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  • Monument Name

    Monument to 11700 Unknown Dead, Salisbury National Cemetery

  • Type

    Obelisk

  • Subjects

    Civil War

  • Creator

    Augustus Van Cleef of New York, Designer

    Alexander McDonald of Mount Auburn, Massachusetts, Builder

  • City

    Salisbury

  • County

    Rowan

  • Description

    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.

    Images: 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

  • Inscription

    Front: "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.

  • Custodian

    Salisbury National Cemetery, Department of Veterans Affairs

  • Dedication Date

    1876

  • Decade

    1870s

  • Geographic Coordinates

    35.659280 , -80.474870 View in Geobrowsemap pin

  • Supporting Sources

      "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

      "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

      Waymarking.com. "Federal Monument to the Unknown Dead - Salisbury, NC," (accessed January 22, 2012) Link

  • Public Site

    Yes

  • Materials & Techniques

    New Hampshire granite

  • Sponsors

    Commissioned by Congress, General Orders No. 47

  • Monument Cost

    $9,500

  • Subject Notes

    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.

  • Controversies

    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.

  • Location

    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 trench locations. A monument erected by the state of Pennsylvania, located further down the hill, is in sight.

  • Landscape

    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.

  • Death Space

    Yes

  • Approval Process

    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.

  • Materials & Assembly Cost

    $9,500 for the construction of the monument.

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