COLUMBUS (WCMH) – Columbus Police are investigating after a Civil War Confederate soldier statue was vandalized at Camp Chase Cemetery on Tuesday.
So far, there are no suspects and the head of the unnamed bronze figure is still missing. It used to sit atop a 17-foot granite arch memorial. Police say the statue was found lying between graves. The remainder of the statue has been removed from the property.
“Because of what happened in Charlottesville I expected it to happen,” said 84-year-old veteran Earl “Wimpy” Potts.
Potts is also a member of the Hilltop Historical Society. He said while he doesn’t agree with memorializing the Confederacy, vandalism in the name of anti-racism isn’t right.
“To me, it’s a shame to think that I run into hate and instead of trying to promote love or something, I’m going to show hate too,” said Potts.
Local historian Jennie Keplar said she’s not disappointed that the statue is gone, but she’s disappointed in how it was done.
She said she’s sympathetic to removing statues glorifying the Confederacy, especially those in public squares and in plain sight.
“However, Camp Chase Cemetery is absolutely the ideal spot for ones of those statuaries,” said Keplar. “All the monuments, memorials, the walls it was created as an olive branch between the confederate and union veterans at the time.”
According to the National Cemetery Administration (https://www.cem.va.gov/cems/lots/campchase.asp), Camp Chase was a Confederate POW camp during the Civil War. Later, a cemetery was established where there is now an estimated 2,168 remains in 2,122 grave sites.
Word spread quickly throughout the Hilltop, as people came to the cemetery to see what happened.
Veteran Chuck Machuga said he realizes some Confederate soldiers at have enlisted on their own volition, but he said he believes many were reluctant to fight.
“It’s too bad, really sad,” said Machuga. “I was in the military, didn’t want to be back in the Vietnam era and I’m sure a lot of these poor souls buried here didn’t want to be in a war either, victims of so-called leaders.”
Nicolas Gonzales is a Native American and veteran. He said while he doesn’t agree with the Confederacy, anywhere a veteran is buried is a sacred place.
“In my Native American culture you always honor the warriors from the other side, too,” he said. “So, I found this very repulsive to me when I heard about it on the internet and came out immediately to check it out and frankly, salute that soldier.”
Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther issued this statement today:
“I understand that markers of the Confederacy bring pain to those fighting persistent racism in our community and across our country, but the destruction of property — and the desecration of any grave site — is unacceptable regardless who was interred. We must remain focused on productive, not destructive, action to bring about the change we seek and to further the fight for equality.”
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs also issued a statement:
“Destruction and defacement of federal property is a serious crime, and VA is working with law enforcement officials to identify those responsible. VA is committed to maintaining our cemeteries as national shrines, and that includes repairing this statue, which was erected in 1902 as part of a peace and reconciliation effort led by wounded Union soldier William Knauss.”
The cemetery is now open again for its regular hours.