History of the Battle of Nashville Monument

The Battle of Nashville Monument has a long and sometimes tortuous history -- a history not always smooth and pleasant -- which perhaps is befitting a monument erected following and as a result of a bitter intersectional war. It needs to be remembered, however, that it is more than a monument to the battle which was fought here in December of 1864 -- a battle which noted Nashville historian Stanley Horn called the Decisive Battle of Nashville. It is a monument which was conceived, built, and dedicated as a memorial to those brave men and women, from both North and South, who fought so courageously in not only the War Between the States but also in World War I, known as the Great War. It is a monument intended to unify the country, which in the early part of this century and even up until World War I was still badly torn with strife resulting from the Civil War.

The history of this beautiful monument goes all the way back to the year 1902, when the Vaulx heirs gave a tract of land on the Franklin Pike for a Battle of Nashville park. Mrs. James E. Caldwell, president of a group called the Ladies Battlefield Association, came up with the idea of a monument on the site, and a noted Italian sculptor, Giuseppe Moretti, submitted a quotation of $30,000 for it.

Then, about 1910, a Nashville battlefield park was again proposed, this time by Congressman Joe Byrnes of Nashville, and later that year a Congressional committee heard testimony from a group called the Nashville National Battlefield Association, comprised of prominent businessmen, including Confederate and Union veterans.

Inscriptions on Base of Monument

 

The Monument
as it appeared
from 1926 until 1974.

Click on images for larger picture.

In April 1914 Mrs. Caldwell's Ladies Battlefield Association held a "Historical Ball" at the Maxwell House to raise money for the monument, with the United Daughters of the Confederacy contributing generously.

In 1924 and early 1925 the Ladies Battlefield Association sponsored various fundraising events for the monument but only a small amount of money was raised. But by canvassing businesses and individuals and by appropriations from the Tennessee General Assembly and the Davidson County Quarterly Court, a lot more was raised toward the project.

The Monument was isolated by the construction of a huge interstate highway interchange.

In April of 1926 the L.B.A. contracted with Signor Moretti for construction of the monument on Franklin Pike where Thompson Lane intersected. In 1926 Moretti's plaster model of the bronze figures was sent to the foundry to be cast, and quarrying of the marble was underway at Carrara in Italy. The bronze came from broken and melted cannons.

During 1927 Moretti came to Nashville and personally oversaw the construction of the monument, and on Armistice Day, 1927 (November 11) it was dedicated, with former U.S. Senator and war hero Luke Lea giving the principal address. Unfortunately Moretti could not be here for the dedication, although he called the monument his greatest work.

It was a great day in the community. Many businesses were closed, schools held memorial services, and citizens turned out in honor of the event. Old Confederate veterans in tattered uniforms were there, along with younger veterans of World War I. Mrs. Caldwell spoke, saying that the monument was a peace monument -- "no guns, no swords, no trappings of war mar the peacelike beauty."

In 1945 the acreage and monument were conveyed to the Tennessee Historical Commission by a successor group to the L.B.A., and there the monument stood in all its glory until 1974 -- in full view of motorists on Franklin Pike or on Thompson Lane at its intersection with Franklin Pike. But then, on March 31, 1974, a tornado ripped through the area and toppled the 40-foot obelisk and angel atop it to the ground, shattering them into pieces. The bronze figures -- two horses and a youthful man -- were damaged but could be repaired and put back on the original base, but the obelisk and angel were not restorable.

Then, to add insult to injury, in early 1980 interstate construction virtually blotted out all view of the monument, which was, and still is, isolated behind a chain-link fence on a bluff overlooking Franklin Pike. It was a disaster.

At that point, following the tornado and interstate construction, some funds were allocated by the Department of Transportation for relocation but not restoration of the monument.

So, beginning in the 1980s the idea of a new location for and restoration of the monument was brought up, and the T.H.C. appointed a committee of citizens to suggest new sites. In 1988 the committee recommended Centennial Park, but the Metro Parks Board vetoed that and the committee was discharged. A number of other sites were considered, among them Riverfront Park, a grassy slope on the Burton Hills property on Hillsboro Pike in Green Hills, and the Brightwood Avenue bridge over I-440. None was accepted.

Finally, in 1992, the T.H.C., on the recommendation of its Markers and Monuments Committee chaired by Pam Garrett of Goodlettsville, chose the 2.5-acre tract at the intersection of Granny White Pike and Battlefield Drive which was originally slated to be an I-440 interchange. At this point the long struggle began for funds to remove and restore the monument to this new location.

Hawkins Partners, headed by Gary Hawkins, presented a plan for development of the site into an interpretive park, the T.H.C. applied for funds available under an act of Congress known as ISTEA, an acronym for Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, and in 1995 a grant of $150,000 was given under that act. Soon thereafter, as a result of efforts by the T.H.C., $37,500 was given by both the State of Tennessee and Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County.

In 1996 the Nashville Iowa Club, spearheaded by Jon Ohrt and Jim Summerville, had a successful fundraising campaign which brought in $15,000, and bit by bit sufficient money came in to restore the monument to its former grandeur and move it to G.W. Pike and Battlefield Drive -- right on the battlefield. But then, in August of 1996, the state architect's office proposed that it be re-located to Tennessee's new Bi-Centennial Mall in North Nashville. However, editorials in the papers, op-ed articles, the Metro Council and Governor Sundquist all endorsed the G.W. Pike site. The state Building Commission then endorsed the spending of the total budget, $225,000, for relocation and restoration at the G.W. Pike site.

In September of 1996 Hawkins Partners was hired by the state as chief contractor for the project, and last December the T.H.C. held a groundbreaking ceremony at the new site, at which 75 to 100 persons attended, including re-enactors and two of Mrs. Caldwell's descendants. At this ceremony it was announced that the Frist Foundation had granted $65,000, later increased to $72,000, to build a Wall of Peace on the site.

Site preparation began last February; the foundation was poured Feb. 24, 1998. During this past summer work began on the carving of the angel of peace, and the first granite for the base arrived from the quarry in Georgia. In July the bronze was taken to Rehorn & Kelly, monument builders in Nashville, for cleaning. Tomorrow (Nov. 7, 1998) was scheduled to be Re-Dedication Day, but due to unexpected construction delays we decided to postpone that until restoration is complete. We will probably have the ceremony in early spring, but if you want to drive by the site and take a look at what has been done, I think you will find it interesting and agree that the site is a good choice.

Lastly, it is tempting to rattle off a long list of names of people who have been instrumental in bringing this project to near fulfillment, but if I started that then surely I would omit one or more who should be recognized, so I won't do it. I do feel, however, that one person deserves special credit for his unflagging efforts to see this thing through to a successful conclusion, and that person is Jim Summerville, who put this symposium together. Jim, we thank you, and I thank you too.

Presented by Ward DeWitt, Chairman of the Tennessee Historical Commission, at the Battle of Nashville Monument Symposium, Nov. 6, 1998.

If you would like to contribute to the final success of this important preservation project, the PayTo/MailTo is: (memo your check 'Monument')

Tennessee Historical Commission
2941 Lebanon Road
Donelson, TN 37243-1554
(615)532-1550

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The Monument as it appears today.