What is the Connection Between Stone Mountain and the Civil War?

A boy holding American and Confederate flag

Robert Edward Lee IV, Robert E. Lee’s great-grandson, at the Stone Mountain unveiling ceremony, 1928. Kenneth Rogers photographs, VIS.82.136.15, Kenan Research Center at Atlanta History Center

What was the Civil War?

Did you know there were no Civil War battles at Stone Mountain? If no battles occurred at Stone Mountain, why would someone want to put a monument there? 

Before diving into the question, it is important to know what the Civil War was. The Civil War was a violent conflict fought in the United States of America between 1861 and 1865. In 1860, South Carolina broke away from the United States. In 1861, 6 other states followed. The seceded states held a convention and decided their next move would be to form an alliance called the Confederate States of America. Following the start of the Civil War, 4 more states would join the Confederate side, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. Altogether these 11 states fought to keep the institution of enslavement. 22 states in the North fought to preserve the United States and end enslavement. The United States won the war in 1865, followed by the passing of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished enslavement in America. 

Since the end of the Civil War, monuments have been built across the United States for fallen Civil War soldiers and generals. In fact, the world’s largest Confederate monument was carved on the face of Stone Mountain. During the early 1910s, Helen Plane, widow of a Confederate soldier, and the Stone Mountain Confederate Monument Association (SMCMA) ) “advocated for a memorial for their loved ones who fought for the Confederate States and a symbol that would represent their view of the Civil War which was called Lost Cause ideology. Eventually, the SMCMA raised money and made arrangements to begin the carving on Stone Mountain. 

Because of the monument’s impressive size, a common misconception – or incorrect idea – is that Stone Mountain was a Civil War battlefield. In reality, there were no major battles at Stone Mountain. Helen Plane and the SMCMA chose Stone Mountain for the monument because of the mountain’s natural beauty and popularity amongst Georgia residents and visitors. While there were many important Civil War battles in Georgia, it is important to know that none occurred at Stone Mountain.  

What is the KKK?

After the Civil War ended in 1865, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution made the practice of enslavement illegal in the United States. The southern states, shocked by their defeat and the loss of so many lives, tried to explain the war with an ideology called The Lost Cause. The Lost Cause was the false idea that the Confederate States of America fought to defend state rights, not enslavement, and therefore their cause was justified. This idea also says that enslaved people were treated kindly. Some Lost Cause supporters, upset by the Confederate defeat and the freedom granted to African Americans, assembled a group called the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). This group was driven by White Supremacy, a racist belief that white people are superior or better than people of other races and should have more power. 

Stone Mountain’s complicated history stems from its connection with the KKK, which held meetings or rallies on the mountaintop beginning in 1915.

Even though African Americans were freed after the Civil War, hate groups like the KKK made life after enslavement difficult and uncomfortable for Black families. Because of their unwavering belief in white supremacy during and after the Civil War, the KKK tried to maintain control over African Americans by scaring Black individuals from going to school, voting, or even walking in the streets after dark. The unjust terrorizing of Black families was made illegal soon after the Civil War, but over the next hundred years, these laws were not usually enforced in the South. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned the unfair treatment of individuals based on their race, religion, or gender. Additionally, the act sent a message that the United States government would not tolerate the KKK’s cruel behavior.  

For some readers, these unfamiliar topics can be confusing and frightening. Always talk to a parent, teacher, or trusted adult about difficult thoughts or feelings.