Amidst the Confederate-statue toppling comes a story that not even a Hollywood screen writer could conceive: a 15-year-old Kentuckian wants to tear down a Confederate statue that started life as a Union soldier and still looks amazing like a Billy Yank, not a Johnny Reb!
Jessamine County’s located due south of the Fayette County-Lexington metroplex in central Kentucky. The major connector between Lexington and Nicholasville (the Jessamine County seat) is Route 27, the traffic-packed Nicholasville Road in Lexington and the not-quite-so-busy Lexington Road in Nicholasville.
At 101 North Main Street in Nicholasville stands the Jessamine County Courthouse. On its lawn stands a Confederate monument comprising a 7-foot bronze soldier perched atop an 11-foot granite base. His left foot resting on a rock (looks like Kentucky limestone) and his hands grasping his bayonet-tipped rifle, the soldier sports a kepi and wears a knapsack.
Everything about this soldier — his clothing, that kepi, you name it — screams “Yankee”!
And “Yankee” he was.
Confederate veteran Jefferson Oxley established the so-called Jessamine County Memorial Association in 1880 to erect a Confederate monument in Nicholasville. Central Kentucky had split its support between the Union and Confederacy during the war, so fund raising went slowly.
Association members learned in 1896 that a group commissioning a bronze Yankee had failed to pay for it. Offered the statue for $1,500, JCMA members coughed up the cash and proclaimed the Yankee a Reb.
That made him a “galvanized Yankee.”
During the war, a Union soldier who turned Confederate (and vice versa) was “galvanized,” meaning he had switched sides. One such “galvanized” Yankee was William Frederick Irwin from Maine, whose story I’ve told in part 1 and part 2.
The monument’s front base is inscribed “Our Confederate Dead, ‘Who They Were Few May Know What They Were All Know,” 1861 1865.” The cryptic sentence makes little sense until the second “Know” becomes “Known,” which may have been the engraver’s intent.
According to wikipedia, more than 3,500 people attended the dedication ceremony for the Nicholasville monument, which minded its business until 15-year-old Jenna Sparks became “woke” in 2020.
Suddenly offended by the statue’s presence on the courthouse lawn, Sparks is circulating a petition (both online and written) to remove the monument. The online version is available at Care2.com, described by the Jessamine Journal as “a progressive social networking site with 50 million users.”
The online version spends its first paragraph describing the monument’s physical traits. The second paragraph deals with Sparks’s goal.
“This statue, which proudly honors the rebel traitors … is a disgrace not only to our town, but to our country, and the world. We as a nation should not honor those who tried to destroy us, and who wished to oppress others.”
Although the statue “never should have been erected in the first place,, now, in light of current events it is the perfect time to have memorial both removed, and destroyed,” the petition states.
The phrasing reveals Sparks arrogantly scolding the past with her “how dare you” attitude, but that’s her business. According to a July 2, 2020 article in the Jessamine Journal, Sparks has a 3,000-signatory goal for her petition. As of July 17, 2020, it had “536 Supporters” online; more supporters have physically signed a separate petition.
Sparks admits she was influenced by the George Floyd murder and a subsequent “racial justice protest at the courthouse,” according to the Journal. “My cousin is black. I love a lot of black people. And I don’t think we should be doing something to celebrate oppression.”
The story’s rather unique in that a 15-year-old is leading the charge. Passionate about removing the statue in Nicholasville, where “many people … fly the Confederate battle flag” (according to the Journal), Sparks is pursuing the established method for addressing her concerns by circulating her petition.
She’s not out there lassoing the monument and yanking it off its base.
So far no petition has been presented to the Jessamine County Fiscal Court, and Jessamine County Judge-Executive David West (the position has more executive power than a Maine county commissioner) said the court had not “formally discussed the issue in session.”
Earlier this month, county officials placed a sign at the monument’s base. The sign indicates, “Jessamine County is addressing options so this statue will reflect our values of today, justice and unity.”
If you enjoy reading the adventures of Mainers caught up in the Civil War, be sure to like Maine at War on Facebook and get a copy of the new Maine at War Volume 1: Bladensburg to Sharpsburg, available online at Amazon and all major book retailers, including Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble. —————————————————————————————————————–
Brian Swartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.