A Louisiana Veteran honors his regiment

The Fourth of July and Memorial day brings to mind the many soldiers who served or are serving our nation. Like the veterans of today, Civil War soldiers were interested in studying their war and memorializing the actions of their unit.

In 1912, there were many Union monuments on the Shiloh battlefield, but only one to Southerners.  That year park historian David Reed received a letter from Dr. Yves R. Lemonnier. The New Orlean’s doctor had served as a private  in Company B, Louisiana Infantry, Pond’s brigade during the battle of Shiloh. He inquired how to place a monument on the battlefield to his former regiment. The delighted Reed responded by sending the guidelines concerning the erection of monuments and promised to help with locating an appropriate place if needed.

Dr. Lemonnier had been deeply effected by the battle of Shiloh.  The aging physician recalled seeing Beuaregard standing on a stump, his hat in his left land and his right hand extended toward the river. The General commanded the Louisianians as they marched across Owl Creek to, “Go! Drive the enemy into the river.” Lemonnier wrote that the men were so overjoyed at seeing the great Louisianian that shouts and hurrahs went up attracting the attention of their enemy.  During the battle the young Lemonnier witnessed the surrender of General Prentiss in the Hornet’s Nest. In Lemonnier’s book on Beuaregard at Shiloh, he recalled how his regiment moved by flank north of Duncan Field onto an old country road. The Federals came out of the woods among them was General Benjamin Prentiss.  The Rebel soldiers cheered and Colonel Marshall Smith ordered a ceasefire. According to Lemonnier, Prentiss said, “Let them cheer, let them cheer, for they have this day captured the finest brigade in the United States Army.” Whether this account of Prentiss’ surrender is true or not; the battle left a lasting impression upon the young private Lemonnier.

After the war, Lemonnier attended medical school and became the coroner for the Orleans Parish.  The doctor became quit well known for treatment of yellow fever in Memphis, a unique way of treating amputations, critizing mid-wives and for advocating the use of an electric heart. When he was not attending to his duties as a doctor, Lemonnier studied the battle of Shiloh. Much of his studying resulted in articles, presentations and even a book on General Beauregard. In the book, Lemonnier argued that Beuaregard did not cause the South to lose the battle. He believed that the loss of time caused the defeat.

Despite his interest in the battle, Dr. Lemonnier found the task of generating support for a Shiloh monument difficult. The war was long over, New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana suffered under reconstruction. Although Confederate veteran and daughter organizations were prominent, there was little interest in the battle of Shiloh or in remembering it. The battle had been a loss to the South. History blamed prominent Louisianian General Pierre G. T. Beauregard with the tragic loss.  The veterans and the ladies of the state turned their attention to raising funds to erect a prominent monument at Vicksburg, a battlefield closer and more frequently visited. and to raise funds to help in the erection of a monument to Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Richmond. Dr. Lemonnier’s requests fell upon deaf ears and he gave up rasing funds for a momument. Instead he decided to pay for a modest monument to his beloved Crescent Regiment himself.  June 1913, the frustrated veteran wrote the park historian about his efforts saying that he had told his comrades, “that as the state politicians of Louisiana would not honor its dead, I was to have a monument placed – – at my expense, not that of the politicians . . . to the memory of my regiment, the Crescent, on the battlefield of Shiloh.”

Paying for the monument by himself, Lemonnier chose Albert Weiblen monument company of New Orleans to create and erect the monument. Weiblen’s company was well known for its many beautiful memorials in the New Orlean’s cemeteries. The company was also busy creating and erecting monuments at Vicksburg National Military Park. The doctor and Albert Weiblen settled on a modest design that included a crescent and a simple inscription.  While work began on the monument, friends of Lemonnier suggested that he place a plaque on the back giving credit to himself for erecting the monument. Not being interested in self-recognition but more that his comrades in arms be recognized, Lemonnier requested a simple acknowledgement. On the back he included the inscription that the monument was erected by a private of the company. Lemonnier’s greatest fear was that some undeserving politician would take credit for the memorial.

Dedicating the monument became another struggle for the old veteran. Lemonnier set the date for Memorial day 1915. He worked to garner interest in the dedication of the monument and to gather a group to attend. His efforts were in vain. Veterans were more interested in more popular battlefields and bigger monuments.  The doctor could not even get a politician to attend the ceremony.  He wrote to the park superintendent that he,

“was more than mortified at the indifference shown today, by the remnant of the once glorious Southern army, in which as in the north, for that, the American’s knowledge of a duty to be performed, of patriotism, as each one understood it stood out in bold relief. All seems to have given way to commercialism, notoriety, aye the mighty dollar. The great majority of the Veterans of the sixties, both North and South, have crossed the happy hunting grounds, resting in the shades of their labor. . .I detest notoriety, acting always according to the dictates of a clear conscience. Had it been possible, you would have awoken one fine morning to find my monument up, where it is, wondering how it came there, what good fortune placed it there, or perhaps pushed it here during the night, like a mushroom, by the gnomes, from the earth’s entrails.  However, be it as it may, we have it there today, erected by a private of Co. B, which is by far more attractive than if it read by Peter, Paul or Harry.”

Unfortunately, poor eyesight and failing health precluded Dr. Lemonnier from attending the dedication of his monument. He sent a speech along to the park superintendent to be read. It is unknown, but believed, that no one from the state of Louisiana attended the ceremony.  In 1917, the old veteran wrote to the park to confirm that what he had read in an article was true. According to the Confederate Veteran there were only three monuments to the South on the Shiloh battlefield.  He reminded the new park superintendent, DeLong Rice that his monument was the fourth and could he please be updated. He further added that “it is a shame that the South is not more deservinglyrepresented in our National Military Parks.” Lemonnier expressed disappointment that others financially capable had not followed his example. He attributed the lack of Southern memorials to the fact that  “commercialism, selfishness, politics and a lack of patriotism are the order of the day.”

The Louisiana Crescent Monument erected by Dr. Yves R. Lemonnier. Photo by Jim and Linda Christopher