Missouri was a deeply divided border state during the Civil War, pitting neighbors and kin against one another. As St. Louis was a Union stronghold, it is not surprising that even 50 years after the war ended, the erection of the Confederate Memorial was controversial.
It was dedicated in December 1914 after the Ladies’ Confederate Monument Association spent 15 years raising $23,000 for its construction. To avoid provoking further antagonism to the project, the Association declared that the design they would choose could not depict any figure of a Confederate soldier or object of modern warfare.
The resulting monument features a 32-foot-high granite shaft with a low relief figure of “The Angel of the Spirit of the Confederacy.” Below is a bronze group, sculpted by George Julian Zolnay, depicting the response of the South to this spirit as a family sends a youth off to war.
Of Hungarian birth, Zolnay had come to St. Louis as director of the art department for the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition and remained here for some years afterward, teaching at Washington University and the Art Academy in University City.
Choosing Zolnay’s model over two other submissions caused another battle when one of the losers, Frederick Ruckstull, wrote to the committee demanding that Zolnay’s design be eliminated, as the male figure too closely depicted a soldier. Calling the letter “contemptible,” Zolnay shot back that Ruckstull’s allegorical group, featuring figures of Glory, History, Poetry and Sorrow, was “suitable for a wedding cake.”
On the back of the shaft, designed by William Trueblood, is a tribute “To the Memory of the Soldiers and Sailors of the Southern Confederacy,” written by St. Louis minister Robert Catlett Cave, who had served as a Confederate soldier from Virginia. Beneath that is a quotation by Robert E. Lee: “We had sacred principles to maintain and rights to defend for which we were duty bound to do our best, even if we perished in the endeavor.”
The memorial was rededicated on December 4, 1964, on its 50th anniversary.
Updates: In June 2015, Mayor Francis Slay published this blog post about the Confederate Memorial and the road it sits on. In December 2015, a committee appointed by Mayor Slay to reappraise the Memorial came out with its report and recommendation.