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| SOLDIERS' MONUMENT
West end of the Green
156 West Main Street
Dedicated: October 23, 1884
Type: Elaborate granite pedestal supporting bronze figures and bronze bas-reliefs
Sculptor, designer, supplier: George E. Bissell
Foundries: J. Gruet, Jr., Parisfigures except Emancipation, lamp posts,
and bas-reliefs; F. Barbedienne, ParisEmancipation
Builder and stoneworker: Mitchell Granite Works
Other collaborators: A.I. & G.S. Chatfield, Waterbury,
laid foundation; Charles Jackson, Waterbury, laid circular retaining wall
SOLDIERS' MONUMENT, Waterbury, is significant historically because it represents the culmination of long-term effort on the part of citizens to honor Waterbury men who served in the Civil War.
First public mention of the need for a monument appeared in the Waterbury American on November 26, 1870, but no action was taken until the matter was addressed in the summer of 1880 by Wadhams Post, No. 49, of the Grand Army of the Republic. A fountain, hospital, school, and memorial hall were considered as alternatives to a monument, but in due course a monument was decided upon and the monument committee held a competition which drew 14 entries. Fourteen of the 16 members of the committee chose Bissell's entry. Names of others who participated in the competition are not known.
Bissell's design consisted of a granite column with bronze statues at the die and Liberty on top, the whole to be 60' high. This design was thought to be appropriate for the proposed location among tall trees in the center of the Green. After much debate, in 1883 the location was moved to the west end of the Green near Saint John's Church. The design thereupon was changed, to avoid comparison of its height with the height of the church steeple. The monument faces west, away from the Green.
The initial budget called for expenditure of $15,000, which was soon determined to be inadequate. Subsequent fund raising brought the amount to $23,252, realized from 1,150 individual contributions. Thereupon, a contract was entered into on April 24, 1882, with Bissell in the amount of $25,000. He was the general contractor responsible for all aspects of the project, not including the foundation, as well as the designer and sculptor. The period from February 1883 to September 1884 was devoted by Bissell, in Paris, to the monument. He let the contract for the stonework to Mitchell Granite Works of Quincy, Massachusetts, on February 11, 1884.
The inscriptions were selected and prepared by the Reverend Dr. Joseph Anderson. The fact that he addressed one poetical inscription to the postwar years 1865-1885 is unusual, perhaps unique, in Connecticut.
Erection of the monument was accomplished at the last minute. Against the scheduled dedication date of October 23, not a stone had been laid by October 9. Work went forward by night as well as by day. Night work was made possible by use of electric lights, a novelty that drew crowds of spectators. The dedication deadline was substantially met, although the bas-reliefs were not put in place until the following year, and the inscription on the north face was lettered in April 1886.
The dedication ceremony was a typical Civil War monument major civic event, arranged by a multitude of committees. It drew a huge crowd, which included the governors of three New England states and the two United States senators from Connecticut (Joseph R. Hawley and Orville H. Platt). The 2nd Regiment, Connecticut National Guard, was prominent in the line of march, along with G.A.R. posts from two dozen towns, bands, fire departments, and fraternal organizations such as the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
SOLDIERS' MONUMENT, Waterbury, is significant artistically because it is a major work of sculpture and stonecutting, planned and executed by and under the supervision of George E. Bissell. The size and expense of the monument in themselves make it noteworthy in Connecticut. The quantity of sculpture is large, two bas-relief panels, and five figures. The unity of the parts is also exceptional; even the light standards and globes were designed and executed as part of the whole. The stonework, as well, was Bissell's responsibility.
The allegorical symbolism beloved in the 19th century is fully affirmed. Each panel and figure speaks to values of duty, patriotism, and religion dear to moralists of the day, and to society as a whole. At the same time, the figures around the die articulate the American interest is realistic sculpture as an alternative to allegory. The fact that Bissell grasped the opportunity to address emancipation and education of African Americans in this work as early as 1884 indicates progressive thinking on his part.
George Edwin Bissell (1839-1920) was born in New Preston, Connecticut, the son of a quarryman and marble worker. At 14, G.E. Bissell became a clerk in a Waterbury store, then attended Gunnery School at Washington, Connecticut. Soon he served as a private in the 23rd Regiment, Connecticut Volunteers. After the war he resumed work in stonecutting with his family in Poughkeepsie, New York, and at age 32 received his first commission as a sculptor. Thereafter, he studied in Paris, Florence, and Rome. For the Waterbury SOLDIERS' MONUMENT commission he returned to Europe both to do the modeling and to have the bronze pieces cast. The classical character of the sculpture, the allegories that it articulates, and the locale for the modelling and casting all express the 19th-century classical European tradition in art and aesthetics.
