Ohio group works to restore Ga. Civil War monument

Dec. 29, 2010 at 6:29 a.m.

CINCINNATI (AP) - About five years ago, a small party of men from Cincinnati - all of them descendants of Civil War veterans - made the 600-mile trip down Interstate 75 to the Chickamauga National Battlefield Park to see the monument to Gen. William Haines Lytle, the Cincinnati poet-soldier who died on that field.

They were appalled at what they found on the north Georgia battlefield.

"There was nothing left of it," said Kerry Langdon of Union Township, commander of the Cincinnati Sons of Union Veterans camp that bears Lytle's name. "We were surprised, saddened and disappointed."

What they found was the bare remains of what used to be a majestic pyramid of about 350 black cannonballs, with a bronze placard noting that this was the spot where, on Sept. 20, 1863, Gen. Lytle, a member of one of Cincinnati's founding families, was killed while on horseback, leading his brigade in a counterattack.

Now, they are working with a Civil War preservation group at Chickamauga to do something about it.

The Lytle Monument, erected in 1894, was one of eight "memorial monuments" built by Union veterans on the Chickamauga battlefield to mark the location where general officers died.

But by the time the Cincinnati Sons of the Union Veterans arrived on the battlefield five years ago, the Lytle Monument, tucked away in an obscure, hard-to-reach area of the battlefield, had been reduced to a single layer of cannonballs.

What happened to the monument sounds bizarre and sets the teeth of historical preservationists on edge: the missing cannonballs were either stolen by souvenir seekers or, years ago, by park officials who grabbed the cannonballs on the out-of-the-way monument to make repairs to other, more visible monuments.

"It may be that, during the early days of preservation, it was considered OK to borrow from one monument to fix another," said Patrice Glass, executive director of the Friends of the National Parks at Chickamauga and Chattanooga, the group that is working with Langdon's organization to restore the statue.

"That kind of thing would never happen today," Glass said. "And it only happened here because the Lytle Monument is in a place off the beaten path. I guess they thought no one would notice."

But Langdon and the 25 members of his organization - all the direct descendants of Civil War veterans - have noticed, and they believe it would be dishonorable to the memory of a brave and distinguished soldier to let the diminished monument stand.

They have joined with the Friends organization to raise $65,000 to buy 323 new cannonballs and restore the Lytle Monument to its 1894 appearance and rededicate it on Sept. 20, 2013 - the 150th anniversary of Lytle's death.

So far, the two groups have raised $8,400, with most of it coming from the Cincinnati area.

"This is important to the history of Cincinnati," said Langdon. "This is a favorite son of the city, a brilliant leader. His life was significant to the history of Cincinnati."

Many here know the Lytle name because of the downtown park that sits on the site of the family home, the highway tunnel underneath it; and anyone who has been to Spring Grove Cemetery has seen the towering monument near the cemetery gates that marks the place where he is buried.

The son of one of the city's founding families, William Haines Lytle practiced law here, serving in the state legislature as a Democrat, running unsuccessfully for Ohio lieutenant governor and serving with distinction in the 2nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry in war with Mexico.

By the time the Civil War began in 1861, Lytle was one of the best known poets in the country, in a time when poetry was a popular form of literature, read and memorized by most Americans. Many Americans could recite his most famous poem, "Antony and Cleopatra," with its ironic references to a soldier killed in battle.

When the war broke out, Lytle was appointed to lead an Ohio infantry regiment. He was severely wounded in battle in Sept. 1861 and returned to Cincinnati, but, four months later, was back in the saddle - now a general - and leading troops in battle.

In Sept. 1863, Lytle found himself leading a brigade in the battle of Chickamauga, which ended in defeat for the Union army and was one of the bloodiest battles of the war, exceeded in casualties only by the battle of Gettysburg, which had taken place about 10 weeks earlier.

Lytle was mortally wounded on the second day of the battle on a hillside that is now known as "Lytle Hill."

Lytle the poet was as well-known and well-regarded among Confederate soldiers as he was to those on the Union side.

That is why Confederate soldiers placed a guard around his body until Union soldiers could remove his remains.

"It is one of the wonderful stories of Chickamauga," Glass said. "The respect those Confederate soldiers showed for an opposing general was really touching."

Lytle's body was returned to Cincinnati and an early afternoon funeral was held at Christ Church downtown. Thousands of Cincinnatians lined the route from downtown to Spring Grove Cemetery.

"He was a beloved figure in Cincinnati," Langdon said. "The whole city mourned his death."

A man of Lytle's stature, Langdon said, "should have a proper monument on the battlefield where he died."

Lytle will have it, if the Sons of the Union Veterans and the Friends organization reach the fundraising goal.

Glass said the National Park Service, which operates the military parks at Chickamauga and Chattanooga, will bid out a contract with a foundry to cast the solid-shot cannonballs, which will cost about $200 each.

The rest of the money raised, Glass said, will be used to build a better walkway from the main road to the Lytle Monument and put up new signage directing park visitors to the spot.

"We can't undo what happened to Gen. Lytle's monument," Glass said, "but we can make it right."


Information from: The Cincinnati Enquirer, http://www.enquirer.com



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