Saturday, June 27, 2015

Knoxville's Confederate Monument

On June 17, 2015, a young man entered one of Charleston's oldest historically black churches. After a time he turned a gun on those he was with and nine worshipers are now dead.  From that incident a debate has risen, first about the use and meaning of the Confederate battle flag and then has spawned discussion about other Confederate symbols (memorials, monuments, markers, etc).

This post is not intended to continue the debates or discussions, only to share a portion of Knoxville's history.

On May 21, 1891, the cornerstone to the Confederate Memorial at Bethel Cemetery was set.  Bethel Cemetery is home to over 1,600 Confederate dead and also some Union soldiers.

Other news of that day included stories about the tornado that touched down in Mexico, Missouri; that the Farmer's Convention would return to Knoxville the next year; of a burglary at Mossy Creek.  There were advertisements for Kern's Ice Cream Parlors and that the Ohios of Cincinnati would cross bats with the local Reds.

And then there was this article, tucked in the middle of page eight, the last page of that day's paper.

Knoxville Daily Journal - May 21, 1891


The next day the Journal reported the following:

Knoxville Daily Journal - May 22, 1891

The article goes on to give more details of the service, including the actual laying of the cornerstone.  As was the custom, items were placed beneath the stone.  A Mrs. G.M. White, senior member of the Ladies Memorial Association, placed the following items in a copper box:
  • Names and history of Ladies' Memorial Association
  • Constitution and By-laws of Fred Ault Bivouac and Zollicoffer Camp
  • Two Confederate flags
  • Confederate money
  • Speech of Judge Turney on the civil war
  • Pamphlets of Knoxville
  • Confederate newspapers
  • Knoxville daily papers
  • Program of the ceremony
  • Confederate postage stamps
  • Photographs of Generals
  • List of Confederates buried in Bethel Cemetery, six hundred unknown dead killed at Fort Sanders 
  • Copy of pension law of Tennessee. 
  • Minnie balls and bullets from battle-field of Chickamauga
  • Confederate almanacs, 1862
  • Confederate button taken from grave on battle-field of Chickamauga
  • Photographic views of Knoxville
  • History of battle of Fort Sanders
  • Roll of Fred Ault Bivouac, Zollicoffer Camp, and all soldiers of Tennessee division
  • Minutes first Annual Convention United Confederate Veterans
  • Cut of monument to be built
  • Knoxville City Directory
(This list is from Our Confederate Dead, a pamphlet containing the oration of Major General William M. Bate on the unveiling of the completed monument one year later.  The list in the newspaper varies slightly from this list, but not to any significant detail, save that the newspaper has 105 killed at the battle of Fort Sanders.)


Bethel Cemetery, located between Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Bethel Avenue, just east of Vine Middle School, was a county cemetery.  The first mention I find of the cemetery with the name of Bethel was on May 12, 1875, when an article in Knoxville's Press and Messenger says:
The Confederate Memorial Day will be on or about the tenth of June.  A neat residence for the keeper has recently been erected in Bethel Cemetery.

The local papers reported the unveiling ceremony, complete with a print of the monument.

Knoxville Daily Journal - May 15, 1892

The monument is an imposing piece of stonework.  It is 12 feet square at the base and stands 48 feet tall. The entire monument is constructed of Tennessee gray marble. The contract price was $4,500. The money was raised by the Ladies' Memorial Association, with the assistance of their friends, by means of suppers, festivals, and by subscriptions ranging from $1.00 to $250. Among the subscribers were several ex-Federal soldiers, who endeared themselves to the ladies of the Memorial Association.

The monument was designed by Lloyd Branson of Knoxville.  In 1896 Mr. Branson would design the  official Flag of Knoxville.  The contract for the erection of the monument was awarded to the firm of George W. Callahan and Brothers.  Mr. Callahan had done some stone work on the Knoxville Catholic Church in early 1891.

Below are some of images of the monument that I've found.

from Art Work of Knoxville, 1895, Part 07
part of  the C.M. McClung Historical Collection, Knox County Public Library

from Our Confederate Dead
part of  the C.M. McClung Historical Collection, Knox County Public Library

part of  the C.M. McClung Historical Collection, Knox County Public Library

This afternoon I visited Bethel Cemetery.  I arrived after it was closed.  I was able to get a photo of the backside of the monument through a locked chain link gate.

backside of Confederate Monument
Bethel Cemetery, Knoxville, Tennessee

There are other memorials in Knoxville to service members, notably at the National Cemetery and at the East Tennessee Veterans Memorial.  This memorial serves to remind us of those men from the south that gave their lives for a cause that they believed in.


newspaper images from GenealogyBank.com