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Missouri's largest Confederate memorial has drawn little controversy

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Missouri's largest Confederate memorial has drawn little controversy

Confederate soldiers in Missouri found themselves in a difficult place after the Civil War. 

Like others who fought a lost cause, they had been stripped of their right to vote, deprived of financial benefits and denied medical treatment.   

In 1889, a group of Confederate veterans in the state met for their annual reunion in Higginsville and realized that old soldiers needed a safe place to retire.

The chapel at Confederate Home State Park sits at the edge of a cemetery

The chapel at Confederate Home State Park sits at the edge of the cemetery where over 700 graves of soldiers, their widows and their families are buried. The chapel is on the National Historic Register. The Confederate Soldiers Home of Missouri was unique in that the families of the soldiers of the Confederate army also lived there. 

Two years later, 365 acres of farmland were purchased, and a sprawling community was built north of Higginsville. For the next 60 years, 1,600 Confederate veterans had a place to live.

When the last veteran died in 1950, the state acquired the property and created the Confederate Memorial State Historic Site.

Today, as with similar monuments that memorialize the losing side of the Civil War, the word Confederate has added political baggage to the history of the park. But in this case, there is no movement to change it. 

National controversy

The events of the Charleston church shooting in 2015 accelerated an effort to remove traces of the Confederacy from public sites. Twenty monuments to the Confederacy are still maintained in Missouri, while two others have been recently removed.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy Monument on Ward Parkway in Kansas City was defaced with graffiti in 2017, and within a week, it was voluntarily taken down and put in storage to avoid further vandalism.

In St. Louis, the Memorial to the Confederate Dead in Forest Park was removed in 2017 after an agreement was struck between the city and the Missouri Civil War Museum in nearby Jefferson Barracks.

Brian W. Kratzer

In Higginsville, however, there seems to be a move to keep the name of the 135-acre state park as a nod to both history and nostalgia.

“You have to remember, this site had nothing to do with the Civil War,” said Christopher Fritsche, the park's natural resource manager. “It was essentially an old folks home.”

A historic park

The Confederate Memorial State Historic Site, with its 135 acres of lakes, walking trails and forest, was established in 1952 to maintain the Confederate Soldiers Home. Here, thousands of veterans from both Southern and border states lived and died.

In the early 1900s, 30 buildings were scattered around the property, including a farm and a dairy. It was almost entirely a self-sufficient community, providing its own food, electricity and support services.

Today, the park includes only a few buildings — a small white-frame chapel near the entrance, a sprawling cemetery, a cottage and a hospital built in the 1920s. All are clustered in the northwest sector of the park. The Confederate Soldiers Home was sold to the state Department of Mental Health in 1950, and the buildings were razed in 1952.

According to the National Register of Historic Places, the cottage and cemetery are the only actual survivors of the original community. A "new" hospital was added to the homestead in the 1920s.

The cemetery is the final resting place for more than 800 veterans who lived and worked on the site, with headstones ranging from small slabs of concrete to full-on memorials. Towering above the gravestones is the grand "Lion of Lucerne" statue with its face clearly in pain and its right paw resting on the Great Seal of the Confederacy.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy dedicated a monument

The United Daughters of the Confederacy helped fund the Confederate Home, and in 1906 the group dedicated this monument to the veterans. The granite monument of a lion was inspired by the Lion of Lucerne in Lucerne, Switzerland, which is a memorial to the Swiss soldiers killed during the French Revolution. In this replica, the shield of the Confederate States of America replaces a shield with a fleur-de-lis representing France.

It is the history of the site as a home for old soldiers, rather than a battlefield, a flag or a tribute to a Confederate officer, that seems to have galvanized public opinion around protecting it rather than removing it.

“The function of our job is to preserve the history and culture of what happened here at the site,” Fritsche said. “It’s about remembering and telling the stories of the people who passed here.”

Some would even like to push for a stronger connection to the veterans buried in the park.

