Monument to 11700 Unknown Dead, Salisbury National Cemetery
Augustus Van Cleef of New York, Designer
Alexander McDonald of Mount Auburn, Massachusetts, Builder
This monument is a 50-foot tall granite obelisk with a base measuring 18 feet by 18 feet. It is dedicated to the unknown soldiers who died in the Confederate prison at Salisbury. The obelisk is crowned with a laurel wreath; laurel leaves decorate the four sides. Above the base rest a helmet, sword, shield, and a chain with broken bracelets. A veiled tablet, signifying the unknown, is also carved into the obelisk.
Contemporary images (courtesy of Natasha Smith): Front view | View with the Maine Monument in sight | Rear view | Sculptural detail | Front Inscription | Right Inscription | Left Inscription | Rear inscription | Stone marker | Builder Alexander McDonald of Mount Auburn, Massachusetts | Designer Augustus Van Cleef of New York
"PRO / PATRIA / 11700 / THIS MONUMENT WAS ERECTED BY ACT OF CONGRESS APPROVED MARCH 3, 1873 TO THE MEMORY OF THE UNKNOWN UNION SOLDIERS WHO DIED IN THE CONFEDERATE PRISON AT SALISBURY, N.C."
Right: "THEY DIED THAT THEIR COUNTRY MIGHT LIVE."
Left: FOR OUR COUNTRY 'TIS BLISS TO DIE.
Rear: IN 18 TRENCHES, JUST SOUTH OF THIS SPOT, / REST THE BODIES OF 11,700 SOLDIERS OF THE / UNITED STATES ARMY, WHO PERISHED DURING / THE YEARS 1864 AND 1865 WHILE HELD BY / THE CONFEDERATE MILITARY AUTHORITIES AS / PRISONERS OF WAR IN A STOCKADE NEAR / THIS PLACE.
Salisbury National Cemetery, Department of Veterans Affairs
May 30, 1876. The monument was erected in February 1876. It was dedicated on Federal Decoration Day (predecessor to Memorial Day).
35.659280 , -80.474870 View in Geobrowse
"Cemeteries - Salisbury National Cemetery," United States Department of Veterans Affairs, (accessed January 22, 2012) Link
"Editorial Article 5" The New York Times, May 28, 1879
"Federal Monument to the Unknown Dead - Salisbury, NC," Waymarking.com, (accessed January 22, 2012) Link
"Salisbury National Cemetery," National Park Service, (accessed January 22, 2012) Link
"View in National Cemetery Showing Soldiers Monument, Salisbury, N.C.," in Durwood Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards (P077), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill, (accessed December 10, 2012) Link
Untitled (Decoration Day Orators), The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, NC), June 2, 1876
Untitled (Monument cost), Quad-City Times (Davenport, Iowa), October 25, 1875
“City Bulletin,” The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, NC), June 1, 1876
“Decoration Day.,” The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, NC), May 30, 1876
“Letters from the People,” The Raleigh News (Raleigh, NC), February 12, 1876
New Hampshire granite
Commissioned by Congress, General Orders No. 47
There was very little news coverage of the event. Articles that did appear made the point that Federal Decoration Day was intended to honor Union war dead. Decoration Day for Southern war dead had been held on May 10 in many North Carolina cities and received greater coverage. A.B Lawrence, an African-American, was one of the orators along with Rev. A.S. Billinglsey who was white. Of note was an excursion train for African-Americans that traveled from Charlotte to view the dedication. This may have been influenced by A.B. Lawrence being one of the speakers. He was noted as being associated with the Biddle Institute (now Johnson C. Smith University) and was a well-known Radical Republican. On the return trip, the train was so crowded that not all who wished to travel back were allowed on board.
During the civil war, Salisbury was the location of a Confederate prison that was originally intended for Confederate military offenders and state prisoners. On October 5, 1864, 5,000 Union prisoners of war were transferred to the prison, far exceeding the intended limit of 2,500 people. As a result, food and space were scarce, while disease was rampant. The dead were buried in trenches in a cornfield to the west of the prison. After the war, efforts were made to determine how many unknown prisoners had been buried in the cemetery. Colonel Oscar A. Mack estimated the number to be 11,700 in his 1870-71 report.
Recent research has cast doubt on the accuracy of the number 11,700. Some scholars believe this number is too large; however, determining the exact number is not a likely possibility.
The monument is located near the western side of the cemetery. Just south of the monument are 18 burial trenches with stone markers. The large obelisk is located next to both a monument erected by the state of Maine honoring Maine's fallen soldiers and a small plaque placed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy which includes a diagram of the Burial Trenches and Salisbury Prisonlocations. A monument erected by the state of Pennsylvania, located further down the hill, is in sight.
The monument is part of the Salisbury National Cemetery and is surrounded by graves, including the 18 trenches containing the unknown dead to whom the monument is dedicated. At the top of a hill, the monument is a prominent feature of the cemetery landscape.
In the late 1860s and early 1870s, the army and federal government began investigating the graves. The cemetery was renamed Salisbury National Cemetery shortly after the war and was dedicated in 1874. Congress approved legislation providing for the monument on March 3, 1873.
$9,500 for the construction of the monument.