The Lion of the Atlanta

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta, Georgia

Today a friend of mine, Renet Bender, has written a guest post about a cemetery that she likes and one of her favorite monuments within it, The Lion of Atlanta.  The Ladies Memorial Association commissioned T. M. Brady of Canton, Georgia, to create a monument to the unknown Confederate war dead buried in Oakland Cemetery.  The sculpture was commemorated on April 26, 1894.  The inspiration for the Lion of Atlanta was Bertil Thorvaldsen’s colossal Lion of Lucerne (Switzerland), which Mark Twain called “the most mournful and moving stone in the world.”   As the artist was completing the sculpture he was told he would not be paid the full amount for his work.  To demonstrate his contempt for those who contracted the work, Thorvaldsen carved the inset in the shape of a hog.

The Lion of Lucerne

The Lion of the Confederacy

Oakland Cemetery is an eighty-eight acre space of beauty and serenity in the heart of Atlanta, Georgia.  The cemetery served as the final resting place for everyone in Atlanta between 1850 and the early 1880’s, including all races, religions, and social classes (segregated of course).  Among the notables in this cemetery you can find the graves of  James Tate, co-founder of the first black school in Atlanta, Bishop Wesley John Gaines, a former slave and founder of Morris Brown College, Dr. Joseph Jacobs, the pharmacist who introduced Coca-Cola, and author of Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell, just to name a few. 

In July of 1864,  Confederate General John Bell Hood stood on a hill and watched the Battle of Atlanta just a couple of miles away.  So it is only fitting that there be a large area of unmarked graves from this battle.  It is said that some three thousand soldiers are buried in several mass graves here.  Their only monument is the beautiful marble “Lion of Atlanta”. This monument represents the Confederate soldiers who died defending their beliefs.   The proud, mortally wounded lion is lying down, signifying defeat in battle.  In his paw, he clutches a fallen battle flag, and he seems to be pulling his beloved banner toward him.  Standing on the grass beside the lion, one can almost sense the thousands of souls interred here and the great sadness of the Confederacy.  This place commands – and demands – reverence. 

Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta, Georgia

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17 Responses to The Lion of the Atlanta


    The site of the Battle of Pilot Knob, Arcadia Valley, Missouri, is now grassland and picnic benches with swelling knolls that cover mass graves….1,200 Confederate soldiers and 28 Union soldiers died within a matter of hours….unbelievable….most people are not aware that:
    –More Civil War battles or engagements were fought in Missouri than in any other state besides Virginia and Tennessee
    –In 1861, the year the war started, 45 percent of all battles and all casualties were in Missouri
    –More Civil War generals are buried at St. Louis than at Arlington or West Point
    These is a bronze plaque explaining this battle at Pilot Knob but little else….

  2. Robb Clouse says:

    Wonderful post, Renet, and a nice historical preface on the artistic inspiration, the Lion of Lucerne, from gravellyspeaking himself. The two of you make a fine team!

  3. Steven Shelnutt says:

    Well-written, but the Weeping Lion is carved from granite, not marble.

  4. Elaine Bolton says:

    Fascinating reading! I will visit the Lion when next I am at Oakland; ironically was there today. Please visit us at Pleasant Hill Cemetery adjacent to Paces Ferry UMC at 3612 Paces Ferry Road, Atlanta during “Phoenix Flies”. We’ll have tours March 14, 21, and 28 from 11 – 2. Nearly 100 graves are identified; 10 are veterans from the Civil War to the Korean.

  5. Sister Albert says:

    You should do a follow up. The lion has been defaced (his snout was chiseled off) and twice assaulted with paint and graffiti. The increasingly common term for Confederates, “Traitor” was painted in large letters on the pedestal.

    • I am very sorry to hear that the sculpture has been defaced and damaged. I don’t get to Atlanta very often but the next time I go, I’ll see if I can get to the Oakland Cemetery to take photos so I can update my blog post.

      • Teresa says:

        I really wish the city would put this in the cyclorama where it can be protected before it is totally destroyed. What is the city going to do to repair its snout and eyes?

      • Bill says:

        I doubt the city of Atlanta will assist in restoring the Lion of Atlanta, I saw the damage 1st hand after I visited the cemetery late last year, broke my heart to see that monument in that state, it will take a professional to restore it, (if it can be done at all), the red graffiti has permeated into the porous marble will will be next to impossible to get it out, Oakland is a non profit so any monies needed to restore the statue will have to come from donations, I am sorry to say that knowing the city of Atlanta and it’s leadership, I can safely say they could care less about anything that is related to civil war monuments…I have lived in Atlanta my entire life, so I know how it works down here..

      • Teresa says:

        I think you are right. It’s a shame. They should give it to the sons of confederate veterans or put it in the cyclorama. It’s part of their art collection. A shame they are not taking action. The director told me they were working with the apd and working on a plan. I hope so. I wonder if it would be legal to put trail cams up. I would be willing to do so. I was born and grew up in atlanta also.

  6. LTC John Mosele, (ret.) says:

    Has there ever been miniature Lion of Atlanta sculptures been produced ? I wish I had one on my desk. The people that disfigured this monument should be arrested, prosecuted, and serve maximum punishments. The mental midgets that are destroying our historic and sacred cemetery monuments are demonstrating their complete ignorance of critical thinking and morale principles.

    • I don’t know if a miniature version has been made or not, but I think the place to find out would be the Oakland Cemetery Gift Shop. If any place has one, surely it would be there.

    • Teresa says:

      I agree. I have never seen a miniature. The city needs to move this to the cyclorama for protection. They are not able to protect it in the cemetery. There are not even simple trail cams. They are not doing their job.

      • John Mosele says:

        I emailed the cemetery gift shop and was informed by the manager that they did sell miniature sculptures until the artisan retired. I am now trying to find out who made them and if I can contact him/her. Then, I will try to get them back in production. It’s pretty obvious from the web site there is a liberal slant to their idea about the monument and the War Between the State’s. Don’t you just love the way Southern history is being systematically eradicated ?

      • Teresa azar says:

        Exactly. Let me know if you find the artisan. I would love to have one

  7. I am from Atlanta too, and all my paternal ancestors (MacDougalds) are buried at Oakland. Actually the statue has been attacked twice. The last attack was after much painstaking work was done to restore the sculpture, and it was even worse. I visited the Cyclorama recently and it was not nearly as cool as when the center rotated in the old days.

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