Connecticut's Monuments: an essay
Purpose of Monuments || Suppliers & Materials || Artists & Sculptors || Dedication Ceremonies || Conclusion
Soldiers at Parade Rest
The story of the archetypal Civil War monument for Connecticut, and much of the nation, begins with Antietam, Maryland. On September 16, 1867, the Antietam National Cemetery Board adopted a design for the U.S. Soldier Monument, to be erected on the battlefield. 10 The design consisted of a granite soldier standing at parade rest atop a granite pedestal. So far as is known, this was the first use of what was to become the standard composition for Civil War civic monuments. The design was submitted by, and the monument eventually furnished by, the James G. Batterson firm of Hartford, Connecticut's largest producers and merchants of Civil War monuments.
In the only other known discussion of the origin of the familiar figure, Wayne Craven has tentatively suggested sculpture of a soldier leaning on his rifle by Martin Milmore at Forest Hills Cemetery as a seminal alternative to Batterson's. 11 Millmore's work referenced by Craven may be the figure cited by Roe at Forest Hills, Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury, Boston, dedicated September 14, 1871. 12
No record has come to hand of the design-selection process for Antietam. Whether the committee first stated what it wanted, and Batterson complied, or whether the architect, George Keller, and sculptor, Charles Conrads, of the Batterson firm originated a proposal is not known. 13 Similar lack of information on the design-selection and design-development processes is endemic to Connecticut monuments. Regrettably, information on who chose the designs and why and how, surely one of the most interesting areas of inquiry into the history of Civil War civic monuments, usually is simply not known. 14
The rationale for selecting the anonymous soldier at parade rest for Antietam is not easily pieced together from conjecture. The figure is probably not representative of the average soldier's usual appearance. Since the war was fought where the climate is warm, the long overcoat, seen in the standard monument, often was little used. (See ANDERSONVILLE BOY, Hartford, for a uniform frequently worn.) Yet the Antietam design was adopted and, once adopted, widely followed. The infantryman stands with one foot forward, the butt of the rifle (rifled musket) between his feet, hands grasping the muzzle, left over right, accoutrements and bayonet suspended from his waist belt, and the coat's hood falling over the shoulders as a cape. He wears facial hair and the uniform hat which was known as the kepi when worn by an officer, sometimes as a "bummer" when worn by an enlisted man. The kepi was indeed generally worn; it is an authentic and realistic feature; slouch hats were popular in the Western theater. The soldier generally is of stone, usually granite, but sometimes bronze. The pedestal is usually granite. Brownstone appears for pedestal and/or figure only occasionally.
Second choice in figures, second by a wide margin, for Connecticut Civil War civic monuments was the standard-bearer or color-bearer, a soldier holding a flag. He usually wears a short jacket often known as a sack coat, wraps his left arm around the flag, and has his right hand at the hilt of his sword, ready to draw in defense of his colors.
Sometimes the soldier stands directly on the dado of the pedestal. Other times the dado supports a shaft which in turn supports the figure. The shaft is often an obelisk carrying battle names in raised lettering. The dado, by incised or raised lettering, displays a memorial inscription, names of military units, and names of individuals. In other instances, the lettering is accomplished by use of bronze plaques. In addition, either dado or shaft often has raised trophies sculpted with great vigor, almost in the round. Usual trophies are symbols of the services, such as crossed rifles, and shields or coats of arms of Connecticut and the United States.
The design which became standard in the North after its 1867 introduction for Antietam was not the first in Connecticut. The earliest monuments were simple obelisks, beginning in 1863 with SOLDIERS MONUMENT, Kensington in Berlin, and followed by four more in 1866: Bristol, North Branford, Cheshire, and Northfield in Litchfield. Obelisks, always simple but sometime elegant in proportions, continued to be erected through the 1870s.
In a variation of the standard design of soldier-on-pedestal, the soldier is replaced with a larger-than-life allegorical female figure. This change reflects the continuing mid-l9th-century influence in sculpture of the School of Rome (still important in the post-Civil War period), the intent of which was to uplift humanity through the inspiration of perfect grace and beauty. The figure was given various names, such as Columbia, Liberty, or Truth. In the same monument, sculpture of other figures and groups at the base often is more realistic in the manner of the later Paris School. Examples of this combination are SOLDIERS' AND SAILORS' MONUMENT, East Rock Park, New Haven, and SOLDIERS' MONUMENT, Waterbury.
