The Mother of All Southern Unionists Monuments

Knoxville National Cemetery


The Knoxville National Cemetery, established in 1863, is located within the city limits of Knoxville in Knox County. The site is nearly square in shape, and the burial sections are arranged in the shape of a large circle, separated by conveniently arranged walks. Each section forms a quarter of the large circle, while the headstones at the graves form circles, all converging toward the intersection of two walks, where the flagpole is located. The grounds are enclosed by a stone wall, constructed in 1875, on the north side of which is an iron fence. The main entrance is situated at the center of the south side and is protected by a double iron gate.

Noted Burials

There are two Medal of Honor recipients buried in the Knoxville National Cemetery. Troy A. McGill, Sergeant, U.S. Army, Troop G, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division -World War II – Section B, Grave 6294.
Timothy Spillane, Private, Company C, 16th Pennsylvania Cavalry, Civil War – Section A, Grave 3319.

Photos of tombstones located at Knoxville National Cemetery


Cooper, Joseph A., brigadier-general was born in Pulaski county, Ky., Nov. 25, 1823. He served during the Mexican war in the 4th Tenn. infantry, then became a planter, and at the outbreak of the Civil war entered the Union army as captain in the 1st Tenn. infantry. He was promoted colonel of the 6th Tenn. infantry in 1862, served in East Tennessee and Georgia, and on July 4, 1864, was made brigadier-general, in which capacity he commanded in the march through Georgia. He commanded a division in the battle of Nashville, and in North Carolina in 1865. On March 13, 1865, he was brevetted major-general of volunteers. Returning to Tennessee in 1866, he was commander of state troops in 1866 and 1867, and subsequently was from 1869 to 1879 collector of internal revenue. He then resumed farming in Kansas.

Significant Monuments/Memorials
Grand Army of the Republic Monument – A 60-foot-high monument, prominently displayed in the northeast corner of the national cemetery, was erected by members of the Department of Tennessee, Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.). Department Commander H. C. Whittaker first publicly outlined the plan on March 23, 1893, during the tenth annual G.A.R. encampment at Harriman. A memorial committee was chaired by William Rule, influential editor of the Knoxville Daily Journal, who later wrote that plans for the memorial were first presented at the Athens encampment in 1892. There was little hope that the state would sanction funding for a Union monument; this sadly was a burden each veteran and his friends would have to bear. After a promising beginning in 1893, the funding campaign became dismally inactive. Three years later, only $1,300 had been collected. In the spring of 1896, the group forwarded, for the approval of the United States Quartermaster General, the chief supervising agency for all G.A.R. construction, a design for the monument. The structure was to be a 50-foot Tennessee marble shaft, embellished with unidentified bronze figures on the corners, and a single statue at the summit. A design was agreed upon and, on May 8, 1896, approved by the United States Quartermaster’s Office. Approval was on the condition that no part of the expense attending the work be made a charge against the United States.

In the summer, the memorial committee signed a contract with William B. McMullen, president of the Tennessee Producers Marble Company and the Southern Monument Company, for material and construction, and with Colonel William A. Gage for engineering consultation. The design showed that flanking entrances were to lead, as if from drawbridges, into a small sanctuary dressed entirely with marble. In its west wall was to be an “art glass” window. The east wall would be hung with tablets detailing regimental histories. The monument was a miniature medieval fortress complete with its unique inner room, stained glass window and mosaic star. David H. Geddes, chief carver and foreman at the Southern Monument Company, and his assistants apparently had admirably sculpted the crenelated bastions, turrets, corbelled table, decorative frieze, round-arch openings, and rusticated wall surfaces. But, looking high over Holston Street to the central turret, one found not only a sentry peering steadfastly toward the southern horizon, but a ferocious bronze eagle with wings widely spread. The monument cost $11,300 and was nearly paid for by soldier residents of the state. Of the estimated 7,000 donations, most came as one-dollar offerings from dutiful pensioners. The monument was formally turned over to the Government and accepted by the Secretary of War on October 24, 1901.

The Union Army monument at the Knoxville National Cemetery in Knoxville, Tennessee, USA, photographed in c. 1900-1904. The eagle atop the monument was destroyed by lightning in 1904, and has since been replaced by a soldier.

On August 22, 1904, a powerful bolt of lightning struck the monument. Only the steps and part of the foundation remained, and these were scarred. The stones and eagle, its wings “closely cropped at its body as evenly as if the work had been done by an instrument,” were flung to the ground and into the street. Lightning had apparently been attracted to a steel rod that anchored the eagle to the shaft; consequently, the sculpture had sustained a direct hit. Through the state department, the committee sponsored G.A.R. General Orders No 2, calling for immediate re-construction. United States Representative Henry R. Gibson introduced before the House a bill calling for $10,000 to secure the repairs. The bill passed on April 25, 1905, but the appropriation was for a maximum of $5,000 or “so much thereof might be necessary to repair the monument.”  In November 1905, the committee retained Baumann Brothers, Incorporated, of Knoxville as the consulting architect. The Baumann design was to have closely duplicated the original plan. Re-construction began the next May, following acceptance of a $4,300 bid submitted by the Fenton Construction Company. The bronze eagle was replaced with an eight-foot-tall soldier, taking his post on top of the castle’s main turret. The coat of arms was left off, for fear it would draw more lightning. The project was completed on October 15, 1906. A fanciful local legend identified the soldier figure with General John T. Wilder, who was the only ranking general on the memorial committee.

John Thomas Wilder

John Thomas Wilder

Union General Wilder first came to Tennessee in 1863, when he marched his Indiana brigade through what is now Rockwood to join the Union Army at Chattanooga. He took part in the Battle of Chickamauga and, on that battlefield, there is an imposing monument to him and his brigade. While camping in what is now Rockwood, General Wilder, a mineralogist and engineer, noticed signs of both coal and iron ore in close proximity. After the war, he came back to Knoxville, established the Roane Iron Company, and operated it for several years. During the McKinley Administration, he was appointed Federal pension agent and maintained an office in the old post office. Every three months, he issued pension checks to hundreds of Union veterans.


Knoxville National Cemetery, Knoxville, Tennessee – Veteran Cemeteries on



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Categories: Southern Unionists

Author:North Carolina Union Volunteers

They have been forgotten, those white Southerners who fought on the Union side. They are the unknown soldiers of the Civil War. In the vast and growing literature of that conflict they remain practically unmentioned. There are historic reasons why this has been so, but it has not been because the men are historically unimportant or undeserving of remembrance. Not at all. They made a difference in the outcome of the war: without them, it would not have ended when and as it did. - Lincoln’s Loyalists

In the hour of their country’s peril, they were loyal and true.

Despite the assertions of southern governors that Lincoln would get no troops from the South to preserve the Union, every Confederate state except South Carolina provided at least a battalion of white troops for the Union Army.

2 Comments on “The Mother of All Southern Unionists Monuments”

  1. March 16, 2013 at 7:50 pm #

    Reblogged this on Civil War Monuments of North and South Carolina.


  1. $144,444 To Clean A Southern Civil War Monument | North Carolina Union Volunteers - March 22, 2013

    […] The Mother Of All Southern Unionists Monuments […]

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