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

Sara Amy Leach:  The most fun I have at work is collecting postcards, cemeteries off of eBay and garage sales.  Good afternoon, this presentation is essentially phase tow of a ten year project by the national cemetery association to address the needs of it’s 30nd Indiana Infantry monument.  Created in early 1862, it is the oldest Civil War monument as we know of.  Phase one, conservation of the original artifact, was presented by Conservation Solutions Inc. at the Nashville Nationwide Summit in 2009.  Phase two, which I will tell you about, is about the creation of a successor monument that we placed back in Louisville’s Cave Hill National Cemetery in Kentucky.

NCA and it’s advisers and stakeholders including prime contractor Heritage Preservation Inc., strived to find the right word for what we aimed to achieve.  It’s not a replica or facsimile.  It’s not a replacement and it’s not really new.  We agreed that it was the successor 32nd Indiana Infantry Monument, and it was dedicated in 2011.  But before I go there, I want to give you a brief recap of phase one; and this is a remarkable monument. …

In the two decades before the Civil War, approximately 1.5 million German’s immigrated to the United States.  The majority settled in the industrialized north for the job opportunities, in particular Pennsylvania, the Ohio River Valley, and the Mid West cities.  After the  Civil War started, a handful of Northern States established of Union Regiments consisted of entirely of German Immigrants.  The 32nd Indiana Infantry was one of these.  Organized in Indianapolis during the summer, 1861, recruits came from Indianapolis and Cincinnati.  That fall the regiment marched to Louisville to join the army of the Ohio.  The troops first action was on December 17, 1861 at the Battle of Rallots Station outside of Mumfordville, 70 miles south of Louisville.  There’s a map here that puts this in perspective for you.

Original (left) and successor(right) Monument.

Original (left) and successor(right) Monument.

The battle was small in scope … and it aimed at keeping a Green River bridge out of Confederate hands.  The 32nd Indiana Infantry succeeded but 13 men were killed.  … Private August Bludner, as it’s pronounced we learned, of the 32nd carved a monument to mark the graves of these men while the regiment was camped at the battle site for approximately 6 weeks.  This is during the winter.  He used the only stone available, a substandard St. Genevieve Limestone.  The inscription is in German. Today we know this stone contains a significant amount of iron oxide that over time reacts to moisture by expanding allowing the surface to fracture.

The monument marks the graves thirt, I’m sorry, eleven of the 13 soldiers, and a small fence initially was constructed around the site.  We know this based on the drawing I’m showing you, but captain Adolf Metsner.  He labelled this burial place First victims of the 32nd Indiana.  Bludner studied to be a sculptor in Germany before immigrating to the United states in 1949, he worked here as a stone cutter and carpenter.  He survived the war but no other works are attributed to him as we know of.  At war’s end, the Quarter Master General of the Army undertook the task of located remains of all Union Soldiers scattered across this theater and re-enterd them into what were new national cemeteries.  So in 1851, the army moved the 11 bodies, and the monument Private Bludner created to Cave Hill National Cemetery.  This is an early map of the National Cemetery and the monument is shown by the arrow.

The national cemetery here is embedded in the private Cave Hill Cemetery.  If you are familiar with it, it’s a beautiful Royal style burial ground established in 1848.  Here the monument was placed on a new base on a much higher quality Bedford Limestone.  That was inscribed in English, quote, “In memory of the first of victims of the 32nd Regiment Indiana Volunteers who fell at the battle of Rallot Station December 17, 1861.”  And I’m showing you that on the screen.

Detail of 32nd Infantry Monument at Cave Hill National Cemetery, 2008

Detail of 32nd Infantry Monument at Cave Hill National Cemetery, 2008

Now jump ahead about 140 years.  The poor quality stone, and environmental and man made impacts had led to severe deterioration.  By 2004 more than half the inscription was gone.  The base was still in very good condition.  NCA’s efforts to stabilize, protect, and deal with the material failures in situ were futile.  With input from subject matter experts we’ve presided to relocate the monument into a climate controlled facility.  And I want to point out a few key points about this notable inscription.  It is in German, in this fracture style script.  It briefly describes the battle, lists the names of the 13 men, their birth, dates and birth places. …

The central freeze contains an eagle with outstretched wings clutching a cannon.  An eagle is flanked by American flags, and olive sprig, and an oak branch traditional American Iconic Images.  But the combination of familiar American Imagery and the old world German lettering creates sort of a delicious tension about time and place and culture, and it elevates the monuments significance. … Moving forward quickly.  Read this from top left clockwise.  “On December 17, 2008, the 147th anniversary of the battle of Rallot Station, removed the monument indoors for conservation.”  It was formerly delisted from the National Register at that time.  In 2009 it was cleaned and treated to consolidate  friable, loose fragments.