Often the monument consists of base and die only, with no shaft or figure, such a design presumably being a function of modest budget. The stone and stonecutting, nonetheless, could be fine, as seen at NON-REPATRIATED SOLDIERS' MONUMENT, Forest View Cemetery, Winsted in Winchester.
Toward the end of the century, the Beaux-Arts influence made itself felt in Civil War monuments, most dramatically in Ernest Flagg's SOLDIERS' MONUMENT, New Britain, where the proliferation of elaborate classical motifs approaches the Baroque. LINCOLN HERM, New Milford, is a much more modest essay in the Neo-Classical Revival, and is one of the surprisingly few references to Lincoln in Connecticut's Civil War monuments.
Civil War monuments were erected well into the 20th century. At SOLDIERS' MEMORIAL GATEWAY, Westville in New Haven, the Neo-Classical Revival exedra form was executed in traprock, a material of Arts and Crafts color and texture, thereby combining two current trends.
The question of what constitutes or qualifies as a civic Civil War monument is a thorny issue. Here a broad view is taken that, in general, encompasses plaques and tablets, some with bas-relief sculpture, some with lettering alone. Plaques sometimes relate to identifiable design trends. For example, the contemporary Rustic mode found expression in the rough quarry-finished boulders on which Civil War plaques were mounted, NORTHFORD BOULDER, North Branford, being a case in point.
In some instances the central feature of a Civil War monument is a gun (cannon), usually a Civil War piece. At SOLDIERS' MONUMENT, Sharon, the gun is wooden.
In many instances artillery was an embellishment to the site of a monument, perhaps original, perhaps added at a later date, perhaps no longer in place. In the case of SOLDIER'S MONUMENT, Union Park, Middletown, the record is clear that the cannon were in place on dedication day. Across the Connecticut River at SOLDIERS' MONUMENT, Portland, the record is equally clear that the guns were added. SOLDIERS MONUMENT, East Hartford, now has cannon and cannonballs; they do not show in a historic photograph.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the federal government distributed thousands of cannon to towns and cities. Many of these were placed near Connecticut Civil War monuments, and many are no longer there. The history of Civil War weaponry, including pieces associated with Civil War monuments, is a subject actively pursued by scholars and buffs, and has its own literature.
Connecticut Civil War monuments are sited at prominent central locations in communities, or in cemeteries. The first monument was erected adjacent to a church. Many monuments were placed on town greens, often in front of a community's First Congregational Church. 15 Others are at street crossings or in parks that are not town greens. Selection of location was often a controversial element of debate in planning for a monument.
The reason why some monuments are in cemeteries is not always clear. Conjecture suggests that cemeteries are a normal place to erect monuments to the dead and the stones were furnished by cemetery monument dealers. In other instances, the choice of cemetery location is obvious because the large monument is the central piece in a veterans' plot, surrounded by individual graves.
The direction in which the monument faces varies, seemingly determined by the nature of the particular site. Occasionally, reference is made in secondary literature to a desire to have the soldier face South, because he would not put his back to the enemy. This theory appears to be unsupported folklore. 16
The question of whether a Civil War memorial should be symbolic and artistic or useful and functional was addressed by communities from time to time. In three instances, after debating the issue, buildings were constructed. In two others, buildings were constructed without debate, and in the sixth a building that started out to be a Civil War memorial turned out not to be.
The first building to be constructed following townwide discussion of monument vs. building was MEMORIAL TOWN HALL, North Haven, which is a local builder's interpretation of the Neo-Classical Revival. A marble tablet listing names of those who died in the war fulfilled the memorial charge. Advocates of a monument did not despair, however, and in due course SOLDIERS MONUMENT, North Haven, followed. TOWN HALL has since been severely altered on both the exterior and interior.
MEMORIAL BUILDING, Rockville in Vernon, came after similar debate, but was never followed by a monument. The Rockville structure has been altered, but retains complete and unharmed the G.A.R. meeting rooms, with full original equipment which includes ceremonial stations for G.A.R. ritual, oak furniture, intricate brass wall sconces, and superb stained-glass windows depicting the symbols and trophies often encountered on Connecticut Civil War monuments.
