Civil War Monument and Streets

A Well-Known Landmark
By Walter H. Marx

Fitting it is to die on behalf of one's country. - Horace, Odes 111. 2

As Memorial Day was founded in 1868 to honor the dead of the Civil War, it is entirely appropriate this week to focus on JP's most familiar landmark, the Monument at the intersection of South and Centre Streets. Officially it is the Soldier's Monument in West Roxbury, since our area was part of Norfolk County.

Under her ardent war governor, John A. Andrew, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts raised $42,000,000 for the war effort and sent 159,000 sailors and soldiers to the Civil War. Of this number, 46 from the town of West Roxbury went off never to return, buried from the shores of Texas to the valleys of Pennsylvania.

The Reports of the Town of West Roxbury from the Committee on the Soldier's Monument best describe our Monument's origin. First is the 1869/70 Report, noting the appointment of a committee of eight men to erect "a suitable monument or memorial tablet in honor of the West Roxbury men who lost their lives in the service of their country during the Rebellion." This was done in accordance with the wishes of a Town Meeting held on November 5, 1869.

The Committee quickly fell to work and in its debut in the same Town Report had a site chosen and had procured plans and estimates for several types of monuments. It was determined by a majority vote (often done elsewhere) that $15,000 was needed for the memorial. In addition, the Committee had established a list of the dead of the town - interestingly, with no sailors among them despite our coastal location. Although more than 40 were found, only 23 who had been actual residents of the town at enlistment were inscribed.

West Roxbury was a well-to-do town and her unmatched memorial produced a revered area like a templum of the ancients with sacred ground and building. The triangular piece of soil that was chosen had been given to the town for our area's first schoolhouse in 1676 and had always been set off from its surroundings. Surely it was the center of the town with the new town hall (Curtis Hall), having been built in 1868 diagonally across the street. The Monument is in the Gothic style of architecture and lends itself a solemn but awe-inspiring tone.

This tone is confirmed by the granite construction: a three-step base of dark Quincy granite. 11 x 11 x 3 supports the steeple-like superstructure of bright-gray Clark's Island (Plymouth) granite. The steeple's base is nicely worked with the Federal shield, and from these rise pinnacles carved with cannon, guns, swords, or anchors - a naval reminiscence at least. Bronze finials cap the pinnacles at 20 feet. The steeple's interior was left open to produce a "holy of holies" as in Solomon's temple at Jerusalem.

Approached by a step is a platform, on which like the Ark of the Covenant stands in gleaming contrast to the rest of the Monument. A white marble block that is still fairly legible. It is inscribed on three sides with 23 names along with the rank, army unit, date and occasion of death, as given in the Town Reports. Even with just these 23 the course of the Civil War is seen. The fourth side noted the Monument's being in the words of the 1869 Town Meeting.

Above each of the aches leading into the interior are gables inscribed with names: Lincoln, Andrew, Farragut (the naval connection again), and Thomas (the original donor of the land), but more probably (to represent the Army) Virginia-born Gen. George Henry Thomas (1816-70), "the Rock of Chickamauga" and hero of the Tennessee theatre.

A solid octagonal dome concludes the steeple effect standing above carved festoons of stone drapery caught up by rosettes at each angle. Finally, the gem of all military memorials: a fine seven-foot granite statue of a Union soldier, leaning in pensive attitude upon his rifle at guard rest.

Joseph Sala did this still-fresh statue, while the architect of the whole was W. W. Lummus. The total height is 27 feet. The cost, as noted in the last Town Report for 1873/4 was nearly $22,000 with $3,500 for the statue.

The Monument was dedicated on September 14, 1871: "A fine day with no accidents and the entire observances were of a quiet, serious, and impressive character well suitable for the occasion," notes the commemorative booklet for the day.

At 3 p.m. came a procession of the police, a military group, a band, the Monument Committee, the Selectmen, the Orator of the Day in the tradition of Pericles (Rev. T.F. Clarke), honored guests (Gov. Claflin, Town Officers, clergy, and Civil War veterans) followed by the Fire Department with decorated engines and bouquet-carrying schoolchildren. The Monument Committee Chairman gave the Monument to the Town with a brief speech honoring the dead. Flags draping the Monument were removed as a 13-gun salute was fired and the Chairman of the Selectmen accepted in a brief speech.

Then Jamaica Plain had its own Funeral Oration for the war's dead, delivered somewhat lengthy with remarks on each patriot who lost his life in the battle. This done, "America" was sung, a benediction was said, and once again each went his way. Another historical moment had passed. The Monument is still the same today except that the fence between the arches has been replaced by a fence that surrounds the entire triangle.

