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SD's Civil War monument to get upgrades

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news Mitchell, 57301
The Daily Republic
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Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

PIERRE – A state commission gave its blessing Wednesday to changes on the triangle of lawn where South Dakota’s monument to America’s soldiers of the Civil War stands.

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The one-acre site near the state Capitol and the governor’s mansion will receive two concrete approaches from the sidewalks along Capitol and Wells avenues. Also coming are two interpretative displays, lighting and a flagpole where the Stars and Stripes can fly, day and night.

Some of the impetus to make the site more meaningful came from state government employee David Smith. He grew up in Pierre and served in the U.S. Marines Corps but didn’t know the story of the monument. There was nothing at the site to explain its purpose or history, other than the phrase on its base: “In Honor of the Defenders of Our Nation.”

Smith was intrigued by what he eventually learned about it from Matthew Reitzel, an archivist at the South Dakota State Historical Society. The society will complete the research and provide the interpretative panels based on Reitzel’s work.

“We’re very grateful for their contribution,” Mike Mueller said. He handles many special projects on the Capitol complex for the state Bureau of Administration.

The Vermont-granite monument stands 30 feet, alone amid grass and trees.

It was permitted by the Legislature in 1913, commissioned in 1918 at a contract price of $30,000 with a Crawford, Neb., company and erected in 1919, according to Reitzel’s research. The land was purchased in 1915. The monument’s dedication waited until 1920.

There is a tall pedestal and a Civil War-era soldier stands atop with his rifle.

Among the organizations pushing for it was a veterans organization known as the Grand Army of the Republic. The GAR was active throughout the Union states after the Civil War and had meeting halls in many South Dakota communities, similar to today’s American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts.

The GAR’s second national leader, Gen. John “Black Jack” Logan, issued the order May 5, 1868, designating May 30 of that year as Decoration Day.

Strewing of flowers on the graves of soldiers had become local tradition in some communities but this established nationwide what is now Memorial Day.

One of the proposed interpretative panels at the monument will explain its history and the other will provide a brief history of the GAR.

The monument and flag would be lit at night and some benches will be added, Mueller said.

The Civil War statue sits across Capitol Lake from the monuments to the fighting men and women of more modern conflicts starting with World War II.

The state Capitol Complex Restoration and Beautification Commission voted unanimously Wednesday in favor of the enhancement project for the Civil War site.

Several commission members spoke favorably about the plan.

“It’s a wonderful part of history you’re saving for the people of Pierre and the people of the state,” member Carla Sahr of Pierre said.

Mayor Laurie Gill described the project as wonderful. “It’s beautiful and people don’t know what it is,” Gill said about the statue.

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