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'Diversity has always been here': Funding exceeded for monument of black Civil War hero from Moorhead

The steel mock-up of Felix Battles. Special to The Forum1 / 2
Markus Krueger modeled the Felix Battles monument after this unidentified African-American Civil War soldier. There are no known photos of Battles. Special to The Forum2 / 2

MOORHEAD — What started as a historian's idea to commemorate an unacclaimed black Civil War hero who lived in Moorhead has become a community-funded steel monument that could be on display this fall.

One presentation at Junkyard Brewing Company in Moorhead on May 7 raised enough money to exceed the $1,000 goal for the steel statue of Felix Battles.

Battles was one of 104 black Americans who joined the Union Army from Minnesota. He was born enslaved outside of Memphis, Tenn., eventually escaped and made his way to St. Paul, where he enlisted at Fort Snelling to fight in the U.S. Army, said Markus Krueger, a historian at the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County. Battles fought in the Battle of Nashville in 1864, the victory that destroyed the Confederate army of the west, he added.

After the war, Battles settled in Moorhead by working for the Northern Pacific Railroad and became one of the first pioneers to settle in the area in the 1870s. He opened his own barber shop in town, which is likely how he earned the nickname, "the pioneer barber of the Red River Valley."

Through community donations, $1,476 was raised within the first two days of fundraising, Krueger said.

Krueger is the driving force behind the monument. He designed the initial mock-up, approached the local artist who will create the steel statue — Lyle Landstrom, of Moorhead — and held the presentation to raise money in honor of the little-known Civil War veteran.

"An important aspect of the project is that Battles has been here in the area since the beginning," Krueger said. "He was part of the railroad crew that created Fargo-Moorhead and then later came back as a barber. His statue shows that African-Americans and diversity have always been here — it's nothing new."

The final site where the monument will reside is still under discussion, Krueger said. Based on where Battles lived in the area, Minnesota State University Moorhead is one of the main options, he added. Battles lived on what is now the college's campus.

The monument's location, indoors or outdoors, is a pivotal factor in the final design of the monument. And the final design determines when construction will commence. Once decided, Krueger said he's confident the steel memorial will be in the ground or on a wall by this fall.

The monument will stand at 5 feet 8 inches, Battles' actual height. The statue is modeled after an unidentified African-American Civil War soldier, as there are no known photographs of Battles.

Once completed, there will be an unveiling celebration for the monument.

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