Civil War Monument

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

A Well-Known Landmark

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.

By Walter H. Marx

May 25, 1989