Thursday, April 26, 2018

B*ATL still raising money to restore monuments to US, Confederate generals; city advisory panel suggests keeping both

Monument to Confederate general is only a battered remnant (Picket photo)
Vintage post card shows it had more features (Courtesy of B*ATL)

A neighborhood group that wants to restore two Battle of Atlanta monuments – one to a Federal general, the other to a Confederate – is carefully navigating the national conversation about what to do with monuments that honored Southern generals and leaders.

“The Battle of Atlanta can be the beginning of a conversation about race,” leader Henry Bryant wrote last year in a Zocalo Public Square article.

“Our group’s mission has always been to explore American history -- not just the Confederacy and not just the Union,” Bryant wrote. The nonprofit Battle of Atlanta (B*ATL) Commemoration Organization includes multiple aspects of the city’s history, including civil rights, in its neighborhood tours and activities, he said.

A monument fund-raising hike about the battle is planned for this Sunday afternoon (April 29).

Months after Bryant’s article, B*ATL spoke before a study committee appointed by then-Mayor Kasim Reed. That panel was tasked with making recommendations on what to do with city-owned monuments and street names paying tribute to the Confederacy.

15 -- McPherson marker, 16 -- Walker (Picket map)

B*ATL for several years has been raising money to cover a $192,000 restoration of old monuments to Union Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson and Confederate Maj Gen. William H.T. Walker. McPherson was killed when he rode into Confederate lines early during the July 22, 1864, Battle of Atlanta. Less than a mile away, Walker was knocked out of his saddle by a sniper.

Battle marker, or one with a message?

It’s the Walker monument, of course, that came under scrutiny.

“It was pointed out that both monuments, by marking the sites of the deaths, had as much to do with the shooters” as with the killed officers, Bryant recently told the Picket.

The advisory committee, while recommending changes for other monuments, recommended that what’s left of the weathered Walker monument – dedicated in 1902 and located on a small city patch of land – be kept.

The McPherson monument on McPherson Avenue (Picket photo)
How it looked in its early years (Courtesy of B*ATL)

In its report submitted in November, the committee said it considered a monument’s purpose and whether it omitted key information or glorified the Confederacy. The Lost Cause view of the war, promulgated by white Southerners in the decades following the conflict, contends the conflict was justified and about defending states’ rights. Such a view, the advisory committee found, “ignores the moral atrocities of slavery.”

While considering emotional attachments to monuments, the committee made distinctions about their purpose, and that thinking was evident in the Walker monument recommendation.

Gen. Walker
“This monument represents an important companion to the McPherson monument when telling the story of the Battle of Atlanta. The committee recommends that B*ATL be responsible for appropriate contextualization of this monument. It is the opinion of the committee that this monument is a battlefield marker and does not serve a purpose of glorification, but rather is a reminder of an important historical event. Public comments indicate that the neighborhood has embraced the two monuments and its site on the location of the battlefield as an important part of its identity. The committee supports retention of the monument and its continued support by B*ATL and the adjoining neighborhoods.”

Walker monument in limbo

The Walker monument’s fate is not certain. Reed left office without taking action in December, as had been expected. The matter is now under the administration of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

The issue of Confederate monuments, more than five months since the recommendations were filed, does not appear to be a priority. City Hall is under criticism or investigation for a number of reasons, including a bribery probe that predates when Bottoms took office.

The Picket asked Atlanta officials for a status update.

As of now, there aren’t any scheduled meetings of the committee, or possible updates or announcements confirmed,” said Melissa J. Martin, public information officer for the Department of City Planning.

Walker monument is off-center and near a busy road (Picket photo)

Bryant acknowledged that the issue remains sensitive, given the McPherson and Walker memorial are in small city parks. But he contends B*ATL provides an inclusive story about Atlanta and its residents.

“It’s not a story of black and white, but a story that is shaded with a wide range of tones,” he wrote last year. “We want to tell the whole story, not just one side. Our events have long featured programming about East Atlanta’s civil rights history as well as its Civil War history.

George Barnard photo of McPherson death site (Library of Congress)

Aging memorials need a facelift

The East Atlanta monuments each feature a cannon.

Time and, in one case, traffic have taken a toll on the memorials. They sit on dislodged or structurally weak foundations. The cannons have water damage and are rusting in places. In recent years, the McPherson cannon has taken on a green color from what appears to be lichen or moss and a surrounding fence and posts are aged and cracked in places.

Gen. McPherson
After McPherson's death, Union Brig. Gen. Andrew Hickenlooper rode to the mangled woods where McPherson died. There were no homes in the area at the time. Hickenlooper nailed a sign to the tree at the death site, which was photographed by Atlanta Campaign photographer George Barnard.

An early fence surrounding the 1877 monument featured gun barrels at the corners, said Bryant, but they disappeared. “From the very beginning there was problem with vandalism,” he told the Picket in 2012.

The McPherson monument, now surrounded by homes, was moved in 1906. Eventually, it was raised to make it more visible.

The Walker monument to the east is more easily seen, but doesn’t get the protection the McPherson monument receives. It sits on a busy road (Glenwood Avenue at Wilkinson Drive) near Interstate 20. Walker was shot will leading his troops across the backwaters of Terry's Millpond in Kirkwood and East Atlanta.

Motorists have hit the marker several times, knocking it off-kilter on its pedestal. The red granite monument’s steps and plaque are gone. At least two feet of water and gunk are in the cannon barrel.

The memorial used to rest on a nearby hill, to make it convenient for visitors, but was moved to its current, more accurate location, in the late 1930s. B*ATL would like to move the monument to the center of a triangle and build steps to raise it, so it will match the appearance of the McPherson monument.

Proposed upgrade for memorial near Interstate 20, courtesy of B*ATL)

Bryant said the tiered steps were buried when the surrounding land was raised during road construction. “Only the top of the top tier is visible. The fencing and cannon balls were not moved from the original site.

“Hopefully, we can clean whatever is below ground and reuse it. If it matches the above ground base it will be orange (rust and red clay), both above and below ground stone to be returned to their gray granite color.”

Walk this weekend benefits effort

The campaign to restore the monuments has been a long march; the Picket first wrote about it in 2011.

B*ATL has about $150,000 to $155,000 in pledges and in the bank, Bryant said. Grants from the Frances and Beverly DuBose Foundation and matches account for $40,000 of that. The city’s parks department has pledged $32,000. but has not issued formal funding, he said.

McPherson monument has cracks at base, on features
(Picket photos)

“I do not have all of the money needed, but feel that we could come up with the remainder by going only to the neighborhood to pass the hat. There are other deadlines that might require that we begin before we have all of the money. We are trying not to lose any of the money that we have been given,” Bryant said.

B*ATL might consider reducing some landscaping and other features, or use concrete instead of granite curbing if it doesn’t reach the $192,000 target.

This Sunday is an opportunity for those who want to learn about the Battle of the Atlanta and support the monument restoration effort. B*ATL is doing a 5-mile “Battle in Reverse” hike at 3 p.m. “We start at the end of the battle traversing the Union front lines, seeing historic sites as we go towards the beginning where the Confederates entered the scene to challenge and then returning to the end,” Bryant said.

The tour will take up to three hours and costs $15. You can register here.

Current plans for restoration on McPherson Avenue (B*ATL)

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