Wednesday, March 25, 2020

'Secrets' from Mrs. Caldwell's scrapbook: A Nashville story

"This is one of the happiest days of my life," May Winston Caldwell said in her speech at the dedication 
of the Battle of Nashville Peace monument on Nov. 11, 1927. (CLICK ON ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
PHOTO: Courtesy of Tennessee State Library and Archives
A view of looking south on Franklin Road.  (PHOTO: Courtesy Tennesee State Library and Archives)
GOOGLE STREET VIEW: Present-day view. Pedestal for the old monument is just
 beyond brush at right. Franklin Road was greatly changed since the monument 
was dedicated in 1927.

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In a large scrapbook, May Winston Caldwell saved mementoes from one of the most impressive accomplishments of her remarkable life. Leaf through the album and you'll find correspondence with a world-famous Italian sculptor, a note from President Coolidge's White House, a poem by Tennessee's poet laureate ... and remarkable photos of a Nashville Civil War monument with a tortuous history.

The monument dedication received prominent coverage
in the Nashville Banner (above) and Nashville Tennessean.
As president of the Ladies Battlefield Association in the 1920s, Caldwell was instrumental in the creation of a monument honoring soldiers on both sides who fought in the 1864 Battle of Nashville. In a decade's-long effort, the wife of a prominent Nashville businessman helped raise money for her project from individuals, local businesses and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The Ladies Battlefield Association finally even squeezed cash from the state, a grand achievement in an era of small government.

Italian emigre Guiseppe Moretti, a renowned sculptor, was commissioned to build the work. Cost: $30,000. The monument's 40-foot obelisk -- which included a massive bronze sculpture of horses and a glorified figure of youth -- was topped with a statue of an angel. Moretti even helped select its location in Nashville, a knoll along Franklin Road near Thompson Lane. (The area was occupied by Confederate artillery battery during the battle.)  "I love this monument," he said, "more than any other work that I have done ..."

The efforts of Caldwell and Moretti were not universally praised. "Atrocious as a work of art," W.J. Warren wrote about the monument in a letter to the editor published in a local newspaper.  "... it seems to me," he added, "to be a ghastly piece of bad taste for us to go out of our way and spend money to celebrate what was the last despairing gasp of the Confederacy."

Nevertheless, on Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1927, nearly 500 people gathered on a knoll four miles from downtown Nashville for the dedication of the Battle of Nashville Peace Monument. Several Confederate veterans were among the crowd -- including at least one who served under Nathan Bedford Forrest. John Trotwood Moore, a local journalist, historian and poet, read his work: "Good night Blue and Gray! God keep watch till the day. When you arrive in the peace of new skies. Good night!" (Calvin Coolidge declined his invitation to attend, but Tennessee Gov. Henry Horton spoke.)

"This is one of the happiest days of my life," Caldwell said in her dedication speech, "to know that our dream lives."

Several Confederate veterans attended the dedication of the Battle of Nashville monument.
(PHOTO: Courtesy Tennessee State Library and Archives)
Caldwell's monument stood defiantly on the site until 1974, when a tornado toppled its obelisk and angel, destroying them. By the early 1980s, construction of an interstate had made what was left of her project a castaway on a tiny island in a sea of development. Behind brush on a thin strip of land above busy Franklin Road, the base of Moretti's masterpiece remains, a forgotten piece of Nashville's past. (A second iteration of the monument was dedicated on a new site nearby in 1999.)

Thankfully, May Winston Caldwell -- who was highly active in Tennessee historical societies -- collected her Ladies Battlefield Association work in an album, found today in the Tennessee State Archives. Three circa-1927 images of the monument in the scrapbook are a unique window into Nashville's past. An enlargement of the background of one of the photographs shows what a small part of the vast battlefield may have looked like in 1864. In another enlargement, we see a historical marker yards from the monument -- what happened to that? -- while in another a car travels south on Franklin Road, which looks much different than its present-day appearance.

Caldwell, who raised 10 children in "Longview" mansion near her monument, died in 1939. She was 84.

"Mrs. Caldwell's life," the Nashville Tennessean wrote in her obituary, "exercised a benevolent influence on all with whom she came in contact."

In this enlargement of the photo above, a car travels south on Franklin Road.
In another enlargement of the photo above, we find a historical marker near the monument.
A view looking west of the monument. (PHOTO: Courtesy Tennessee State Library and Archives)
A photo in May Winston Caldwell's scrapbook of the original Battle of Nashville monument, which was 
topped by a figure of an angel. (PHOT: Courtesy Tennessee State Library and Archives)
An enlargement of the photo above shows the lay of the land, now occupied by an apartment complex.
An enlargement of the photo above shows the base of the monument.
A present-day view of the base of the Battle of Nashville Peace monument. (Read more on my blog.)

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


-- Nashville Banner, Nov. 12, 1927.
-- Nashville Tennessean, Oct. 3, 1926, June 9, 1927, Dec. 15, 1939.

1 comment:

  1. Great post John. You could fill a book on lost Civil War battlefield sites and their stories.