Connecticut's Monuments: an essay
Purpose of Monuments || Monument Designs || Suppliers & Materials || Artists & Sculptors || Conclusion
Dedication ceremonies for Civil War monuments were civic events of the first magnitude. In large cities the crowds were in the tens of thousands, establishing records which still stand. Large crowds were attracted by the parades, festive atmosphere, presence of notables, memorable orations, and abundant food and drink. The ceremonies were an unprecedented and perhaps never-equalled outpouring of civic pride and celebration.
In the extensive planning that preceded the events, committees were formed for everything. Professional decorating firms hung flags and bunting on commercial buildings and homes. Stores and factories closed, and special trains brought out-of-town visitors. (The largest crowds in history assembled and disbanded without the help of the automobile.) For most people the ceremonies were rare outings and entertainment in the era before radio, television, cinema, rock bands, and professional sports. For public personalities they were unique opportunities to be seen by a maximum number of people. Politicians were always on hand for Dedication Days. The governor and two United States senators were standard participants. How the crowds heard the speeches in the absence of sound amplification systems is mystifying, but local newspapers often followed up by publishing the orations in full.
Ceremonies usually involved the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.). The G.A.R. was an organization of Civil War veterans established in 1866. The first post in the Connecticut Department was activated on February 15, 1867, in Norwich. Each post had a name, that of a war hero, and a number. G.A.R. posts understandably were active in organizing efforts to erect Civil War monuments. Since the posts' only regular source of income was dues, they did not often accumulate the money needed for a monument. They helped raise money, formed alliances with other local groups, and continually agitated for monuments (often not adequately funded until taxpayer support was voted). On Dedication Day the local G.A.R. post was represented on the speakers' platform and marched in the parade along with visiting posts. The G.A.R. emblem often appeared on monuments. Success in raising and dedicating the monuments often was attributable to the G.A.R.
The auxiliary of the G.A.R. was the Woman's/Women's Relief Corps (W.R.C.). While both spellings were used at the time, Woman's appears to have been favored. The W.R.C. post usually had its own name and number, different from those of the G.A.R. post to which it was auxiliary. The W.R.C. was successful in raising several monuments, and usually was active on Dedication Day by organizing the "collation." 49
Messages from the speakers' platform on Dedication Day customarily were re-statements of the tried-and-true views toward the Civil War that were the basis for erecting the monument. The sentiments enunciated by the Portland town meeting were re-cycled by the orators. Emphasis, again, was on the patriotic service and sacrifice of those who fought and died in the war, for the benefit of oncoming generations. "All glory to those who died; be prepared to die" was the message.
In the usual oration the great achievement of those who served had been to "preserve the Union in the War of the Rebellion." This language was used into the 20th century. Slavery usually was not mentioned, nor were the wartime leaders, Lincoln and Grant.
There were notable exceptions. Major General Joseph R. Hawley, later publisher of The Hartford Courant and United States senator, attended and spoke at dozens of Dedication Days. He usually first voiced the standard sentiments, then went out of his way to talk about the future, for which he repeatedly cited the ballot box as being the most important feature. He identified examples of new and improved government programs while encouraging his listeners to influence progress by participating in the act of citizenship.
The question of rapprochement with the former enemy was occasionally addressed. At the dedications of MEMORIAL CHAPEL and SOLDIER'S MONUMENT, Middletown, the Reverend Dr. Joseph Cummings, president of Wesleyan University, questioned whether bitterness and hatred existed in the hearts of brave men who faced each other in battle's dread array.
At least two speakers did deal with the question of slavery, which, though seldom mentioned in Connecticut, was a major factor in what the war had been about. At the dedication of BROADWAY CIVIL WAR MONUMENT, New Haven, Henry Wade Rogers, dean of the Yale Law School, reviewed Connecticut's position in the history of American slavery. He noted that Connecticut voted with the Southern states at the Constitutional Convention to deny to Congress the right of prohibiting importation of slaves prior to 1808. In continuation of the state's pro-slavery stance, the Connecticut Supreme Court, he reminded his listeners, decided a case in 1831 in which it said that an African American was chattel.
At Barkhamsted, Walter S. Carter, a New York City lawyer, linked the cause of emancipation with military success, claiming that only after Lincoln declared emancipation as a goal did military reverses cease. The first two years of war, in his analysis, were fought, with little success, simply to preserve the Union, with no thought of justice to the slaves. Only after the Proclamation of Emancipation did the tide turn.
National figures were notable by their absence from Connecticut's civic Civil War monument dedications, presumably because they were not invited, since the opportunity to greet such large crowds would be attractive to any national politician. Dedication Days focused on Connecticut men's deeds and the communities that commemorated them.
| 49 [back] Collation by dictionary definition is a light meal, but the term was widely used at Connecticut's Civil War monument dedications for the all-important accompanying heavy meal.