Denver’s (Union) Civil War Monument Comes Down

As the Denver Post’s Shelly Bradbury reports, a statue on the west side of the Colorado Capitol building with a decidedly mixed legacy was torn down late last night:

The Civil War monument erected in 1909 outside Colorado’s Capitol that commemorated, in part, the Sand Creek Massacre was toppled overnight, the latest act by protesters across the nation to tear down statues honoring perpetrators of racist acts.

Trooper Gary Cutler, spokesman for Colorado State Patrol, which polices the Capitol grounds, said “individuals” brought the statue down around 1:30 a.m. Thursday…

[State official Doug] Platt also said he believes this is the first statue to be toppled during the protests since Floyd’s death, but said “just about everything in the complex has been vandalized.”

One the one hand, the Civil War Monument at the Colorado State Capitol honors the Union side of the conflict, which although the motivations are a bit murkier in retrospect is generally considered by history to be a war fought to end slavery in the United States. Colorado forces loyal to the Union played a key role in stopping the north and westward advance of the Confederate Army at the Battle of Glorieta Pass in New Mexico, known rather exaggeratedly as the “Gettysburg of the West.”

Unfortunately, however, the history of the Colorado military forces organized to fight in the Civil War does not end with that conflict. On November 29, 1864, the “hero” of Glorieta Pass Col. John Chivington led an attack on a peaceful encampment of Cheyenne and Arapaho people at Sand Creek, killing over 150 people, mostly women, children and the elderly. The Sand Creek Massacre forever sullied the reputation of the Colorado military forces who fought at Glorieta Pass, and eventually resulted in an additional plaque on Denver Civil War Monument placed by the state senate in 1999 acknowledging that the “Battle of Sand Creek” was in fact a massacre, not a battle as monument’s original inscription claimed.

However you may feel about the campaign across the nation to take down monuments commemorating Southern Civil War leaders and other unrepentant racists in American history, it’s very important to understand the full history of this particular monument in order to fully grasp the controversy. It’s true that this is/was a monument to Union forces who fought on the side of ending slavery. But it also commemorates what could be the greatest crime against humanity committed on Colorado soil.

We don’t condone property destruction, and would prefer to see any such changes occur by peaceful means instead of late-night vandalism. We simply try to understand the full truth of these events, which in this case is more complicated than first appearances indicate. With that, readers, tell us what you think about this event.

Is this erasing history, or setting history right?


14 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. davebarnesdavebarnes says:

    There are just idiots out there who like to tear things down.

    This means nothing unless you think it is George Soros' first strike in the ANTIFA takeover.

  2. MADCO says:

    Where was Confederate General Breckinridge during all this?


  3. RepealAndReplace says:

    This is developing all the trappings of the Cultural Revolution in China in the late '60s.

    • JohnInDenverJohnInDenver says:

      Let me know when the first state-sponsored re-education camp is established, and I'll come a bit closer to understanding how it is developing all the trappings of the Cultural Revolution.

      • Diogenesdemar says:

        The revolution is being televised — my neighbor saw it on FOXnews . . .

        You’ll never get closer to reeducation than Hannity and Carlson.

      • Unitary Moonbat says:

        The re-education camps, the Down-to-the-Countryside Campaign, and all that came later. In the early phases of the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guards were more about iconoclasm and "struggle sessions" – something we haven't quite gotten to yet, though the Twitter Mob and Cancel Culture are a reasonable (if not as physically violent) facsimile.

  4. Meiner49erMeiner49er says:

    Why not both? Ultimately, history is messy and doesn't fit into the kinds of textbook narratives peddled to maintain American exceptionalism, whether from the left or the right.

    The Colorado Militia kept Colorado a free state when threatened by invasion from no less than Texas, and they committed genocide as the state has acknowledged. For the record, they went on to fight militarism in WWI and were a critical part of the Antifa effort in Italy during WWII, but also did some things most of their members will never be proud of.

    Any memorial which doesn't remind us that our military is always a double edged sword is more a monument to fiction than history.

    • VoyageurVoyageur says:

      Well put, Meiner.  However, Sand Creek, however savage, was not genocide, which is defined as a systemic effort to exterminate a whole people. 

