This Memorial Day roughly marks the 150th anniversary of a Civil War monument built while the war still raged. It was erected near Murfreesboro in 1863 by Union soldiers from Ohio and Indiana.
The Hazen Brigade took heavy losses at Shiloh, a bloody battle on Tennessee’s Southern border. Then, in the Battle of Stones River, they were the only Yankee troops who managed to hold their ground.
The unit then stayed for months in Murfreesboro as an occupying force. Gib Backlund is park ranger at Stones River National Battlefield. He says the group included trained stonemasons who spent their free time building on the spot they’d held to commemorate the comrades lost both there and at Shiloh.
That structure is now the nation’s oldest Civil War monument still standing in its original location. Two others were erected earlier, in Manassas, Virginia and Mumfordville, Kentucky. They were both much smaller stone markers. One has disappeared, the other was moved.
The Hazen Brigade Monument is taller than two men and wider on each side than you can reach with both arms outstretched, built from blocks of limstone more than a foot and a half thick. Forty-five members of the brigade are buried around its base.
In 1864, inscriptions were carved on each side of the rectangular structure: the names of the fallen, the dates of the battles, and these words:
“Their faces toward Heaven, their feet to the foe…The blood of one third of its soldiers twice spilled in Tennessee crimsons the battle flag of the brigade and inspires to greater deeds.”
The monument also seems to be something of a time capsule. In 1985, workers restoring the structure discovered it contained a group of objects carefully placed five feet above ground level:
- two 12-pound cannon balls
- one 6-pound cannon ball
- three rifle artilery shells (Archer, Read and Burton)
- two rifle musket barrels (Springfield and Austrian)
- a cedar staff
While it is clear the objects were purposefully placed within the monument, and their number seems to have some significance (three small objects, three round items, three that are long and narrow) their meaning is unclear.