Monday, July 19, 2021

Rebels' 'vandalism': Defacement of Andrew Jackson monument

A cropped version of a Harper's Weekly illustration from July 5, 1862, of a park monument
to Andrew Jackson in Memphis, Tenn. It was defaced by Confederate sympathizers.

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Monuments to Andrew Jackson -- a racist, ethnic cleanser, and tyrant to some; a hero to others -- literally and figuratively have taken a beating recently. In June 2020, protesters in Washington climbed atop the sculpture of the seventh U.S. president in Lafayette Square opposite the White House, tying ropes around Jackson and his horse before attempting to pull the statue from its base, which was defaced with spray paint. In July 2020, the Jackson (Miss.) city council voted to remove a bronze statue of "Old Hickory" from City Hall grounds.

This Andrew Jackson monument in Lafayette Square,
opposite the White House, was defaced in 2020.
(Wikipedia | AgnosticPreachersKid)
Jackson, who died in 1845, was a flashpoint during the Civil War, too.

In the center of Union-occupied Memphis, Tenn., in June 1862 was a beautiful park filled with trees, flowers, shrubbery, and "benches for the accommodation of loungers of both sexes." Surrounded by an iron railing, the public square -- lighted by gas at night -- was a premier gathering spot. Authorities aimed to keep it that way -- dogs were discouraged, and anyone who meddled with the shrubbery risked a $10 fine, a significant sum. (You can still visit Court Square, where scenes from The Firm, the 1993 movie starring Tom Cruise and Gene Hackman, were filmed.)

In the park's northwestern section, surrounded by a circular iron fence and "ornamented by carefully trained shrubbery," rested a large, marble bust of Jackson atop a tall pedestal. (The former president was a co-founder of Memphis.) "Honor and gratitude to those who have filled the measure of their country’s glory," read an inscription in the pedestal's south side. On the north side appeared these words:


That was a take on Jackson's famous utterance, made at an 1830 Thomas Jefferson birthday dinner, about federal law superseding authority of individual states. (Read more about the Nullification Crisis and its Civil War ramifications here.) 

A circa-1844 daguerreotype of 78-year-old
former president Andrew Jackson.
Before the Rebels high-tailed it out of Memphis in early June 1862, someone was determined to erase the words of the "Hero of New Orleans." Wrote a Chicago newspaper correspondent:

During the occupancy of Memphis by Gen. [Sterling] Price’s rebel army, a Col. Brunt rendered himself forever notorious and forever infamous by defacing and partly erasing the word federal in the above inscription. The monument still stands, however, a lasting rebuke to the rebels and a reminder of the reckless and venom minded policy of some of the men who have led its armies. The word federal has not been entirely effaced. It is yet readable, and is fast coming out of the dust of anarchy and confusion which for a twelve-month [period] have obscured it.

In addition to the word "Federal," the first two letters of "Union" were chipped by "some rampant rebel," another newspaper correspondent reported, "presenting an appearance as if a small hammer had been several times struck across the obnoxious words." 

Continued the correspondent: "It was a very feeble attempt at defacement of the words that grated harshly on treason's ear." The bust reportedly suffered the wrath of Rebel rabblerousers, too. (Damn kids!)

A Union soldier recalled a visit to the Court Square in late fall 1862. " of our company marched in, and it done me good to see them in a ring around the marble bust of General Jackson to which they showed their respects with presenting arms," wrote 30th Iowa quartermaster sergeant John Caleb Lockwood. "Upon the marble pillars upon which the bust of the general stands are cut the words, 'The Federal Union—it must be preserved.' The words 'Federal' I noticed were defaced as though it was intended to be obliterated. I thought I could see from the countenances of the citizens that we were not very welcome visitors."

An uncropped version of an illustration of the Jackson monument park in Memphis
from Harper's Weekly on July 5, 1862. (CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE.)

Another Northern visitor was infuriated by the damage. "Vain attempt to obliterate the noblest utterance of Tennessee's favorite son!" he wrote. "There it stands, marred but still legible, a monument of vandalism of the perpetrators, and of the still greater vandalism and infamy of the rebels, who would not only obliterate the mute words on the marble but who have employed their mightiest energies to destroy the Federal Union itself, with all its living interests."

Now I couldn't track down "Col. Brunt," whose descendants may be aghast by his alleged behavior. As for the bust of Jackson, well, you can visit it at the D’Army Bailey County Courthouse in Memphis. Be warned: "It bears ample evidence of the turbulent reaction to Jackson."   

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

  • Chicago Tribune, June 18, 1862.
  • Harper's Weekly, July 5, 1862.
  • John Caleb Lockwood letter to his wife, Nov. 7, 1862, William Griffing's Spared & Shared site (Letter 2), accessed July 20, 2021.
  • Nashville Daily Union, June 22, 1862.
  • The Presbyter, Cincinnati, Ohio, July 31, 1862.

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