Battlefield Markers & Monuments: From Civil to World War – The Missouri State Memorial at Vicksburg National Military Park

Emerging Civil War welcomes back guest author Kristen M. Pawlak (Trout)

On the northeast sector of Vicksburg National Military Park near the Stockade Redan, sits the Missouri State Memorial, the only memorial there that is dedicated to both Federal and Confederate troops who served in one of the most consequential campaigns in the Western Theater. Made of Missouri red granite, the memorial is 42-feet tall (representing the 42 Missouri units engaged in the campaign) with two flanking wings depicting each side’s role in the siege. On the center pylon, the Spirit of the Republic stands upon a pedestal underneath a granite relief of the Missouri State Seal. Two bronze reliefs are on the wings of the memorial; the right wing depicts the Confederate defense, while the left illustrates the attacking Federals. The Missouri State Memorial is not only significant as a piece of art, but most importantly, also as a symbol of brotherhood, reconciliation, and unity in postwar America.

The Missouri State Memorial at Vicksburg National Military Park in Mississippi. (Image Courtesy of Iron Brigader)

On October 17, 1917, over fifty-four years after the Siege of Vicksburg, hundreds of veterans and civilians alike gathered around the new memorial, to, as inscribed in bronze, “commemorate and perpetuate the heroic services, the unselfish devotion to duty, and exalted patriotism of the Missouri soldiers, both Union and Confederate.” The ceremony of the monument was quite reconciliationist in spirit, with a particular focus on the theme of “brother against brother.” The memorial was strategically placed between Union and Confederate lines, where Missourians literally fought fellow Missourians. The symbolism of brotherhood became, like many memorial dedications in the postwar era, “the possibility of patriotic reflection, when orators declared that America’s greatness was revealed in this uniting of former enemies.”[1] These same messages used to showcase reconciliation amongst Missouri veterans once divided by civil war were also used to push unity and patriotic themes as the United States had, just months prior, declared war on Germany.

Lieutenant (later Captain) Menomen O’Donnell of the 11th Missouri Infantry (US) received the Medal of Honor for actions during the May 22, 1863 assault near the Stockade Redan. The memorial recognized the actions of brave Missouri troops, just like O’Donnell and his unit. (Image courtesy of Deborah Maroney and Irish American Civil War).

By the time the Missouri State Memorial was dedicated and erected at Vicksburg National Military Park, the United States had been at war for over six months, preparing for the deployment of four million military personnel to the Western Front and the Atlantic Ocean. As the nation’s “boys in blue and gray” erected monuments to their fallen comrades and of their courageous actions on the battlefield, they and others who partook in the commemorations looked to the ongoing conflict overseas to help in the war effort and to connect the past with the present.

“The sons and the grandsons of those soldiers […] are now at cantonments and in training as soldiers of the United States,” W. T. Ripley of the Vicksburg Park Commission told the crowd. He went on to say, “After their training is ended and when, somewhere in France, these young Missourians go over the top of the parapet and charge the Germans, let them start the Rebel Yell, the fiercest battle cry that ever leaped from the lips of fighting men.”[2]

General of the Armies John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force during the Great War, was the son of a Union veteran from Missouri. (Image Courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica).

Today, when visitors stroll through Vicksburg National Military Park and stumble upon the Missouri State Memorial, they may not know the deeper history and context of both the monument and its dedication. It is not just a monument to a state – instead, it is a monument that represents brotherhood, reconciliation, suffering, courage, and national unity amongst Missourians, who, from 1861-1865, were bitterly divided. It is also a testament to postwar reunion; though engaged in civil war over fifty years before, the symbols of reunification and “shaking hands over the bloody chasm” unite the next generation of American soldiers to fight a greater enemy abroad.

Kristen M. Pawlak (Trout) is the Development Associate for Stewardship at the Civil War Trust. She also sits on the Board of Directors at the Missouri Civil War Museum, and actively volunteers with the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation. She graduated from Gettysburg College in 2014 with a BA in History and Civil War Era Studies, and is currently pursuing her MA in Nonprofit Leadership and Management at Webster University. From St. Louis, Kristen has a fond interest in the Civil War in Missouri, Civil War medicine, and the war experiences of soldiers.

[1] Nina Silber, The Romance of Reunion: Northerners and the South, 1865-1900 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1993), 1-2.

[2] “New York and Missouri Memorials Dedicated,” The Vicksburg Herald (Vicksburg, MS), October 18, 1917.

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One Response to Battlefield Markers & Monuments: From Civil to World War – The Missouri State Memorial at Vicksburg National Military Park

  1. Alan C. Gathercole says:

    Good to see an article related to the Western Theater. I’m new to Emerging Civil War. It has been overwhelmingly dedicated to the Eastern conflict since I started reading these articles. I was about to question that, and then this. Thanks.

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