The third in the trio of communities that discussed structure vs. artistic symbol was Madison, which built its brick Neo-Classical Revival SOLDIERS' MEMORIAL HALL, with Ionic columns in antis. One supporter of the proposal for a monument felt so strongly that he soon individually financed and built a monument of the usual design, WILCOX SOLDIERS' MONUMENT. The Madison building, designed as a community center, has been converted, with extensive interior changes, to serve as the town hall, but now is vacant. The exterior is well-preserved.
The first of two memorial buildings constructed without controversy was Wesleyan University's MEMORIAL CHAPEL, Middletown. The fund-raising appeal linked the desire to commemorate the heroism of Wesleyan men who died in the war with a need for better accommodations for religious exercises in the service of John Wesley and Methodism. The appeal being successful, MEMORIAL CHAPEL, which is a Gothic Revival brownstone church, was duly erected to the design of an unknown architect. Two subsequent major alterations have been carried out to plans drawn by J. Cleveland Cady and Henry Bacon.
The second non-controversial circumstance was non-controversial because the building, MEMORIAL HALL, Windsor Locks, was the philanthropy of an individual, Charles E. Chaffee. A gray rough-granite Richardsonian Romanesque structure, it is the best-preserved of the five, still functioning as a building for veterans' activities.
The building that was initially planned as a Civil War memorial, but turned out not to be, is Battell Chapel, Yale University, New Haven. Joseph Battell donated funds in 1863 with a view to erecting a chapel that was to be a Civil War memorial. An architectural competition of sorts, held in 1866, brought design proposals from Frederick C. Withers; Vaux, Withers & Company; and Jacob Wrey Mould. 17 No further action was taken. Ten years later Russell Sturgis, Jr., designed the Gothic Revival brownstone church that was dedicated on June 18, 1876. 18 Why the Civil War memorial purpose was abandoned is not known.
| 10 [back] David F. Ransom, George Keller, Architect (Hartford: The Stowe-Day Foundation, 1978), p. 119, citing George Hess, "History of the Antietam National Cemetery," quoted in letter August 1, 1968, W. Dean McClanahan, General Superintendent Antietam-C. & O. Canal National Park Service Group, to Mrs. Gerald W. Eckerd. The monument was not put in place until 1880.
11 [back] "In fact, credit has been given [by persons not named] to [Martin] Milmore [1844-1881] for establishing the prototype of the countless monuments to those who fought and died to preserve the Union, which seem to mark every crossroads and village square in the Northeast. In truth, there were a few earlier ones [not named],...." (Wayne Craven, Sculpture in America (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1968), p.235.
12 [back] Roe, Alfred S., Commander, Grand Army of the Republic, Department of Massachusetts, 1908-1909, Monuments, Tablets and Other Memorials Erected in Massachusets to Commemorate the Services of Her Sons in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865 (Boston: Wright & Potter Printing Company, State Printers, 19l0), p. 121. Roe states that the architect for the Forest Hills monument, which consists of four arches surmounted by the soldier, was W.W. Lummis; he does not mention a sculptor.
13 [back] The Batterson organization did have an alternate figure available, the soldier wearing overcoat on his shoulders, as seen at SOLDIER'S MONUMENT, Granby, and Deerfield, Massachusetts.
14 [back] For exceptions in Connecticut, see SOLDIERS AND SAILORS MEMORIAL ARCH, Hartford, and SOLDIERS' AND SAILORS' MONUMENT, East Rock Park, New Haven.
15 [back] Prior to the 1818 disestablishment of the Congregational Church in Connecticut, church and town had been the same entity. Ownership of church and town green was vested in that entity. Following the separation of church and state, the question of who owns the town green, and the Civil War monument on it, has not always been clearly resolved. The local approach to the problem usually is one of accommodation.
16 [back] The only reference bearing on the question found in primary materials is a remark by a speaker at the dedication of SOLDIERS' MONUMENT, Suffield, that the soldier was placed "with his face towards the field on which he fell."
17 [back] Guide to Yale Architectural Archives, Series I, Region/Chronology Inventory.
18 [back] William L. Kingsley, Yale College, A Sketch of Its History (New York: Henry Holt & Company, 1879), pp. 287-296.