The ‘Handsomest Public Monument in Jessamine County’

Confederate Monument in downtown Nicholasville.
Author’s Collection.

One hundred fifty years ago, the Union was engaged in a great Civil War. As a border state, Kentucky was as divided as the nation.

While the Commonwealth gave up 50,000 of her sons to the Confederacy, she offered fifty percent more to the cause of preserving the Union.

A star representing Kentucky could be found on the banner of both USA and CSA alike.

Although our state motto is “United we stand, Divided we fall,” the Commonwealth surely was divided during the War Between the States.

Yet after the War, Kentuckians found themselves enamored with “the Lost Cause.” Kentuckians largely rallied and united under this banner.

In so doing, Kentucky truly became a southern state.

Confederate Monument at the Jessamine
Courthouse. Author’s Collection.

Throughout Kentucky, there are tangible reminders of this transition. Though more Kentuckians fought and died wearing Union blue, there are more monuments in the Commonwealth recognizing the sacrifices of those who wore grey.

On Jessamine’s courthouse lawn stands one such monument. Atop an eleven-foot tall pedestal of unpolished granite stands a Confederate soldier cast in bronze.

Larger than life, the seven-foot tall Rebel is not at full attention. Instead, he appears to be resting with much of his weight being borne by his musket. Yet the soldier looks onward, ever watchful, with his gaze down Main Street.

Toward Lexington.

Toward the north.

(Though the soldier is mindful of an attack by Yankees from the north, the Union held Camp Nelson which is located south of the Courthouse. Had a Rebel scout been stationed on Nicholasville’s courthouse lawn, he would have surely seen Union troops on their way to reinforce Camp Nelson. Perhaps the Confederate soldier was resigned to the presence of his enemy?)

In his book “A History of Jessamine County, Kentucky,” Colonel Bennett H. Young (a Confederate veteran himself) described the monument as the “handsomest public monument in Jessamine County.” And truly, it is.

Text on the base of the Monument. Author’s Collection.

The monument was erected by the Jessamine Confederate Memorial Association and was dedicated to Confederate soldiers who were buried at the nearby Maple Grove cemetery. Carved into stone are these words of honor to the fallen Confederates:

Nor braver bled
for brighter land
nor brighter land
had a cause so grand.

In 1997, the monument and its base were listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Memorial Association began raising funds for their monument in 1880 some 15 years after General Lee surrendered at Appomattox. It would take another 16 years before the Association would be able to dedicate their monument.

Fundraising was still insufficient, but a slight change to the monument’s design helped finish the project. Of course, that “slight change” turned out to be quite significant: the bronze soldier was originally a Union soldier.

The monument company which sculpted the soldier had an unclaimed soldier which it was willing to part with at a discount. Alterations were made to render the unclaimed soldier into a Rebel.

Before a crowd of some 3,500, the Confederate Soldier Monument was dedicated on the courthouse lawn in Nicholasville on June 15, 1896. “The city of Nicholasville royally entertained all those who came to unit in the ceremonies,” wrote Col. Young.

Col. Young, then living in Louisville, attended and spoke at the dedication: “We come in tenderness and devotion and affection to mark, beautify and bless the soil that garners their dust, and to declare by this monument, which we trust will remain forever, that … our departed comrades shall be as deathless.”

A version of this column originally appeared in the Jessamine Journal on August 20, 2014. It should not be republished without permission.