A Monumental Controversy


Confederate monuments hit home in Bloomfield, Iowa

Story and photos by: Leviathan DeGross

With events like the protests in Charlottesville and the removal of Confederate monuments still fresh in Americans’ minds, many are left to question whether or not Confederate symbols are a valuable part of a community’s history.

Given that Iowa was a free state and member of the Union in the American Civil War, it may come as a surprise to some that there are still monuments in Iowa that have Confederate symbolism.

One of the most notable monuments is in Bloomfield, Iowa, marking the furthest incursion north by the Confederate army. Bloomfield is located straight south of Ottumwa, Iowa following highway 63.

The monument in Bloomfield was created by the Guerrilla Raid Society, whose mission is to commemorate the 1864 incursion into Iowa by 13 Confederate soldiers. Today, Nancy Clancy is the only surviving member of the society. The monument was completed in 2005 and features two stones donated by the Sons of Union Veterans and Sons of Confederate Veterans.

“I will chain myself to the monument before they take it down. You can quote me on that,” Clancy said.

Clancy is the current President of the Davis County Historical Society and the last surviving member of the Guerrilla Raid Society.

“We worked very hard to ensure that there was no racial undertone,” Clancy said.

She also said that there had been no complaints or issues with the monument, up until the events in Charlottesville earlier in 2017. One of the other reasons that Clancy is adamant in the defense of the monument is its uniqueness as a Civil War monument.

“This is one of the few monuments where the Sons of Union Veterans and the Sons of Confederate Veterans came together with a similar goal,” Clancy said.

According to Clancy, joint meetings were held between both Sons of Veterans groups in order to erect the monument.

The monument marks the beginning of a raid led by Confederate soldiers.

According to a pamphlet by the Guerrilla Raid Society, the raid into Davis County was led by a Confederate lieutenant by the name of Lieutenant Jim “Bill” Jackson. He and 12 heavily armed men, disguised in Union uniforms, raided Davis County on Oct. 12, 1864. He and his men robbed 34 men and killed three before returning to Confederate territory.

The monument in Bloomfield is located at Lilac Avenue and 265th St. and honors those from the county who died in the war, and is meant to preserve the history of Davis County’s role in the Civil War.

While Iowa may not seem like a hotbed of Civil War history, the story of Davis County and the rest of southern Iowa tell a different story. According to Leon Wilkinson, one of the board members in the Davis County Historical Society, Davis County was a starkly divided area of the state.

“Many of the people who settled Iowa, particularly the southern part of the state like Davis County, came from the south,” Wilkinson said.

This information has been verified by historians like David Connon, a historical interpreter at the Living History Farms. He cited multiple events in his blog Confederates from Iowa: Not to Defend, but to Understand including protests by members of the Democratic Party in Madison County and multiple civil rights violations, such as the removal of habeas corpus and freedom of speech.

In 1864 the Civil War was fast approaching its end. Within Iowa, control of the legislature was turned over to the Republican Party leaving the Democrats, who by this time were almost exclusively referred to as Copperheads, with little to no influence left.

Hubbert H. Wubben’s book Civil War Iowa and the Copperhead Movement gives a historical telling and analysis of politics in Iowa.

“Iowans who wrote the triumphant history of their state’s participation on the winning side made much of the Copperhead theme,” Hubben wrote in his book. “Most of them were Republicans…often portrayed the wartime Iowa Democratic party as a party dominated by Confederate Sympathizers.”

Much of the support for the Democratic Party came from the southern counties and cities, like Madison and Davis Counties.

“I keep telling people this monument is about history. History, history, history,” Clancy said.

As the debate over Confederate monuments continues to simmer, the question of preserving history remains. Some, like Clancy, argue that Confederate monuments serve as an important reminder of the nation’s history, while others believe the monuments play a more sinister role in reminding minority groups of the brutal way of life the South fought to hold onto. For now, the monument in Bloomfield stands, with no plans for removal. Elsewhere, protesters have toppled statues of Confederate soldiers, while others in cities like Baltimore have been removed in the dead of night.

Only time will tell if Bloomfield’s monuments will stand or fall.

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