Civil War Monument at Forest Hill Cemetery
Until recently, cemeteries essentially were something I have mostly hoped to stay out of for as long as humanly possible.
But on a recent visit to Boone-Hutcheson Cemetery, the beauty of the rural surroundings captivated me. The property is nothing short of beautiful to behold with a gorgeous backdrop of the Big Walnut Valley creating postcard-like photo opportunities all around.
Subsequently, a brief stop at Blackstock Cemetery to look for a specific headstone of the first Putnam County soldier killed during the Civil War evolved into a local history lesson. Old headstones beckoned right and left, offering brief but intriguing details about lives so long ago lost.
Likewise, an excursion to Greencastle's Forest Hill Cemetery to grab a couple of photos to publicize the upcoming Heritage Preservation Society event proved equally enlightening. Again, I found myself immersed in local history, surrounded by the presence of Lilly family members, the gravesite of Pearl Bryan (but not her head), the resting place of Revolutionary War Sgt. Cunningham (but not his body) and other dignitaries of local note.
What I had come to dutifully document was the historic Civil War Soldiers Monument that stands nearly 30 feet high and bears the names of 321 valiant Putnam County soldiers who died during the epic War Between the States. Rededication of the monument is set for 2 p.m. Sunday at the cemetery.
The monument -- dedicated on July 2, 1870 -- was designed, history tells us, to be a "crowning eminence" in the local cemetery -- which just five years earlier had opened south of Greencastle's city limits at the time.
Accolades have abounded over the lifetime of the monument.
The Civil War Round Table of West Central Indiana has called the Forest Hill memorial "one of the true hidden treasures around here." It was just the third such memorial to Civil War soldiers to be erected in Indiana after the war. And to this day, it remains one of the more unique, experts agree.
"There is no other figure like him in the state," the website Sculptural Civil War Monuments in Indiana states regarding what it calls "the unusually seated cavalry soldier."
The statue of the soldier atop the monument is considered a "faithful portrayal of a Civil War volunteer," according to documents from the 1870 dedication ceremony.
Suffice it to say, such a monument needed to be preserved. Absolutely had to be saved. And acting as the 150th anniversary of the Civil War came and went proved to be nothing short of perfect timing.
And as I sit here, constructing this piece from my little corner of the world -- a couple floors above the courthouse square -- it is not lost on me how significant this perch must be.
For it was right here, just a few feet below where I sit (about second-floor courthouse level at Franklin and Jackson streets), where my longtime predecessor George Langsdale, onetime editor of the Greencastle Banner, spearheaded a movement that would result in the erection of the classic Soldiers and Sailors Monument in downtown Indianapolis.
On a wintry eve in 1875, it was Langsdale who proposed launching a movement to erect a monument honoring Hoosier veterans of the war, editorializing that "it would seem that they are in absolute need of a soldiers' monument over at Indianapolis, and that quickly let it be erected in the most public place, and then the school children massed around it and told for what the Union soldier which it typifies fought and died."
His battle cry was ultimately answered.
We could only hope for a similar result when our current call to arms began in 2012, urging the intrepid group dedicated to preserving our Civil War monument at Forest Hill to carry on and keep moving forward in an effort that has now famously lasted longer than the war itself.
A monumental task pure and simple. But certainly not as monumental an undertaking as the original enormous and colossal Soldiers and Sailors Monument project or even its most recent revitalization.
Suffice it to say, we needed to make the Forest Hill restoration happen or most assuredly we would have lost a piece of our history we would all have lived to regret.
Rest assured, old George Langsdale never would have let that happen.
And as we promised in 2015: Neither would I.
Enjoy the monument. Enjoy the rededication.
Hopefully it's a piece of history they'll be talking about another hundred years from now.
And we all made it happen.