As around the country people call for the removal of Confederate monuments from courthouses and city centers, Evansville’s monument remains controversy-free.
“Our office has not received any inquiries about the monument from the public,” said Ella Johnson-Watson, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office.
Evansville’s Confederate monument sits by the Civil War section of Oak Hill Cemetery, where several Confederate soldiers are believed to be buried. The memorial features a statue of a Confederate officer, above a plaque with the names of 24 soldiers who died in Evansville
After protesters toppled a Confederate monument in Durham, N.C. Monday, Oak Hill Cemetery Director Chris Cook worried Evansville’s monument would face a similar fate. It was erected around the same time – and by the same organization.
The Evansville chapter of The Daughters of the Confederacy placed the statue at Oak Hill Cemetery in 1904.
“The chapters of the organization in nearly every city of the South have already erected similar monuments … in the public squares and parks of many of the towns,” the Evansville Courier wrote in 1903. “The Evansville ladies feel they cannot afford to be behind in the movement and are elated at their success.”
But despite the common origin, local officials say Evansville’s monument lacks controversy.
“It’s a grave marker,” Johnson-Watson said. “This community has always had a tradition of treating the deceased with dignity. The reality is, there was a Civil War and Confederate soldiers were treated in Evansville, Indiana, and some died here.”
Most of the dead were injured in the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862. Injured Confederate soldiers were brought to Evansville by boat alongside injured Union men, said Vanderburgh County Historian Stan Schmidt.
There are likely more than 24 Confederate soldiers buried at Oak Hill.
“You have to remember, there were no such thing as dog tags back then,” Schmidt said. “Sometimes they would scribble a note to put in their pocket with their name on it and their unit.”
After the Battle of Shiloh, more than 20,000 men died and cities with hospitals were overrun by injured troops. Evansville, which had four hospitals, took in hundreds of wounded.
There was no federally organized effort to rescue the injured, so local municipalities would send boats to retrieve whoever they could.
“The Army just wasn’t prepared for casualties like that,” Schmidt said. “After the hospital filled up, people started sending wounded soldiers to people’s homes.”
Each day, local newspapers published the names of wounded soldiers brought to town, and names of the dead. Those lists were shared with newspapers around the country, and in many cases they were the only record of the casualties.
The dead soldiers were buried quickly at Oak Hill. The Confederate graves were marked with painted wooded slabs that have long since rotten away.
Some historians guess that the Confederate soldiers were buried alongside the Union soldiers, though there is no way to know for certain. By the time the Daughters of the Confederacy erected the Oak Hill monument, the exact locations of the graves were already lost.