Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Soldiers' Monument on the Green

Last week I attended a great program at the Mattatuck Museum. Dr. Matthew Warshauer, co-chair of the Connecticut Civil War Commemoration Committee and Professor of History at CCSU gave a presentation about Civil War monuments in Connecticut. Waterbury's Civil War monument is the Soldiers' Monument on the Green, erected in 1884 (although portions of the monument were not completed and installed until 1885 and 1886).

There's a lot of information available about the monument--Joseph Anderson published a book about it in 1886. I've read through the book to pull out the interpretive information for this blog post.

The sculptor was George Edwin Bissell, a veteran of the Civil War and a highly accomplished artist who lived in Waterbury for a period of time. He was working in Paris during the final planning of the design for the statue, and the bronze figures, reliefs and lamp posts were cast there in 1884.

The figure at the top of the monument represents Victory holding a laurel wreath for the Union soldiers in one hand, an olive branch for the Confederate soldiers in the other hand, and standing on a cornucopia predicting prosperity for the future.

Relief panels on the lower portion of the monument represent the Union troops charging a Confederate battery, and the battle of the Monitor and the Merrimac in 1862 (which has led some to call this the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument).

Below Victory, facing west, is the Farmer who has taken up arms to defend the Union, stepping over a broken fence rail.

Facing north is the grizzled Veteran, laurels and palm branch at his feet, weary from the war and seated at the grave of one of his fellow soldiers.

Facing east is the Mechanic who, like the Farmer, has left his work to take up arms. Behind him is equipment used in brass rolling mills.

Originally, Bissell had proposed figures to represent the North, South, East and West regions of the country. The final design uses the Farmer and the Mechanic to represent the different walks of life from which the Union soldiers came. Bissell also originally planned to have Liberty calling the Nation to her defense, but the final design replaced Liberty with Victory.

Perhaps most significant is the vignette on the south side of the monument. At the program last week, Dr. Warshauer informed us that this is one of only two Civil War monuments in Connecticut to include a reference to the abolition of slavery (the other one is in Hartford), and it is the only one in Connecticut to use the word "Emancipation".

The vignette depicts a seated woman listening intently, her hands resting on an open book. Her feet rest on a cannon, next to which is a shackle which has been broken. The woman, as indicated by her hair ornament, represents the government of the United States. The well-dressed schoolboy to her right represents the North (Anderson wrote that this was because "children have no prejudices, and know no color-line", which is a great point--children are not naturally racist, it has to be taught to them).

The other boy represents the freed slaves, the South and African Americans in general. He is seated on a bale of cotton, holding a hoe in one hand while trying to access the book with his other hand. He is eager to learn, to share the quality education the white schoolboy receives. The vignette emphasizes the importance of education for success.

The Emancipation group as it looked in 1886, when it was published
in Joseph Anderson's History of the Soldiers' Monument.

The monument was dedicated on October 23, 1884. Originally, the ceremony was to include the illumination of the Green with a thousand Chinese lanterns, but a severe storm the day before interfered with that plan (but wouldn't that have been impressive!). The morning of the dedication, there was a last-minute, post-storm flurry of decorating. The downtown was covered in U.S. flags, flags of other countries (many Union soldiers were immigrants), and many other decorations.

Governors of several states attended, as well as numerous military dignitaries. The total number of people in attendance was estimated at somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000. A full description of the dedication, with transcripts of the speeches, is in Anderson's book.

No comments: