good for the gander?

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/24/2020 - 08:25 am.

          That argument exists. In fact, a statue of Jefferson was torn down at a high school in Portland.

          The goose/gander assumes that the racism at issue is equal. In the case of confederate statues, these men literally fought to preserve slavery. These men were cowardly losers who contributed nothing of of value. The statues of them are a display of fiction, not history. That is an easy call.

          Washington and Jefferson obviously did make enormous contributions to this country. They deserve to be honored for that. But they also owned slaves, which can’t be ignored either. The flowery words written about liberty and freedom by the founding fathers probably rang pretty hollow to the people they owned. So that’s a tougher call today and I don’t know the answer. But removing Washington and Jefferson statues is something we should be talking about.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/23/2020 - 04:51 pm.

      The past cannot be changed. How we remember and celebrate that past is fluid. It also shapes how we view our society today.

      As the man said, what’s past is prologue.

  3. Submitted by cory johnson on 06/24/2020 - 05:23 pm.

    The insanity last night in Madison proves the people tearing down statues mostly just care about destroying American rather than any deep political statement. But they are smart enough to do it in locations with ineffectual Democrat leaders who will let it happen.

    • Submitted by tom kendrick on 06/25/2020 - 02:01 pm.

      Oh please. Your implication is the tired old “law and order” approach that Trump and other non-thinkers advocate. As if knocking more heads would bring mutual understanding and peace. What this calls for is discussion, agree to disagree, no name-calling, and assume best intentions. And then listen, and listen, and listen.

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