The Bentonville Square Statue - What it means and what it doesn't mean

I am going to handle a hot potato and try not to get burned. I have a lot of people come to this site wanting to know about the Confederate Statue on the Bentonville Square. No one has dealt with the history of the statue or at least have deat with it at the bare minimum and it needs to be addressed.

In no way does this blog attempt to make apologies for slave owners for the way they treated African American slaves in the 1800's. Slavery was a failing if not failed institution by the time of the Civil War and was hotly debated at even the time of the signing of the American Declaration of Independence 90 years earlier. I am humbled by the experiences that slaves endured throughout slavery as I hope everyone is. Looking at it in hindsight without putting yourself in the actual position of the slaves and slave owners is difficult to do, as none of us will ever really be able to "know what it's like." Especially helpful is a reading of slave narratives taken by the WPA in the 1940's. I am much more sickened by the treatment of African Americans in the South after the war, especially in the 1950's and 1960's, as that era is more familiar to me. I hope that relations between all races continues to get better and better instead of what appears to be a worsening situation in many areas today. Fortunately, Northwest Arkansas has sped ahead of many areas in their treatment of different cultures and races. My fervent home is that it stays this way.

I have had a few nasty comments about the statue and the backwardness that it represents and have been called a few names, although I have nothing to do with the statue or the history in general.

Here is what I posted in 2010:

I have had a search of my site recently by someone who wondered who the statue in the middle of the square was supposed to be. The statue is a figural respresentation of the Confederate Soldier.

The history behind the statue is part of what makes Bentonville unique. The only Arkansas Governor from Bentonville was James H. Berry who served as a lawyer in Bentonville, was elected to state legislature in 1872 and speaker of the house in 1874. He was a circuit judge here from 1878 to 1882. He was elected governor in 1882 and served from January 1883 to January 1885. He was appointed to the United States Senate in 1885 and served there until 1907. Berry was a Confederate and served as a 2nd Lieutenant and was wounded in Corith, Mississippi and lost a leg. 

Andrew J. Bates was born near Dadeville, Missouri in 1844. He fought for the Confederacy, joining the Arkansas 26th Infantry, Company “K.” He never rose above the rank of private. In 1866, Bates came to Benton County. He was a founder of the Benton County Bank, along with Col. W. A. Terry and S. F. Stahl, where he served as vice-president. He sold his interest in that bank and organized the First National Bank of Bentonville, of which he was president until 1920.  He was a well known elk and big game hunter. His many hunting trophies added flavor to the Elk Horn Barber Shop. Bates died in 1928 and left an estate of $150,000. At his wife’s death, the remainder of the estate was to be used to build and maintain a hospital, to be known as Bates Memorial.  After a challenge to the will by Bates’ nieces and nephews, and the loss of $52,000 in worthless stock, the remainder was matched by the WPA. In 1935 the twelve bed hospital was completed at a cost of $18,000.

So anyway, Bates wanted to make a gift to the city to memorialize the Confederate soldiers who had served from Benton County and Bentonville in particular. Statues of this sort are common throughout the south. If you are familiar with Bentonville history, the town was nearly completely burned by the Union Army during the Civil War and many of the local boys fought for the south.

The statue was dedicated in a grand ceremony on August 8th, 1908. One side of the base reads, "To the Southern Soldiers - Erected by A.J. Bates and the James H. Berry Chapter United Daughters of the Confederacy Aug. 8, 1908." The other reads, " Their Names are Borne On Honors Shield. Their Record Is With God. They Fought For Home and Fatherland."

There have been attempts made a few times over the past fifty years to have the statue removed because of the pain that the Civil War caused on both sides; however, the center of the square was deeded to the Daughters of the Confederacy for use as a park to be known as Public Square Park and will remain in their possession in perpetuity.

Benton County was never a large slave holding county in Arkansas. Most of the slave owners were failures at business in other places and started anew here, bringing their slaves with them. The 1850 census shows Benton County with 3710 population and 209 slaves. By 1860, the population had grown by nearly tripled to 9306 but the slave population was only 384, growth that was less than doubled.

The soldiers from Benton County were about 1100 total. Of those, about 51 deserted from the 15th Arkansas Infantry Northwest alone; 43 were killed or sick. Company F was hit hardest, with 7 desertions, 20 killed or ill, and 45 captured.

If you read in-depth of the history of our county and especially the history of our town, the treatment of African Americans, while not execllent, was better than most southern cities. Bentonville never had "sundown"laws to my knowledge, and I have done extensive research.

 More to follow...