Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Massachusetts town rededicates monument, remembers its debt to fallen soldiers

(Town of Braintree)

Braintree, Mass., has kept a 140-year-old promise to honor the sacrifice of nearly four dozen men who died during the Civil War.

The town near Boston on Tuesday rededicated a restored soldier’s statue that sits on Town Hall Mall.

In 1874, also on June 17, Braintree dedicated the Westerly granite statue about 50 yards from the current location. That ceremony lasted about six hours, complete with music from a brass band, a parade and a dinner on the Commons.

“Braintree at last renders tardy honor to the memory of its dead heroes,” principal speaker Asa French said at the time.

(Town of Braintree)

“Today we build a monument which proclaims to the world our undying gratitude and affection for the brave men whose names are inscribed upon it," French told the crowd. "And we fondly hope that it will endure for all time as a testimony to our children and our children’s children that we are not unmindful of the debt we owe to them.”

The monument has long held a prominent spot in this town of nearly 35,000 residents. But time and wear left the statue and its base looking weathered, and the tip of the soldier’s musket and a trigger guard eroded away.

The $10,000 restoration of the monument and viewing area largely came from grants from the Massachusetts Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission and the town’s community preservation fund, said Barbara Mello, grant writer and contract administrator in the mayor’s office.

Ivan Myjer of Arlington, Mass., performed the work on the statue and base. “It came out beautiful,” Mello told the Picket on Wednesday.

Forty-six names appear on the monument pedestal. Interestingly, one is of Richard Furfy of the 9th Massachusetts Infantry. While wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia in 1864, he was very much alive and present at the 1874 monument dedication.

Those in attendance in 1874 heard extensive biographies of each of the fallen men, including their family history and military service.

(Book from 1870s. Courtesy: Town of Braintree)

George Frederick Thayer, for example, enlisted in 1863, made a dramatic escape after capture in 1864 but was killed by a shot through the head only days before the war’s end in Virginia.

“His twenty ninth birthday occurred three days before his death,” reads his necrology. “His officers spoke of him as a soldier of sterling character, modest and retiring, but of strong, outspoken principle. To this testimonial those who knew him in civil life will gladly bear witness.”

Twenty-three soldiers died in battle, said Mello. Fifteen succumbed to illness, two of injuries while prisoner, one to a “friendly” injury and four died of unknown causes.

Mello said that Braintree, the birthplace of presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams, has long shown its appreciation to veterans of all conflicts.

About 90 people attended Tuesday’s rededication, which included a wreath-laying, music by the Braintree High School concert choir and remarks by Mayor Joseph Sullivan and local historian John Dennehy. Members of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War also attended.

Dennehy, according to Mello, talked of the call for troops after Confederates fired upon Fort Sumter in South Carolina in April 1861.

(Ceremony on June 17. Courtesy: Town of Braintree)

Young enlistees gathered at what would become the site of the original monument within 12 hours.

“They headed down Railroad Avenue to take the train to Boston, from where they traveled to Washington, D.C. to join the Union Army,” said Mello.

While Tuesday’s ceremony had a little less fanfare and speeches than in 1874, those who attended showed their appreciation for the sacrifice from others.

“We can say to Asa French we are not unmindful of the debt we owe to the fallen soldiers of the Civil War,” said Mello.

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