Nearly 50 years after the end of the Civil War, a group of local Union army veterans organized a drive to raise funds for the construction of a federal monument at a cemetery in Cleveland.
Today, just a few feet from the entrance of the historic Fort Hill Cemetery, stands a cenotaph to Bradley County soldiers who fought for the Union during the Civil War.
This is the structure that Cleveland City Councilman Bill Estes — who represents District 2 — will propose be relocated to the downtown junction of Ocoee, Broad and Eighth streets, and have it stand alongside the existing Confederate statue that was erected in 1910 and dedicated a year later by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis Chapter 900.
It is Estes' effort to bring compromise to the ongoing debate over the presence of the Confederate monument. In this heated discussion, a Black Lives Matter has petitioned for three weeks, and protested for about two, to have the statue relocated to the Confederate section of Fort Hill Cemetery. A second group, made up mostly of Bradley County residents, wants the Confederate statue to stay where it is.
The federal monument, constructed in 1914, was the product of a meeting — held the prior year — of the Oviatt Post of the Grand Army of the Republic, as described in the late Dr. William R. Snell’s “Cleveland, The Beautiful: A History of Cleveland, Tennessee, 1842-1931.”
During part of his living years, Snell served as official historian for the city of Cleveland.
As described by Snell, members of the G.A.R post met in 1913 and “conceived of the idea of erecting a suitable monument to the Bradley County soldiers who fought for the Union during the Civil War.”
“The idea originated from a Memorial Day suggestion made to the membership by E. H. Thurston, which was quickly picked up and seconded by J. S. Roberts, John Trunk and G. W. Coleman,” Snell wrote. “The commander was authorized to appoint a committee at their June meeting.”
The committee immediately went to work “to carry the project to completion,” according to Snell.
“They were to choose the location, design and how to fund the project,” Snell wrote. “The post decided the monument should be erected at a cost of ‘not less than $1,000.’”
The entrance to the cemetery was ultimately chosen by the committee.
“By April 1914, some 20 interested and concerned individuals had made contributions to the cause and subscriptions for additional money was being pushed by pension day when members would receive their pension check,” according to Snell, adding that “collections and pledges were to be completed by May 4, and the proposed monument would be erected by Memorial Day 1914.”
More than 1,000 Bradley County residents served in Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War.
According to the Rev. John Morgan Wooten’s “The History of Bradley County,” published by the History Committee, Bradley County Chapter, East Tennessee Historical Society, approximately 653 Bradley County men served in the Union Army, followed by 490 who served in the Confederate Army.
The list of names, while not official, was “copied from a list made in 1866 by J. S. Hurlburt,” according to the book.
According to Cleveland historian Bob George, city of Cleveland residents supported the Confederacy, while the majority of Bradley Countians were Unionists.
He said Bradley County families were torn apart by the war.
"In several families, one relative would fight for the North while another fought for the South," he said.
Inscribed on the memorial is the following epitaph:
“This monument is to perpetuate the memory of the Boys in Blue in the War of 1861-1865, who have lived in Bradley County.”
The monument, as well as a section of the cemetery where soldiers from both sides of the war are buried, was re-dedicated in 1990, according to a plaque that is affixed to its base.
"Good people disagree on important issues, therefore moving forward frequently requires measures of compromise," Estes wrote in a guest "Viewpoint" published in Tuesday's edition of the Cleveland Daily Banner. "What does take courage is to listen to others, see an issue from another perspective and work to solve a problem together."
Estes' proposal, which will be made to his city council colleagues in their next gathering on July 13, was also explained in a front-page news story in Tuesday's edition of the Cleveland newspaper.
Along with his long years of service on the council, Estes also serves as the dean of the Helen DeVos College of Education at Lee University.
In his recommendations, Estes suggests relocating the Grand Army of the Republic memorial — which is a tribute to Union soldiers who fought in the Civil War — from its current Fort Hill home to the north side of the existing Confederate statue.
In addition, the councilman wants the Union memorial to be refurbished to its original design which was constructed in 1914.
He also proposes that a plaque be positioned between the two memorials commemorating the message of each. A broader context of the two monuments would then be better explained in a permanent exhibit displayed in the nearby History Branch of the Cleveland Bradley Public Library, according to Estes' proposal.
"Rarely in our modern American culture do we see compromise or moderation modeled for us," Estes wrote in his Opinion page commentary. "It is easy to insist on the moral purity of our own position, assert our individual rights and demonize our opponents."
The veteran educator stressed, "... the statue is not the problem, but a symbol for deep and complex problems facing our nation and Cleveland."
Estes added, "This statue does not exist in a vacuum, but has become part of a bigger narrative with many facets and complexities that few have the historical knowledge, time and wisdom to properly understand, myself included."
The idea of relocating the Confederate statue, as proposed by the Black Lives Matter petition and countered by several pro-statue petitions, hit a stumbling block Monday when the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis Chapter 900, issued a position statement in which President Linda Ballew said the organization's membership refuses to support the relocation of the monument.
The UDOC statement stressed the majority of Cleveland and Bradley County residents want the monument to stay where it is.
The issue has divided the local community, resulting in nightly protests at the base of the monument for the past two weeks. Although the protests have remained mostly peaceful, the Cleveland Police Department has been forced to respond to incidents of yelling and potential intimidation.
For the most part, protesters have remained on either side of the street — one supporting the statue's relocation, the other wanting it to stay.