Restricted First Monument to Unknown Confederate Dead Union City, Tennessee

Jan 28, 2021
First Monument to
Unknown Confederate Dead

Union City, Tennessee

By Norman Dasinger, Jr​

Obion County experienced its share of action during the Civil War due to its location as an important rail junction and as a staging area for Confederate maneuvers into nearby Kentucky. In the early months of 1861, Camp Brown was established just outside Union City. Nearly 10,000 Confederate soldiers trained there in preparation for Leonidas Polk’s march on Columbus, Kentucky in September of 1861. In 1869, local women raised funds to exhume soldiers from graves thorough Obion County including the former Camp Brown and rebury them in the Old Soldiers Cemetery in Union City. Today, it is believed at least forty unidentified Confederate combatants were reinterred there. In addition, a 40 foot tall white marble marker with the inscription “Unknown Confederate Dead” was erected as a memorial to these men on October 21, 1869. Noticeable is the overall appearance of this reconstruction era shrine which utilized funereal symbolism expressing a strong mourning element which differs from most war memorials erected later.

On the day of its dedication, the Union City Brass Band led a procession along with the International Order of Odd Fellows and the local Masonic Lodge. The monument was constructed with a lower cavity and a Bible, a Confederate rifle, a history of the monument and some other items were placed inside this nook. Several years later, vandals broke into this small alcove and removed the items but they left behind a large hole in the marble base. In 1940, the opening was repaired due to the urging of the Leonidas Polk Chapter of the UDC.

Nationally recognized novelist Annie Somers Gilchrist a Dresden, Tennessee native recognized the passionate post war energy of the ladies and the citizens of Obion County by penning a poem in their honor. Part of her original text included these words:

“Ah, broken hearts no doubt have waited long,

For the return of each one sleeping here.”

Again, noting an element of remembrance or bereavement in her style.

In 1900, the cemetery’s leaders decided to allow a single grave to be dug near the 1869 memorial. This was done in order to bury a local citizen: Charles Shepperd. When he died, he ’wanted to be buried with soldiers who had served in the CSA.’ Charles was an African American and during the War Between the States served as the ‘body servant’ of George E. Maney. Born in Franklin, Tennessee Confederate General Maney was a pre Civil War attorney and Mexican War veteran. He organized the 11th​ Tennessee Infantry and fought in the battles of Cheat Mountain, West Virginia and Chickamauga, Georgia among many others. After the Civil War, he became a powerful Republican politician even allowing his daughter to marry a former Union officer of the 15th​ Massachusetts. He served as an ambassador to several South American countries from 1881 to 1883.

This memorial is, if not the first then one of the first, Confederate monuments in Tennessee. Some have made the claim that it is the ‘first ever’ stone tribute dedicated to the ‘unknown soldier’ that fought for the South in the Civil War.