Soldiers and Sailors Monument
The Soldiers and Sailors Monument can be found within the Boston Common on top of Flagstaff Hill near the Frog Pond. This monument commemorates all the men from Massachusetts who died in land and naval battles protecting the Union in the American Civil War. Although many memorials commemorate those lost in the Civil War, the Soldiers and Sailors monument was the only official memorial commissioned by the city of Boston. Plans for the monument were initiated in 1866, only one year after the war was over, and it was finally completed eleven years later on September 17, 1877. As a whole, the work memorializes all aspects of the Civil War: the lives of the soldiers and sailors that were lost, the preservation of the United States of America, and the importance of peace in the future.
Backstory and Context
While no battles were fought in the state, Massachusetts played an important role in the Civil War. Before the war, Boston was known for its strong anti-slavery presence and was a popular destination for many important figures of the abolitionist movement to speak, including Wendell Phillips and Frederick Douglass. As tensions between the North and the South increased in the beginning of 1861, the state began raising funds and increasing its military strength in case war was declared. As a result, Massachusetts was the first state in the Union to provide troops following the assault on Fort Sumter. In total, 159,165 men from Massachusetts fought for the Union: 133,002 of these men fought in the Union army and 26,163 in the Union’s naval forces. In addition, the 54th Massachusetts Regiment was the first African-American regiment to fight in the war. By the conclusion of the war 13,942 sailors and soldiers from Massachusetts had died.
With such an enormous sacrifice made by the men of Massachusetts in addition to the emotional loss suffered by their loved ones, a monument to commemorate the war was proposed in March of 1866. Martin Milmore, one of the most famous sculptors in the nation, was selected to design and sculpt the proposed monument. Milmore had spent his childhood in Boston after he immigrated from Ireland. The completed Soldiers and Sailors Monument was unveiled in a public ceremony on September 17, 1877. The opening ceremony was attended by a number of significant figures from the Civil War, including U.S. Attorney General Charles Devens, General George McClellan, and President Ulysses S. Grant.
This monument is significant for the event it commemorates; the American Civil War was the deadliest conflict the US had seen, with over six hundred and twenty thousand Americans dying (including both soldiers and civilians). The finished work features a granite columnn which is about 72 feet high and atop it stands a woman representing America. The bronze figure is holding the American Flag in one hand and a sword and a laurel wreath in the other, symbolizing the nation’s journey of war and peace in order to remain unified. At the base of the columnn stand four more bronze statues, two of which depict a soldier and a sailor- who symbolize the Army and the Navy- and two others representing peace and history. In addition to the four figures, there are also four plaques on each of the four sides of the base, each depicting a different scene related to the Civil War. Lastly, carved into the foot of the pillar is a dedication: “To the men of Boston who died for their country on land and sea, in the war which kept the Union whole, destroyed slavery, and maintained the Constitution, the grateful city has built this monument, that their example may speak to coming generations.” With this dedication, the monument commemorates the lives lost in the Civil War and reminds the public, regardless of the time period, why peace is essential.
Following the war, the monument fell into severe deterioration; time and weathering caused the bronze statues to turn green, the granite foundation of the monument was frequently vandalized, and there were several attempts to steal the statues from its base In 2004, the decision was made to clean and restore it to its former brilliance. As a result, today the statues have been refurbished to their original state and the granite base no longer bears the marks of vandalism. As the years have passed, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument has remained one of the most notable memorials in the Boston Common and the Boston area and its presence acts as a living voice for those who sacrificed their lives in order for the United States to endure.