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Connecticut's Monuments: an essay
Purpose of Monuments
Monument Designs || Suppliers & Materials || Artists & Sculptors || Dedication Ceremonies || Conclusion
War memorials did not proliferate after the War of the Revolution, the War of 1812, or the Mexican-American War, but they did so after the Civil War. What had changed? According to one observer, the idea of honoring soldiers who died in action in a particular war or engagement was relatively new, a Prussian invention, dating from 1793. 1By the end of the Civil War, conditions favorable to pursuit of the idea of war memorials came together. The Civil War had taken an emotional and family toll unprecedented in American history, making it understandable for society to seek an activity that would be compensating, at least to a degree. The talent, technology, and prosperity required for a large building program were all available. Perhaps the convergence of considerations such as these prompted communities to consider what could be done locally in recognition of the wartime experience.
A community's desire for a war memorial, when reduced to paper, usually expressed words of honor and respect for those who served, and especially for those who died. The resolution adopted by a Portland town meeting on September 9, 1871, eloquently articulated the purpose of the Town of Portland and of Connecticut people generally:
Whereas, in the late war of the rebellion a large number of the inhabitants of the Town of Portland patriotically sacrificed their lives to the restoration of peace and harmony of our distracted land, and whereas we are reaping and our children after us will reap the inestimable benefits of the terrible sacrifice of blood that they have made for us and the land at large, and whereas some token of our appreciation of the magnitude of the sacrifice made by them for us and those to come after us, and some memorial that shall outlive and outlast the changes of time and seasons [is] eminently due from us to their sacrificed lives, therefore.... 2
The resolution handled several important points in a manner that was standard in connection with most Connecticut Civil War memorials:
- There was repeated reference to the men who participated and the sacrifice they made; the intent was to memorialize them. The purpose of the monument was to honor the soldiers; hence, the commonly used name of Soldiers' Monument.
- The conflict was referred to as the War of the Rebellion, and it was fought to save the Union, although the term Union was not used in the resolution. Nor was the term Civil War used.
- Patriotism as a virtuous and most highly commendable purpose in life was extolled to the maximum degree. By inference, the deaths were justified and the next generation should be prepared to die if an equivalent great cause materialized.
- The lasting value of the sacrifice was emphasized, asserting that benefits would flow to future generations. Those who died gave their lives for the benefit of posterity.
- Accordingly, the memorial should not be transitory but permanent, to coexist over time with the benefits assured by the heroes' sacrifice.
- No mention was made of the man and the event that in 20th-century judgment were of utmost importance, Abraham Lincoln and emancipation.
Monuments to Regiments
Connecticut Civil War monuments erected by communities were dedicated to men from the community who died in the war, or to all from the community who served. Monuments with more specific dedications were raised by individuals or specially organized groups, not by communities at large. For example, the half-dozen monuments commemorating specific regiments, or groups of regiments, were the result of efforts by the regimental alumni associations to generate interest and spur individual donations. The alumni also used their political clout to lobby for state assistance in funding. When success in garnering taxpayer support was achieved, the monument resulted.
Monuments Raised Privately
In the cases of the 22 monuments that were individual philanthropies, undoubtedly the patriotic motives of the donors were sincere, but the decisions to make the gifts may also have reflected the fact that the monuments were popular and the donors received a good press.
Monuments to Individuals
Monuments of civic character raised to individual heroes are few in number. MAJOR GENERAL JOHN SEDGWICK MEMORIAL, Cornwall, is the most straightforward example. It is on public ground, memorializes the state's great professional general, and was a private philanthropy. GRIFFIN A. STEDMAN MONUMENT, Barry Square, Hartford, is a mixture since it lists several regiments on its dado; their alumni associations participated in the planning and fund raising. The monument honors them along with General Stedman, and it apparently benefited from some state money as well. LINCOLN HERM, New Milford, which honors President Abraham Lincoln and soldiers and sailors who served in the Civil War, was the gift of an individual. Circumstances surrounding the creation of GENERAL NATHANIEL LYON MONUMENT, Eastford, are not known.
Cemeteries throughout the state have thousands of graves of Civil War soldiers, a great many of them still with individual American flags and G.A.R. emblems. Since the flags are on wooden dowels and the G.A.R. emblems on steel stakes, both temporary in terms of installation, their presence demonstrates continued care. These monuments, almost all identical white marble stones with segmental tops and incised lettering, are considered to be private rather than civic, even though many of them undoubtedly are government issue, and are not recorded here, except for four where special circumstances prevail. 3
Monuments to African Americans
In 1861 the number of African Americans living in Connecticut was 8,627, or 1.9% of the population. 4 In the first years of the war, when voluntary enlistment provided the necessary men, blacks trying to volunteer were occasionally successful. As time went on, freeing the slaves was enunciated by President Abraham Lincoln as a war objective in 1862, and by 1863 the draft was in force. These changes made a profound difference in the matter of service by African Americans. 5 In Connecticut the question of whether blacks should serve became an active political issue, with Republicans in favor and Democrats against. Republican Governor William A. Buckingham at length was successful in securing passage of a bill in November 1863 which provided for raising African American regiments in Connecticut. While in the federal pay scale black soldiers were paid less than whites, Connecticut made up the difference in wages.