Indiana Infantry Monument cleaned and treated to consolidate friable, loose fragments, 2009.

Indiana Infantry Monument cleaned and treated to consolidate friable, loose fragments, 2009.

At NCA which had no space to exhibit this building at the cemetery or even near by, entered into a long term agreement, or loan agreement with the Frazier History Museum.  They changed their name since we entered into the agreement in downtown Louisville.  And it was installed here in 2010. …

All the time we were working on the old monument, NCA was anticipating the successor monument.  Criteria included hand carving to capture the character and texture of the original, preferably in Indiana Limestone of the same color.  Thanks to Period Publications we had two, and only two excellent sources for the inscription.  I’m showing you details of both.  On the right is a 1955 photo from the Louisville courier, and on the left, is a detail from an 1871 article from a German language, The Louisville Anzeiger Newspaper.  …
Turns of phrase that are carved in the monument, demonstrate the immigrant’s lack of familiarity of his new home, and as he’s describing our country he call’s it, “the republic of the United States of North America.”  The depiction of the eagle sort of a long chicken like neck; we were sort of laughing about this a long time ago, is consistent with other German American artists working in this country around 1860.
NCA aimed to create a modern monument, although we had this inspirational original to follow, but we wanted these two to look alike, to at least to create a strong visual relationship between them.  So we posed 3 design alternatives  the Kentucky officials who we were consulting with, the community which were very interested in both the old and; the old monument and what we are going to do with it as part of our consultation process.  And we went through a public meeting process in Louisville, and people came.  We shared three options for them.  I’m only showing you two.  The first one would be the exact replica, German on one side, nothing on the back, no interpretation.  We had these two that we presented.  The one at the top is basically the existing monument with the English translation on the rear, and a date, a largely generic rectangular version of this that would not at all be confused with the original.   It was clear from the meeting that the top version was the one that people wanted to go with.

Once the monuments appearance was essentially determined a search for the carver began.  Physical samples submitted by perspective vendors were an essential means for selecting the most qualified person, or persons.  We received three samples as part of the bidding process.  Those are the three and I’m illustrating them to you in this format because you can see them next to each other.  I’m not showing you the two that did not win, (laughter) if you want to call it that.  The three were included in an exhibit that was curated by Ann Tate, called the Art of the Marble Memorial Historic and Contemporary.  And this was briefly displayed at the Rutland Art association, Chaffee Art Center in Vermont, which was an interesting turn on our process.  That is the sample that we selected, the carver we’d selected is the person who carved the detail there.  …

Heritage Preservation contracted with Nicolas Benson, owner of the John Stephen Shop establish 1705 in Newport, Road Island on our behalf.  Benson is a third generation Master of hand letter carving whose crisp and elegant technique is perfectly suited to our project because we have this very unique script to recreate.  He has so many honors, I simply excerpt from his bio.  It was quite an amazing process because he managed to squeeze our project in between our other commissions like the letters on the MLK Junior national Monument in Washington, and he’d just been named a MaCarther fellow and we were feeling amazingly lucky at this point. …

To ensure the accuracy of the English Inscription which had never really been vetted.  It appeared in newspapers later, but we needed to verify that the German was going to proper English.  We asked the Gerter Institute, a nonprofit German Cultural Center in Washington, to translate the 1871 Anzeiger Newspaper article for us.  Their linguists were really incredible.  They advised us on the suttle choices, what words we wanted to use, the identification and spelling of some towns which no longer existed, or might exist but the spellings have changed, borders had changed.  Place name were, some place names were difficult to identify but we took all of their information and their suggestions and we made the best educated guess in cases like that.

