Grand Army of the Republic Statue at Forest Lawn Cemetery

A stolid, statuary reminder of Nebraska's place in the American Civil War

Though still a Territory in the days of the War, the Nebraska region offered up “more than three thousand soldiers from a pool of barely nine thousand men of military age in 1860” to combat the Confederate army [3].

According to Nebraska historian James E. Potter, Nebraskan soldiers carried out a motley variety of tasks: “Nebraskans fought Confederates on Tennessee and Missouri battlefields, carried on a bushwhacker’s war with partisans in Arkansas, skirmished with Indians in Nebraska and Dakota Territories, and garrisoned forts and tiny outposts along the Platte Valley transportation and communication corridor" [3]. And while these men were in areas of danger and fierce battles, their loved ones who stayed back home were not spared any grain of agony, for, as Potter writes, “Economic hardship, the loss of family members to military service, and the stresses of coping with the harsh Great Plains environment all took their toll [3]. Thus, the events of the sixth decade of the nineteenth century disturbed everyone, regardless of whether one enlisted or not. The winds of chaos were echoing throughout the divided nation and its territories, and storms of bloodshed were slowly rolling in.  

In 1861, after the First Nebraska Volunteer Infantry had organized, "Jayhawkers" - or roving gangs known for "plundering and looting from civilian populations" during the War [2] - claimed the attention of the First Nebraska in a much more dire nature than the rebelling states [3]. Despite the need for protection on the homefront, the First Nebraska did not stay homebound; rather, the soldiers eventually landed under General Ulysses S. Grant's command [1]. Having overtaken Fort Donelson - which Potter notes as being an act that may have been the First Nebraska's ultimate "contribution to the Confederacy's eventual defeat" [3] - the regiment engaged in combat with Conefederate forces at the pivotal and bloody Battle of Shiloh in 1862. Minie-balls flew, cannon-shot was fired, and blood was spilled over the course of two brutal days. Men both young and old from nearly one thousand miles away found themselves in a forested hell of bloodshed and violence. Though the engagement itself was relatively brief, 4 members of the First Nebraska were killed and twenty-two were wounded [3]. 

After the Battle of Shiloh, the First Nebraska never again participated in a major battle. Yet, later in 1862, General John Pope (the commander of the "Department of the Northwest") declared that "he had too few troops to deal with the Indians" and demanded a calvary force to deal with the problem [3]. Native Americans proved to be an issue into 1863, leading to a nighttime attack on White Stone Hill - a Sioux camp - by the Second Nebraska that caused the Native Americans to flee [3]. However, not all encounters with Native Americans were this bloodless, for, near the end of '63, "several Ponca women and children near Niobrara" were murdered in cold blood by the Seventh Iowa, who had travelled from Omaha to the Niobrara area [3]. This episode in history displays that the fighting men were not pure glory and righteousness - the murders further prove that within the scope of battle and conquest, Man's violent passions can overrule ideals of peace, tranquility, and virtue. 

The statue of the soldier standing upon his pedestal represents not just one lone man - rather, it represents the plague of war and the warriors who are called to undergo baptisms of fire for a cause they believe so fully that they are willing to put their lives on the line in order to defend that cause. The surrounding graves symbolize the strength of the men - and of the women and children - who were impacted by the War in any way. And standing tall above them all is the stolid, solitary warrior whose eyes have seen chaos and camaraderie, violence and virtue.



7909 Mormon Bridge Rd, Omaha, NE 68152 ~ The G.A.R. memorial site is located on the hill above the Historic Chapel.