Early War Memorial Speeches

Late in 431 B.C. following ancient custom, Pericles, leader of Athens, delivered a funeral oration for his fellow-citizens who had died in the first year of the Peloponnesian War. Even if its report in Thucydides' Histories is not verbatim, the oration transcended politics and matters of state to enter literature. This first recorded funeral oration soon became one of the finest expressions of human intellect. After it was delivered, each in the audience went home quietly, says Thucydides (11. 47).

On November 19, 1863, the National Cemetery was dedicated at Gettysburg some four months after the vast three-day battle there, which is regarded as the turning point of the Civil War. Sharing the platform with President Lincoln was our Senator, Edward Everett, noted orator and former professor of Greek at Harvard, who delivered a long oration mostly describing the battle. Mr. Lincoln then rose to deliver his three-minute concluding remarks, which were received without much notice. Later it was elevated to Pericles' status - even inscribed on Civil War memorials.

Gettysburg produced a forest of memorials (today totaling 845), with Massachusetts building the first of 27 in 1879. The zeal for memorials that dot military parks in the North and South had begun, as the casualty lists came out, before the end of the Civil War.

May 25, 1989

Jamaica Plain's Gaggle of Civil War Streets
By Walter H. Marx

The Civil War Monument with its marble block inscribed with names, places and dates of the fallen, forms a solid outline of that war's events. The City of Boston reinforced the memory of the Civil War further when it lay out and named the streets in Jamaica Plain.

Names focus on heroes of the war: the naval officer Porter, the general Sheridan, post-war president Andrew Johnson, Massachusetts war governor John Albion Andrew (also seen above an arch on the Monument), and perhaps, in a magnificent gesture, Southern commander-in-chief Robert E. Lee.

Pictured: Civil War cadets from Roxbury. Photograph from Jamaica Plain Historical Society archives.

The focus of our street names then shifts to battle areas of the Civil War that took place in The Carolina's including the city of Newbern, North Carolina. Of the 146,730 black and white troops from Massachusetts (with 13,942 casualties) sent to the war under the zeal of governor John A. Andrew, 23 of those dead are memorialized on our Monument, three died in the Carolina campaigns.

Bostonian Rev. Thomas Higginson's classic Army Life in a Black Regiment (the First South Carolina) tells the story of the southern front, which produced immortality for Higginson himself and Bostonian Robert Gould Shaw with his black 54th Massachusetts Regiment, commemorated before the State House and in the academy-award winning movie, "Glory."

Newbern's tale is nicely preserved in a 1909 account by J. B. Gardner, written when our Commonwealth erected a statue to its fallen sons in the National Cemetery. A 13-foot bronze statue in classic drapery representing Peace, by M. H. Mosman of the 46th Massachusetts Regiment, surmounts a granite base with side tablets identifying the 17 regiments who served there.

Newbern (also seen as two words with or without a final E on Civil War memorials) was named for the ancient Swiss city by its founders in 1710 (as they were born there).

It was strategically located at the tidewater mark of the Neuss River at a stop on a branch of the Charleston-Richmond railroad, the "jugular vein" of the Confederacy.

The Carolina theatres may have been sideshows in the war, but they were vital ones. The Outer Banks off the North Carolina coast (now a National Seashore) cried out to become a repair base for Federal ships blockading the Southern coast and a headquarters for troops that could raid the many rivers emptying the coast. Such action could raise havoc for the confederate economy, pin down rebel forces from diversion to the major theatres, and possibly allow cutting railroad service - that all-important Civil War transportation channel. Finally, blockade-runners would no longer be able to be in these inlets.

By January 1862, a corps of ten regiments was recruited from New England - presumably better qualified for coastal service - to act under General Burnside as an auxiliary force of the Army of the Potomac as a coastal division. Roanoke Island in the middle of an island chain was captured by Massachusetts regiments in early February amid hard fighting. Proceeding through Pamlico Sound and up the Neuse River, Burnside concentrated on Newbern so as to gain control of the railhead. After heavy fighting the regiments reached the city on March 14, 1862, to find all bridges destroyed but repairable. This emporium of produce, lumber, and cotton became the headquarters of the Department of North Carolina for the war's duration.

