(CBS)— If you enter the private Oak Woods Cemetery on Chicago’s South Side and navigate several meandering roads, there you will find it: the largest memorial to Confederate dead north of the Mason Dixon Line.
The 45-foot-tall monument towers above a mass grave. At the top, a bronze figure looks down at the buried remains of more than 4,000 rebel soldiers.
Their names are engraved on bronze plaques at the column’s base, with cannons positioned nearby.
Called Confederate Mound, some 100,000 attended its dedication in 1895. The privately financed monument sits on federal land administered by a branch of the VA. Supervisors say there have been no recent cases of vandalism or calls to tear it down.
“Typically, you don’t have Confederate soldiers honored in Northern cities,” Russell Lewis of the Chicago History Museum says.
During the Civil War, some 25,000 Confederate soldiers passed through Chicago’s Camp Douglas as prisoners of war. As many as 6,000 died there.
“It was quite notorious as probably the worst of the Union camps for confederate prisoners,” Lewis says.
The soldiers were originally buried at the south end of what is today Lincoln Park. After the war, their remains were moved to Confederate Mound. Annually, after acquiring a permit from the VA, a local chapter of the Sons of the Confederate Soldiers holds a costumed memorial service for the dead.
On Wednesday, a lone Confederate flag stood next to an American flag.
“I am very sympathetic that these are very offensive to some people,” Lewis says.
But he agrues these remnants of the past have importance.
“I’m not a big fan of erasing history. I think some of these monuments could be re-contextualized so it’s an educational opportunity for people to learn,” he says.
Oakwood Cemetery is the final resting place of Harold Washington, Chicago’s first African-American mayor.