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During the Civil War, Fort Smith and Sebastian County primarily supported the Confederacy, and the town was occupied by both United States and Confederates forces. Many Confederate dead were buried in the post's cemetery, which was designated as Fort Smith National Cemetery in 1867. In the 1870s, a small monument was erected in the cemetery to several Confederate generals, but it was destroyed by a tornado in 1898. A local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy formed shortly after and raised over $2,300 to erect a large replacement monument honoring Confederate dead. The United States government refused to allow the Confederate monument on cemetery grounds, so the city allowed the monument to be erected on courthouse grounds. It was dedicated on September 10, 1903 to much fanfare. In the summer of 2020, a local petition circulated calling for the monuments removal, but the city has yet to take any course of action regarding the monument.

Fort Smith Confederate Monument

Fort Smith Confederate Monument

James H. Berry

James H. Berry

Arkansas seceded following the Confederate firing upon Fort Sumter and Abraham Lincoln's call for troops in April 1861. That same month, Fort Smith was evacuated by the United States army and occupied by the Confederacy. During the Civil War, Fort Smith and Sebastian County provided many recruits to the Confederate army, although a number of local citizens enlisted in the Union army as well. In August of 1863, following Confederate defeat at the Battle of Honey Springs in nearby Indian Territory, Union forces occupied the town. They fortified and controlled the town until war's end, although Confederate forces tested its defenses several times. In 1867 following the war, the government designed the post's cemetery as Fort Smith National Cemetery, in which nearly 500 Confederate casualties are buried.

The first efforts to commemorate the Confederate dead arose in the 1870s, when a small sandstone monument was erected in the cemetery honoring dead Confederate Generals Alexander E. Steen and James McIntosh. It was destroyed by a tornado, however, in January 1898. A temporary marker to "The Unknown Confederate Dead" was erected, but a local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy was formed, in part from a desire to "to fulfill the sacred charity toward monuments to our dead."[2]

Through various civic events and the help of the United Confederate Veterans, the UDC raised over $2,300 for the monument. The marble monument depicts a Confederate soldier standing vigil atop a granite shaft. The monument is inscribed:

"Lest We Forget


Our Confederate Dead

Erected by the Varina Jefferson Davis Chapter,

Daughters of Confederacy

Fort Smith, Ark. 1903"[2]

The monument was intended to go into the National Cemetery as its predecessors, but in 1902, the Quartermaster General of the United States Army and Secretary of War Elihu Root denied the UDC permission to place the monument on cemetery grounds. As the monument featured a Confederate soldier, Confederate flags, and the phrase "Lest We Forget," the government "suggested modifications."[2] The Federal government's rejection of these Lost Cause symbols infuriated the local press. The city of Fort Smith stepped in and allowed the UDC to place the monument on Sebastian County Courthouse grounds.

The monument was dedicated on September 10, 1903. The mayor asked local business to close for the ceremony, and citizens and veterans alike poured into the town. The Fort Smith Times noted, "octogenarians lost the shuffle of age and stepped briskly along the streets with minds quickened and the spirit of '61 dominant."[1] The mayor asked lo Among the speakers was Senator James H. Berry, himself a Confederate veteran and active member of the United Confederate Veterans. Berry blasted the government's refusal to allow the monument into the National Cemetery, stating "it is our cause, it is our monument, and they are our dead, and we will never permit any man who is not in sympathy with the cause to say what shall be engraved upon it, or write the dedication or epitaph of our dead soldiers.”[1]

In 2020, amidst a nationwide reckoning with systemic racism and Confederate monuments, local resident Danielle Hoopes began a petition calling for the monument's removal from courthouse grounds. The petition declared, "As citizens of Fort Smith, Arkansas, and the U.S., that want to see our cities grow and prosper, we should be open and welcoming to all people. This statue is a clear and present ode to the values of the Confederacy that we do not share."[3] The local UDC opposes the monuments removal. As their lawyer Joey McCutchen claimed, "Many Confederate monuments were to remember the dead. The Confederate monument on the Sebastian County Courthouse is just that -- a reminder that too many people died. Learn from the past and do not repeat it."[6]

The county is apparently weighing options and reaching out to various parties, but has not yet taken any action regarding the monument. Fort Smith Mayor George McGill praised the discussion: "We are watching democracy at work, citizens are finding meaningful and effective ways to participate in the decision-making processes and the actions that affect them in their city."[6]

1. Mark K. Christ. "Fort Smith Confederate Monument." February 12, 2020. Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Web. Accessed August 27, 2020.

2. "Fort Smith Confederate Monument." April 26, 1996. National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior. Web. Accessed August 27, 2020.

3. "Movement underway to remove Fort Smith Confederate statue." June 10, 2020. Southwest Times Record. Web. Accessed August 27, 2020.

4. Frank Arey. "Action at Fort Smith." December 3, 2018. Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Web. Accessed August 18, 2020.

5. Charles Russell Logan. “Something So Dim It Must Be Holy”: Civil War Commemorative Sculpture in Arkansas, 1886–1934. Little Rock: Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, 1996. Digitized.

6. Thomas Saccente. "Fort Smith petition calls for removal of Confederate statue." June 15, 2020. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Web. Accessed August 31, 2020.

7. George W. Balogh. "James Henderson Berry (1841-1913)." January 25, 2017. Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Web. Accessed August 31, 2020.

8. Edwin C. Bearss and Arrell M. Gibson. Fort Smith: Little Gibraltar on the Arkansas. 2nd ed. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Thomas Saccente, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:

Arkansas State Archives: