Civil War Soldiers Monument Day
The deepest crisis in our nation’s history came with the Civil War, 1861-1865, when the country was split in two, North and South. After the war, veterans of the conflict came to settle in Fargo when the railway arrived in the Red River Valley. Those veterans, especially one named Smith Stimmel, became established civic leaders in Fargo.
As Fargo’s Civil War veterans grew older, they wished to remember their military service by building a public monument in Island Park, the city’s loveliest park.
Accordingly, Stimmel, chairman of the monument committee, designated this day in 1916 as “Soldiers Monument Day,” so that the final fundraising for a magnificent statue could be completed. Mr. Stimmel asked that everyone in Fargo who wanted to help fund the statue should make a contribution that day. And contribute they did. The people of Fargo provided enough funding for a “splendid statue” on the north side of Island Park.
Smith Stimmel believed that Fargo’s Civil War statue would become the “finest monument in the state.” The base was hewn from the “famous Barre, Vermont granite,” and atop the block of carved stone stood a bronze, life-size statue of a Union soldier.
All hoped that the monument would be in place for an official dedication on Memorial Day at the end of May, but transportation problems delayed its installation until June. However, the bronze soldier portion of the monument was available for unveiling on Memorial Day.
When the whole thing was finally in place that summer of 1916, the statue began its tenure as the protector of Island Park’s north border. The gleaming-bronze soldier gripped his Springfield rifle while carrying a full backpack with bedroll. His belt held a U.S. cartridge case and canteen.
Today’s visitors to Island Park can read the granite inscriptions: “In memory of our comrades;” “To the Dead a Tribute, To the Living a Memory, To Posterity An Inspiration,” and see the 5-pointed G.A.R. star on the main column.
Looking at the soldier’s wistful face is sobering, for he has sad eyes, yet his square jaw looks agelessly determined and strong. And even though the bronze has weathered with time, becoming tarnished with a greenish tinge, the statue’s vigilance has never faltered, for he still stands tall at Island Park’s north entrance in Fargo.
Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department.
Sources: “Splendid Monument to Grace City of Fargo,” Fargo Forum, April 26, 1916, p. 1.
“$2,600 Raised for Soldiers Monument By Fargo People,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, March 23, 1915, p. 2.
“Patriotism Stirred by Memorial Day Service Held in Fargo Tuesday,” Fargo Forum, May 31, 1916, p. 12.
“Memorial Day Being Generally Observed By People of Fargo,” Fargo Forum, May 30, 1916, p. 1.
“Propose Island Park as Monument Site,” Fargo Forum, May 3, 1916, p. 5.