“We just want to honor the fallen soldiers,” said Blue Springs resident Betty Allen. “It’s a historical thing.”

A teacher for several decades, Allen laments the decline in educational trips to the site by neighboring schools. She has also proposed that Confederate flags be sold in a new gift shop so visitors can place them on veterans' gravestones.

Fritsche, though, is worried about the blowback. When veterans lived on the property, the Confederate flag was never actually flown; it was only displayed. The flag was eventually taken down in the 2000s by an executive order stipulating that only U.S. and Missouri flags could be flown in state parks.

Allen believes the fierce debate over Confederate memorabilia has interfered with a mission to preserve the past, no matter what side you're on.

"This is about the preservation of history, period," she said. "Both North and South."

Headstones recognize the names of Confederate soldiers and their families

Left: Sallie Butler lived at the home from 1925 to 1935. The Confederate Soldiers Home of Missouri was unique in that the families of the soldiers of the Confederate army also lived there. 

Center: Private James N. Payne lived at the home from 1929-1935. He was with Company A, Searcy's Battalion, Missouri Sharpshooters.

Right: Private Alfred J. Oliver lived at the home from 1931-35. He was part of Brooks' 1st Battalion Arkansas Cavalry. His is one of about 723 graves.

Other sites

The state historic site in Higginsville is the largest monument to the Confederacy in Missouri. The remaining 19 markers are largely statues, but Confederate ties can also be found in the names of schools, roads, parks, bridges and other public works in the state. 

Some of the original monuments survive, but others are disappearing.

Robert E. Lee Elementary School in Columbia, for example, was renamed Locust Street Expressive Arts Elementary School last summer. In 2015, a Confederate monument on the Boone County Courthouse lawn was relocated to the Centralia Battlefield. 

Resident Tommy Thomas III, who spearheaded a drive to remove the courthouse memorial, told members of the Boone County Commission that even though it was dedicated to the memory of Confederate soldiers, it sent a different message to people of color.

"When you come into the courthouse seeing that on the front lawn, it's sending subliminal imagery," Thomas said. "It's telling you a story that you don't have a fair shot."

Elsewhere in the state, Confederate monuments can be found in Lone Jack, Marshall, Roanoke, Keytesville, West Alton and Waverly.

The only Confederate flag at the historic site rests next to William Quantrill's gravestone

The only Confederate flag at the historic site is this small one at the foot of William Quantrill's gravestone. Quantrill lead Quantrill's Raiders, famous for burning Lawrence, Kansas, in 1863 after they found out Lawrence was assisting Union troops.

Several are dedicated to Confederate Gen. Joseph O. Shelby, who lived in Waverly and worked on steamboats until he became a leader in the Missouri-Kansas border war.

Other monuments are dedicated to Sterling Price, a Confederate Army major general whose family moved to Fayette when he was 22. Before the Civil War, Price was also the 11th governor of Missouri.

Palmyra has a monument to remind visitors of a massacre in 1862 where 10 Confederate prisoners of war were executed by firing squad for the alleged abduction of a local Union sympathizer.

Two other monuments are located in the Springfield National Cemetery, one dedicated to the Confederate Soldiers of Missouri and the other to the Unknown Confederate Dead at the Battle of Wilson's Creek.

Last year, someone threw paint on a memorial in the cemetery hours before President Trump was scheduled to stop in Springfield. As a result, the cemetery is now one of seven in the country under 24-hour guard by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The two memorials in Missouri that were removed during the last two years were in major metropolitan areas where they might have had more visibility.

A Union Confederate Monument does remain intact in Kansas City, but it sits in front of a cemetery where soldiers fought on both sides of the war.

Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott. 

  • Fall 2018 (beat) reporter. I am a junior studying arts and culture journalism.

  • I'm the Director of Photography working close with staff photographers, videographers, photo editors and designers to help our stories become visually exciting. Follow us on Instagram: comissourian

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