      Sand creek, an evil thing, was closer to the my lai massacre than the Holocaust.

      I do wonder if the vandals ever served a day in uniform themselves or fought for anything nobler than drugs and booze.  I doubt it highly.  

    • Genghis says:

      Any memorial which doesn't remind us that our military is always a double edged sword is more a monument to fiction than history.

      War memorials could serve as reminders of how thin the veneer of civilization can get. Anyone who's been in combat knows it can disappear entirely at the drop of a hat. However, glorification memorials are the norm since most folks seem to need the comfort afforded by belief in the irrational falsehood that all those people got killed and maimed for a greater good.

      • Diogenesdemar says:

        This is why, IMO, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial* is so important and moving — it doesn’t seek to honor any generals, or even the actions of the war itself, but the sacrifice and the price paid by those who fought there.

        That memorial is so often mislabeled the “Vietnam War Memorial” — I hate that.  It’s not a memorial to a war, and rightfully so; the leaders of this country lacked the honesty to declare their damn war, or even call their war a war.  It’s a memorial honoring the veterans. It’s a memorial to the veterans’ lives lost, and the lives taken.  Yes, Vietnam was a war; the memorial is to the veterans.

        I wish we had far more memorials that reminded Americans of the price paid for our wars, and far fewer attempting to glorifying it. 

  5. Unitary Moonbat says:

    To answer the question: it's a destruction of history, not setting it right (emphasis in the original, as no historian would ever frame such a question this way).

    The unnecessary italics are indicative of an author who has already presumed the answer; that they have little respect for history can be seen in the way the article denigrates both the Battle of Glorieta Pass and Col. Chivington. Glorieta may not have seen Gettyburg's numbers, but in terms of strategic importance, both battles are in the same class. Just because one hasn't heard of a battle doesn't mean it wasn't critical to the long-term outcome of a war (of course, I'm making the assumption that the author doesn't know much about the Battle of Glorieta Pass – happy to recalibrate if they would like to engage in a discussion about why "rather exageratedly" is an appropriate descriptor).

    Similarly, Chivington's later abhorrent behavior at Sand Creek does nothing to diminish his actions two years earlier, at Glorieta. There, the rebels had numbers and position on their side; had Chivington not cleverly sneaked over the mesa to descend on the Confederate rear and attack their baggage train, it's likely the South would have won – with major implications for transcontinental rail routes, foreign backing, and territorial expansion into northern Mexico. Like it or not, and irrespective of the person he later revealed himself to be, Chivington was a hero at Glorieta Pass – no scare quotes required.

    Regarding the recent iconoclasm: what's being shat upon here is not a Union soldier of the Civil War, but the ideas and values of Coloradoans in 1909 – the people who designed, funded, and realized the work. The date isn't an accident. The statue was installed for the 50th anniversary memorials that were going to be taking place over the next 6 years, and the people of the time wanted to communicate their reverence to veterans then in their 70s and 80s. The Civil War was still a living memory for a number of people at the time, but now, a handful of members of this generation have decided that the signalling of their indignation trumps all other concerns, across all other eras.

    Instead, we receive a suggestion that the statue of a man who died fighting for abolition be replaced by that of "an indigenous woman." Why bother? This gang of vandals has put the destruction of statuary on the table as a means of contending with the past. They best not complain when, 50 years from now, eugenics makes a resurgence and a new band of self-righteous cultural revolutionists knocks down the indigenous woman statue to replace it with one of Madison Grant.

    The author is correct in asserting that we need to know the whole story behind the statue – ironic that the article provides so little of it.

    • VoyageurVoyageur says:

      Nicely done, Moonbat.  Some accounts of Glorieta say the ultimate Confederate goal was California and the Gold fields.   While similar to Gettysburg in marking a high-water mark for the slave power, it was vastly smaller in scale.  Lee's ultimate goal was to capture Washington, which might have brought European recognition and an end to the blockade.

      By comparison, Glorieta was minor, but the Confederate army was virtually destroyed after stupidly retreating through the desert.   The victory at Glorieta ensured we would be free from Texas domination until the buggers learned to ski in the 60s and invaded Vail.

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