Burnside proceeded with the general plan of bringing all the Outer Banks under Union control and reduced Beaufort and Ft. Macon on the Banks' southern end on April 25, 1862, to open the port of Morehead City, the maritime terminus of the branch railroad. Thus the northern half of North Carolina was used as the springboard for Union incursions to inner parts of the state along the mainline of the Charleston-Richmond railroad. Inland Kinston and Gainsborough were under Federal control by the end of December.

However, the Confederacy kept up the fight to protect its rail lifeline, and a tug of war ensued until 1865. Taking the offensive in February 1864, the rebels sent ironclads up and down the Carolina rivers, after building them up river. Sherman's March to the Sea, ending in Savannah, Georgia in December 1864, doomed further resistance. His forces met up with the Union troops in North Carolina in March 1865, and war ended when Johnston surrendered to Sherman on April 26. So the Carolina sideshow had proved its ultimate value and saved a vast cleanup operation, for under Union occupation for so long the area had already returned to civilian life.

By the war's end, 17 Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry companies had seen service in the Department of North Carolina, and many were buried in its soil thus the push in 1907 for the statue at Newbern, dedicated on November 11, 1908. A great number of Bay Stators went down for the occasion and were so impressed by Southern hospitality in spite of "the late unpleasantness" that upon returning to Boston the group sent the Newbern chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy an inscribed punchbowl of solid silver "in grateful appreciation of the hospitality, kindness, and sympathy show at the dedication of the Soldiers' Monument." The Union was beginning to mend in the best possible way.

Three Memorials for Memorial Day
By Michael Reiskind

Memorial Day was born in 1866, out of the Civil War, and has grown to become a holiday to commemorate the dead of all wars. This year of 1995 has brought us two special war commemorations - the ending of World War II in Europe is fifty years old and the Vietnam War's end is already more than twenty years old. Jamaica Plain sent soldiers to all three conflicts and when they returned, memorials to their fallen comrades were established in the town. The three memorials were built in different eras, and speak to us differently about our past. Where are these three memorials?

In the center of Jamaica Plain, at the corner of Centre and South Streets, lies the Civil War monument. The arched granite commemorative is our town's most recognizable landmark. An impressive, gothic Victorian symbol to the War between the States, it was erected in 1871, and designed by the architect William W. Lummus. Frederick and Field Company of Quincy cut it from stone. It is thirty-four feet high overall, and made from light gray Clark's Island granite sitting on an eleven-foot square base of darker Quincy granite. The four arches form a covered space in which is a marble tablet containing the names of the townsmen who died from the war. Surmounting the canopy of the arches is a seven-foot statue of a pensive soldier carved by Joseph Sala.

Jamaica Plain was part of West Roxbury, and this was actually erected by the short-lived Town of West Roxbury (1851-1874) as its Soldiers Monument. It was a deliberate act of civic pride to put it next to the Town Hall (now Curtis Hall). The effect of the memorial is like a sacred temple remembering the departed. It is a gothic shrine to memory - with a military motif hovering above it. It speaks of its importance by its placement behind a fence, by its size, its heavy materials and its intricate design. The Monument is practically the most important object in town.

In contrast, Jamaica Plain's World War I and II memorial is almost hard to find. Located at the side of the traffic circle at Centre Street and Arborway, it sits by itself on a grassy plot with hardly anybody walking by. It is a starkly simple granite stone five feet high commemorating the Jamaica Plain dead from both World War I and World War II, and was erected by the Women's Auxiliary of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 675. The fallen are remembered solemnly, but the Town of West Roxbury did not exist any more as a separate municipality, and Victorian ostentation was no longer in style.

By the time of the end of the Vietnam War, styles in memorials were changing again. With Jamaica Plain becoming a part of Boston when the Town of West Roxbury was annexed, a municipal memorial was never a possibility. But different neighborhoods of Boston did create their own expressions of remembrance for the fallen in the Vietnam War. Jamaica Plain was one of these neighborhoods. Jamaica Plain had an annual Vietnam Veterans Parade in the early 1980's, and did dedicate a memorial to the Jamaica Plain dead. Seven trees in a row were planted in front of Curtis Hall next to one already fully grown. All seven have flourished and stand as a monument during this twentieth anniversary year. It seems fitting that a memorial has returned to the old Town Hall, the center of civic pride. But this memorial is of its time: a living monument, not of stone but of green; no names are inscribed, indeed no words at all are attached to the memorial, but the seven living symbols of the will to persevere and be reborn are a fitting memorial.

Sources: Alfred S. Roe, Monuments, Tablets and Other Memorials Erected in Massachusetts, Boston, 1910; Roxbury Gazette, June 9,1870.

Copyright © Jamaica Plain Historical Society

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