The 29th Regiment Connecticut Colored Volunteers, which was organized in response to the governor's November 23, 1863, call for men, was declared full on January 8, l864, and was "mustered in" on March 4, 1864, thereafter serving as a discrete entity, and having the distinction of being the first infantry to enter Richmond. The 30th Regt. C.C.V. was also organized but never achieved sustained identity comparable to that of the 29th. 6
Most Connecticut civic Civil War monuments are dedicated to all from the community who served, or all who died in service, without reference to race or color. To the extent that blacks were in the ranks, they are recognized by the monuments. Names on monuments usually are of those who died, almost always without indication of race and color of the men named. But at SMITH GATEWAY, Union Cemetery, Niantic in East Lyme, the names are followed by symbols (keyed at the bottom of the plaques), one symbol designating "colored." And on SOLDIERS' MONUMENT, Weatogue in Simsbury, seven of the 194 names are identified as from "Colored Regiments." SOLDIERS MONUMENT, Center Cemetery, East Hartford, also identifies a name with "(col'd)."
The 29th Regt. C.C.V. is prominently recognized, along with other regiments, on SOLDIERS' MONUMENT, Watertown. Without an organization to lobby the General Assembly, it is unlikely that any regiment was tendered a regiment-specific memorial. Whether the 29th had an active alumni association is not known. 7 Because blacks comprised less than 2% of the population, the issue of war service by African Americans in Connecticut was considered relatively minor at the time, but the subject did become heated politically, blacks from Connecticut did serve, and they are recognized on four memorials. 8
Freed slaves are included in the sculpture on SOLDIERS AND SAILORS MEMORIAL ARCH, Hartford, and SOLDIERS MONUMENT, Waterbury, in each instance at the initiative of the architect. Freedom is mentioned on several monuments, but slavery is never mentioned.
Memorials to Confederate Soldiers
Yale College was slow, much slower than Harvard, in getting around to memorializing its men who served in the Civil War. Finally, in 1913, Yale installed YALE CIVIL WAR MEMORIAL in Woolsey Hall. The memorial consists of sculpture and lists of names, with rank, unit, and place of service, of Yale members of both the Union and Confederate armies. Such a broad-minded approach probably could not have been carried out much earlier than 1913.
MAJOR GENERAL G. W. SMITH STONE, Cedar Grove Cemetery, New London, marks the grave of a Confederate general interred there, at the time without marker, in 1896. His burial took place in New London because he married a New London woman; he is buried in her family's plot.
This study may well have overlooked monuments eligible to be included. Monuments may also have disappeared. For example, there is an unconfirmed report that the Town of Trumbull once had a Civil War monument. In 1903, $3,000 was appropriated for a First Regiment Connecticut Cavalry monument. 9 Since no location is given for these last two, there is a possibility that they were erected on battlefields. In any event, the chances are that the present list of 136 is not a complete list of all civic Civil War monuments erected in Connecticut.
In all of the manifestations of purpose associated with raising Connecticut's Civil War monuments, emphasis was on the sacrifice made by local men. While their service in the cause of saving the Union was acknowledged, the glory of the deeds of young men of the community was the principal subject extolled. The chief purpose of the monuments was to commemorate local men.
| Footnotes |
| 1 [back] Donald Martin Reynolds, Masters of American Sculpture (New York: Abbeville Press Publishers, 1993), p. 141. |
2 [back] Minutes of Town Meeting, Town of Portland, Connecticut, held on September 9, 1871.
3 [back] BROOKS MONUMENT, Haddam; BANNING AND ROWE MONUMENT, Hartland; GEORGE T. MEECH PLAQUE, Ledyard; and JOHN BENSON MARKER, Stratford.
4 [back] This statistic and other facts about African American participation in the war are taken from Peter M. Friedman, "Black in Blue, Connecticut's African-American Soldiers in the Union Army," l994 Senior thesis, Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut.
5 [back] Officers in black regiments almost always were white. See WELD MONUMENT, Old North Cemetery, Hartford.
6 [back] One of the names incised in SOLDIERS' MONUMENT, East Hartford, Samuel W. Francis, is followed by "COL'D. / 10.C.30, REG. C.V. DIED AT CITY POINT HOSPITAL / OCT. 27, 1863, AGED 30." The date of death is inconsistent with the governor's November 23, 1863, call for men.
7 [back] Friedman's paper concludes with the end of the war, except for the mention of a New Haven parade in honor of black veterans in 1870.
8 [back] An individual black soldier's veteran status is acknowledged by the standard parade rest figure in zinc in JOHN BENSON MARKER, Stratford.
9 [back] Materials compiled by Robert Xavier Johnson in 1988 relating to Civil War monuments paid for by the state are held in a box in the office of the State Archivist marked "State-Owned Sculpture Survey Project."