Carving the succeessor monument.

Carving the succeessor monument.

And Benson laid out the inscriptions based on those two sources I shared, and we had to review this in German, character by character; “is there and Um-la there.”  I don’t speak German.  It was a challenge.  Meanwhile Benson was an artist, as part of this process, and so he had an idea of how things should be laid out and some of his artistic license if you will, included filling the ends of some of the rows, the names.  It’s pretty clear that these are the lists in two columns of the men named, where they were born, the day they were born.  He introduced these sort of swirls which we thought were a little heavy handed, and so we got him down to a single swirl, and if there was, he didn’t have to automatically jam one in at the end of each line.  We said, “If you have x number of; there’s enough space there, you can put it; eeeh you don’t have to put it everywhere.”   So it was sort of a dialogue with him.

He assured us that this sort of, this design feature was appropriate to this kind of carving.  But because the actual thing was gone in most cases, we weren’t sure that it existed.  We were; we excepted this as an opportunity.

Benson and other carvers In his studio worked on this; to tell you the truth we don’t know how much work Benson personally put into this versus the carvers in his studio.  It was not important to him to tell us, and we were not in a position to really ask him that.  But I have to say it moved very quickly once it finally, when we launched.

Rear view of successor monument.

Rear view of successor monument.

This is the translation on the back.  This was very important for us to introduce as a way to share with visitors, people who go to Cave Hill either descendants otherwise, and that information wasn’t on their previously.  There was an interpretive sign there, but I don’t think the whole translation was there, so this was the major difference between old and new. …

The monument was installed at Cave Hill in September 2011, and it went down on the same location only we pored a new pad for the new one.  Here the crane is obviously lowering the die onto the base.  Benson drove this out personally and he’s down there setting it; the two blocks are joined by stainless steel pins and mortar.  This is the final insight onsite with the freeze and the German inscription.  The base is identical to the original.  On the back, it’s kind of hard to read, but it’s a pretty standard font.  This is obvious it’s not a fracture, it’s just a generic standard letter salvage.  I’m sure he’d be horrified to hear me say, because there’s no such thing.  And the date is on the base. …

There had been an interpretive sign in the area, obviously I can’t tell you the details of that, but throughout this whole process, we put in a new interpretive panel; if we covered up the monument for some effort to conserve it onsite when we removed it so people weren’t alarmed.  We also wanted to point visitors to the original monument which by that time was in the museum in downtown Louisville, it’s not far from the cemetery.  We wanted people to see both and then we put a final panel in here once the new monument, successor monument was in place. …

It was a very cold day on December 16th, 2011, and that was almost 150 years to the day with the Battle of Rallot Station.  We dedicated it at the cemetery obviously, and put a wreath laying, some of the individuals you see in the picture are descendants of men who were in the 32nd Regiment.  There were some Sons of Union Veterans doing the reinacter form thing.  Local stakeholders who really kept the agency moving forward they were, it’s a small but very active German American community that wanted this to keep going.  And we had the A officials here as well.

Dedication Event Cavehill National Cemetery, December 16, 2011.

Dedication Event Cavehill National Cemetery, December 16, 2011.

By conserving the original 32nd Indiana Monument, and fabricating a successor for the cemetery, NCA aimed to honor the memory of the 13 soldiers who had immigrated to America and died defending the country.  I think that is an important story.  We also preserve one of only a few, one of the few monuments created during the Civil War versus after the war ended.  The content of this monument really I think is most important because it reflects the country’s diversity at the time this German American who carves this in a Native Language, and I think that makes it quite exceptional.  Nick Benson’s, was a Master Carver, is a Master Carver, and his work is really an ode to Bledner’s intent, and yet it stands on it’s own as well.  It is also one of many projects that NCA is pleased to have completed and leading up to and during our commemoration of the Civil War Sesquesentenial.  This is really just sort of the tip of the information I can share with you.

We actually have more about this project on our website and almost any other single project.  That’s our website and the history pages are there.  I want to thank you very much.


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: under “32nd Indiana Infantry (Bloedner) Monument Project.”

Speaker Bio

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.

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