Other Connecticut Civil War monuments by Bissell include CHATFIELD MONUMENT, Waterbury; COLUMBIA/UNION/FREEDOM, Salisbury; WINCHESTER SOLDIERS' MONUMENT, Crown Street, Winsted in Winchester; and UNION MONUMENT, Colchester. He sculpted the monument for Scottish-American soldiers who fought in the Civil War, dedicated in 1893 in Edinburgh, Scotland. In non-Civil War work, Bissell produced the Elton Vase and private grave markers in Riverside Cemetery, Waterbury; busts and portrait sculpture at various locations; the Robert Burns monument at Ayr, Scotland; a statue of Abraham Lincoln at Edinburgh; General Horatio Gates at Saratoga; the naval group on the Admiral George Dewey arch; and many others. He received numerous honors and awards.
SOLDIERS' MONUMENT, Waterbury, is a large elaborate memorial in granite and bronze facing west, away from the Green, at the western end of the Waterbury Green. Due to changes in the street pattern to accommodate one-way traffic, the monument is now an island surrounded by roadways which separate it from the Green. Bas-relief bronze panels fill the east and west faces of the pedestal base, four bronze figures stand in front of niches in the dado, and an allegorical bronze female figure of Victory crowns the composition. It is dedicated to all from Waterbury who served in the Civil War.
The monument stands in the center of an 18"-high circular retaining wall of Quincy granite, which is 40' in diameter. The circular outline is broken at points corresponding with the four corners of the monument by projecting pedestals, which rise 2' above the coping to serve as supports for bronze lamp posts 9' high. Each lamp post consists of a cannon standing erect upon a cannonball, with four guns resting against it. Festoons of oak leaves and laurel encircle the base of the post, while a laurel wreath hangs across the trunnions of the cannon. The octagonal iron-and-glass globe at the top increases in dimension as it tapers upward. The posts are marked with names of the sculptor and the foundry, G.E. BISSELL 1884 and GRUET Jnr FONDEUR.
The monument is supported by a 20'-square rubble-stone foundation set 10' deep; the bluestone coping of the foundation serves as a sub-base for the monument. Three risers of speckled gray granite support a 12'-square die, which is 4' high. The panels on its east and west faces are 9 1/2' wide by 2 1/2' high. They are defined at the ends by erect Roman fasces. The subject of the bas-relief in the west panel is the charge of 40 Federal troops upon a Confederate battery. The east panel is a scene of the battle at sea between the iron-clads Monitor and Merrimac. Medallions in the upper corners depict President Abraham Lincoln, John Ericsson, the inventor of Monitor, and a naval officer who is skeptical of the ship (Anderson, p. 46).
The die above the panels is 16 1/2' high on a base 8 1/2' square. Its shaft is 6 1/2' square by 9' high, with Ionic corner pilasters at the corners flanking rounded niches on each side. The capitals of the pilasters are connected by swags.
The four figures in front of the niches, while realistically sculpted, have symbolic meanings for both the pre-war and postwar eras. On the east, and representing the pre-war industrial East of the United States, is a mechanic who holds in one hand a drawn sword. He has heard the call to arms and has sprung to his feet. Representing the agricultural West, a weather-beaten farmer has seized his gun as he moves forward to join the ranks. Postwar, on the north, a veteran rests besides a comrade's grave. At his feet are the emblems of victory and reconciliation--the laurel wreath and palm branch.
On the south face of the pedestal a sculptured trio symbolizes opportunities arising consequent to the war. The central female figure, holding a book in her lap, is seated in front of an eagle whose beak supports the word Emancipation, the theme of this sculpture. Her right foot rests on a cannon beside which is a broken shackle, symbolizing the war's success in freeing the slaves. A well-dressed school boy stands at her left knee, while a ragged African American child sits at her left on a bale of cotton in the act of reaching for the book on her knee.
In contrast to the four pedestal figures which are only slightly more than life size, Victory, on top, is 10 1/2' high. Her right arm is partly raised, supporting the right hand which grasps a laurel wreath; her extended left hand holds an olive branch; and at her feet is a cornucopia overflowing with rich fruits of the land--symbolizing victory of the North, peace extended to the South, and, by the horn of plenty, prosperity in the future.
Front (west) face of third riser of base, left, incised caps:G.E. BISSELL
Same, rear:MITCHELL GR. WORKS/BUILDERS
North face base of pedestal, incised caps on polished field:BRAVE MEN, WHO, RALLYING AT YOUR COUNTRY'S CALL,
WENT FORTH TO FIGHT, - IF HEAVEN WILLED, TO FALL!
RETURNED, YE WALK WITH US THROUGH SUMMER YEARS,
AND HEAR A NATION SAY, GOD BLESS YOU ALL!
BRAVE MEN, WHO YET A HEAVIER BURDEN BORE,
AND CAME NOT HOME TO HEARTS BY GRIEF MADE SORE!
THEY CALL YOU DEAD; BUT LO! YE GRANDLY LOVE,
SHRINED IN THE NATION'S LOVE FOREVER MORE!
Anderson, Joseph, History of the Soldiers' Monument in Waterbury, Conn. (Waterbury: Printed for the Monument Committee, 1886).
Baruch, p. 17.
Laredo Taft, The History of American Sculpture (New York: Macmillan Company, 1924), pp. 245-247.
Waterbury American, November 26, 1870.
Waterbury Republican, October 21, 1884.