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Confederate soldiers still have a memorial on UNC’s campus after Silent Sam’s fall

Alumni War Memorial at UNC, along the sidewalk between Phillips Hall and Memorial Hall on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.
Alumni War Memorial at UNC, along the sidewalk between Phillips Hall and Memorial Hall on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus. Herald-Sun file photo

Silent Sam is gone, for now, but in his absence UNC-Chapel Hill doesn’t lack for a monument to its war dead, Confederates and otherwise.

Campus leaders in the late 2000s built and dedicated the Alumni War Memorial. It stands near Phillips Hall and as of Tuesday honored 715 alumni who lost their lives in any of the wars the U.S. has fought since the school opened in 1795.

The list includes 287 men who perished during the Civil War, who all died in service to the Confederacy. One, Maj. Lucius Junius Johnson, shares their service status though he was a POW who “reportedly took an oath of allegiance” to the Union before his captors released him in late July of 1865.

The count of Civil War dead from UNC is second in number only to the 333 alumni killed during World War II.

But despite the numerous Confederates on its rolls, the people and groups who called for Silent Sam’s removal haven’t criticized the Alumni War Memorial.

To the contrary, the newer monument “is a proper and fitting memorial to those at Carolina who have lost their lives in war,” Ph.D. history student Maya Little said in November, months before she was arrested and charged with defacing Silent Sam during a protest.

Silent Sam and the Alumni War Memorial are “starkly different representations,” with the newer memorial being “a somber reflection on the casualties of war that does not honor cause but seeks to memorialize the dead,” Little said.

What’s more, the Alumni War Memorial “does not celebrate ideas that are fundamentally opposed to our existence as students of color on this campus today, nor does it glorify white supremacy,” she said.

Little said Silent Sam is an entirely different case because UNC’s leaders in the early 20th century intended to honor “the ideals that motivated” the short-lived Confederate government.

She pointed out that UNC’s then-president, Francis Venable, in 1910 told a United Daughters of the Confederacy leader that he wanted a statue to serve “not as a monument to the dead but to a noble ideal and as marking the heroic period of the university’s history.”

Venable added that he was “very much in favor of the Boston design,” an allusion to a proposal from Boston-based Canadian sculptor John Wilson, Silent Sam’s creator.

The Alumni War Memorial features a bronze Book of Names with pull-out tablets. A group headed by Chapel hill businessman Robert Eaves raised $300,000 to pay for its construction.

war memorial 2.jpg
Alumni War Memorial at UNC, along the sidewalk between Phillips Hall and Memorial Hall on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus. Herald-Sun file photo

Officials dedicated the new monument in 2007, with former UNC System President Bill Friday delivering the keynote speech.

In his speech, Friday, a World War II veteran, said the university’s war dead perished “in defense of our freedom to live here and to be responsible, patriotic citizens and public servants.”

He also said, via a rhetorical question, that a society worthy of their sacrifice would be “vigilant in securing freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom of the press, security of our homes and freedom of want among our people,” and gauge whether it’s working to return “civility to public life” and restore “posture of our country as a moral, compassionate and caring nation.”

When dedicated the monument honored 685 people. That number has grown in the years since thanks in large part to continued research by UNC officials, and also because more alumni have since died in action.

The research-induced additions include UNC’s first war casualty, U.S. Navy Capt. Johnston Blakeley, who was skipper of the USS Wasp in the War of 1812.

Blakeley’s ship disappeared while on patrol in the Atlantic Ocean in the fall of 1814. An analysis in the U.S. Naval Institute’s Naval History Magazine speculated that the sloop, overloaded and battle-damaged, foundered during “a seasonal storm in Hurricane Alley” on its way to the Caribbean.

The most recent additions came in 2009. Navy Cmdr. Keith Springle was shot and killed in May of that year by a U.S. Army sergeant in Iraq, according to The Carolina Alumni Review. That August, Army Pfc. Mo Walker died from injuries suffered in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan, according to the Review.

Despite claims that many North Carolinians fought for the Union in the Civil War, that apparently wasn’t true so much for UNC alumni.

University officials have identified only five alumni who served with the Union, the most prominent being Maj. Gen. Francis Preston Blair Jr., the scion of a prominent political family and a corps commander under Gen. William T. Sherman during Sherman’s late-war campaigns in Georgia and the Carolinas.

As none of the five known Union veterans died in service, “their names will not appear” on the memorials to the dead, which also include tablets in nearby Memorial Hall, University Historian Cecelia Moore said.

UNC Archivist Nicholas Graham, blogging about the five in 2017, said researchers “think there are almost certainly more Union veterans who attended UNC, but Blair and his compatriots were “the only ones we know about right now.” That remained unchanged as of late November.

Protesters toppled Silent Sam, the Confederate statue on UNC-Chapel Hill's campus, on Monday after a demonstration in support of a graduate student who faces criminal and honor court charges for throwing red ink and blood on the statue in April.

Ray Gronberg: 919-419-6648, @rcgronberg
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