This presentation is part of the International Cemetery Preservation Summit, April 8-10, 2014 Niagara Falls, NY.
Reimagining August Bloedner’s 32nd Indiana Infantry Monument (1862) by Sara Amy Leach
This presentation is about the creation of a successor monument to the historic 32nd Indiana Infantry Monument in Cave Hill National Cemetery, Louisville, Kentucky. The original monument—an detailed, inspired and improvised grave marker that was permanently removed from its cemetery context for preservation—is one of the oldest U.S. Civil War monuments.
The decade-long project to preserve the historic monument was warranted by its deteriorating physical condition; creating a successor was justified by the monument’s age and cultural association. A German-American soldier carved it to memorialize soldiers who had recently immigrated to the United States, enlisted in Union forces and, ten months into the Civil War, were killed in battle. The monument combines Bloedner’s familiarity with iconic American images including the bald eagle and flag with the fraktur-style lettering of the German inscription. The text, however, depicts the carver’s somewhat lesser understanding of the English language and geography of his new home.
By 2000, the limestone monument was failing badly and approximately 50 percent of the inscription was lost. In December 2008, the National Cemetery Administration (NCA) removed the monument from the cemetery. Reversing the damage caused by exposure to the elements was impossible, but NCA sought to stabilize the monument with the assistance of Conservation Solutions, Inc. (CSI). CSI conservator Patty Miller detailed their treatment in the presentation “Conservation of the Augustus Bloedner Monument, Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville, Kentucky” at NCPTT’s 2009 Nationwide Cemetery Preservation Summit in Tennessee. In August 2010, NCA loaned the monument to Louisville’s Frazier History Museum, just a few miles from Cave Hill National Cemetery, where it is on public display.
Once NCA made the decision to permanently remove the monument from the cemetery for long-term preservation, the focus turned toward how to honor both the soldiers interred at Cave Hill and the unique monument that marked their graves for more than 140 years. Should the graves only be marked by the existing standard government-issued headstones or should the 32nd Indiana Infantry monument be re-created in some form? If recreated, how should the successor monument embody the character and appearance associated with the old-world craftsmanship of the original, in an era when most cemetery monuments are mechanically produced? And in keeping with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties, how would the successor be “differentiated from the old [monument and be] compatible with the massing, size, scale, and architectural features to protect the historic integrity of the property and its environment”—the cemetery?
NCA and its contractor, the non-profit Heritage Preservation Inc., sought out a contemporary artist who understood nineteenth-century calligraphy and traditional carving techniques. NCA selected The John Stevens Shop of Newport, Rhode Island, under the leadership of Nicholas Benson, to create the successor 32nd Indiana Infantry monument. The shop was founded in 1705, and Mr. Benson is a third-generation master carver.
With more than half of the inscription missing, a major challenge was the absence of historic documentation on which to base the inscription and an accurate layout. A photograph taken ca.1955 when the monument was less deteriorated and an 1871 description published in a German-language newspaper were key sources. Primary research about the regiment and the deceased soldiers provided valuable information.
The successor monument was dedicated 150 years after the battle in which the honored 32nd Indiana infantrymen died. Hand-carved to evoke the original’s spirit and craftsmanship, the major content difference between the two monuments is an English translation of the German inscription on the reverse side. An interpretive sign installed nearby explains the creation of the new monument in the cemetery and where to view the original monument
On December 17, 1861, the 32nd Indiana Infantry (nicknamed the “1st German” regiment as it consisted entirely of German immigrants) engaged Confederate forces near Munfordville, Kentucky, in the Battle of Rowlett’s Station. Thirteen men in the regiment were killed; eleven were buried on the battlefield. Pvt. August Bloedner, a stone-mason by trade, carved the monument in late January or early February 1862 to honor the fallen men. It was placed atop the soldiers’ graves near the field of battle. In 1867 the remains of the eleven soldiers and the monument were relocated to Cave Hill National Cemetery. The monument, placed on a new base, remained at Cave Hill National Cemetery until 2008.
NCA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, oversees 131 national cemeteries and 33 soldiers’ lots. More than half of these cemeteries originated during or immediately after the Civil War. NCA oversees an estimated 1,124 monuments located throughout its properties.
More information about the project can be found at: http://www.cem.va.gov/history/index.asp under “32nd Indiana Infantry (Bloedner) Monument Project.”
Sara Amy Leach is the Senior Historian, National Cemetery Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Since joining NCA in 2001, she has built an interdisciplinary History Program that is responsible for original research, oral history, collections management, preservation planning, conservation and interpretation.
Previously she spent 13 years with the National Park Service (NPS) as an historian and cultural resource manager in Washington D.C., regional and park offices. She has authored and edited books and articles about historic resources and preservation for the government and as a freelance writer.
Leach earned an MA in Architectural History and certificate in Historic Preservation from University of Virginia; and a BA in Journalism and a BFA in Art History from Ohio Wesleyan University.