ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Minnesota’s top ranking military leader is defending some controversial art inside the newly-renovated State Capitol.

National Guard Major General Rick Nash says the Civil War paintings and other military artifacts that some consider too violent are an important tribute to Minnesota soldiers who saved the Union.

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Governor Mark Dayton first raised the issue of violence depicted in the historic paintings hanging in the reception room outside his office. Some of those paintings and other military artifacts could be removed, or taken to less visible locations.

And Minnesota’s highest ranking military official says that would be a mistake.

“War was no less horrible in 1861 than it is today,” General Nash said.

Nash told a State Capitol Restoration Art Committee that removing the Civil War artifacts will mean the state has lost its reverence for the men who served and died.

“A large number of the legislators at the time were civil war veterans,” he said. “Are we now to dismiss, minimize, forsake, disavow or repudiate the clear direction and intent of
a broad base of Minnesotan when the people’s house was built?”

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Nash said Minnesota sent 25,000 soldiers to the Civil War, the largest contingent per capita in the nation. Today, that would be like sending 750,000 Minnesotans to battle.

After the war, state lawmakers awarded every soldier special benefits, including a Civil War history. Veterans became legislators and built a new Capitol, commissioning artwork to reflect what they’d been through.

“The Capitol was largely constructed as a monument to Minnesota’s service in the Civil War, and we think the art has a direct connection to that,” Don Kerr, executive director of the Minnesota National Guard, said. “Because the art captures the essence of the sacrifice that Minnesotans made when they went off to fight.”

General Nash says the graphic paintings reflect war as it is and should remain as a reminder to politicians who send Minnesotans into harm’s way.

“I think Minnesotans ought to get emotional about what kept our nation together,” he said.  “And it was young men from Minnesota that played a huge part.”

The official Minnesota State Capitol Restoration Commission is taking a public online survey to decide what to do about the State Capitol artworks.

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