Civil War Memory in My Backyard

I pass by this monument every day on my way to Jamaica Pond for my morning run.  It was dedicated on September 14, 1871 and commemorates the 46 men of West Roxbury, “who lost their lives in the service of their country during the Rebellion.”  It has quickly become my favorite Civil War soldier monument.  I love the simplicity of it, including its smooth surfaces and clean lines.  The soldier embodies the virtues of the citizen soldier that northern towns embraced by war’s end.  He seems tired, but resolute as well as contemplative and just a bit sad.  In short, he did his duty when his nation called.

There are four names around its arches, including that of Lincoln, Farragut, Andrew, and Thomas.  The Jamaica Plain Historical Society suggests that the Thomas in question is none other than George H. Thomas of Virginia (the Rock of Chickamauga), who supposedly donated the land for the monument.  Perhaps someone can explain to me the connection given that he died in San Francisco and is buried in New York.  Now that would be an interesting Virginia – Massachusetts connection.

[Click here for more information about the monument from the Jamaica Plain Historical Society.]

22 responses... add one

Sorry, Kevin, no chowdah for you!

The Boston Journal carried a detailed account of the dedication, complete with long-winded, grandiose bloviating by the speakers — did they learn nothing from Gettysburg? — but not a word about the four names on the monument.

Fun fact: the West Roxbury monument was dedicated just a few days before the ceremonial lating of the cornerstone of the monument on Boston Common. I’m sure West Roxburians (Roxbury-ites? Roxbupudlians?) enjoyed lording it over their Bostonian friends that they’d got the jump on them.

Thanks so much for passing this along. What’s a monument dedication without a little “grandiose bloviating?” :-)

A subscription service, genealogybank.com. It’s similar to newspaper archive.com, but covers different papers as well as other printed material, and I like the user interface better. I subscribe to both, and other databases as well — not cheap, but the cost of doing business, so to speak.

If you’re looking for something specific, I’ll have a look for you.

He is buried in Troy, NY Oakwood cemetery I can be of little help altho I have heard the story told. Due to the fact he remained true to the Union his family dispised him His wife saw that his trip back from the far west took a long time and he could only be buried in Troy.
If you write me by private email I will provide you with the name and address of the Oakwood Historian who can relate the complete detail.

Its a most interesting tale

Bob Farrell

I have been following your site for close to two years now an was quite surprised when I read about your moving to Ma.
I have passed by this monument many times over the years and have always enjoyed it. As something of an amateur Civil War buff I have always taken the time to gaze at them and appreciate the caring of those responsible for their building and final erection.
Thanks for your interest and posting interesting tales and facts about the Civil War, it is far too important to be forgotten.

As I read the JPHS article, it’s suggesting two alternative identifications for the name Thomas – the less probable is that of the local man who donated the land, the more probable is that of the Rock of Chickamuga. Which doesn’t, of course, explain why the name is G.H. Thomas, and not Grant or Sherman.

But I’ll take a stab at an answer. The town meeting that approved the creation of the monument was held on March 28, 1870 – the very day that George Henry Thomas died. If the news had not yet reached West Roxbury when the votes were cast, it surely would have been in the headlines as the initial plans were drawn. Farragut died in August of 1870. Lincoln’s death needs no elaboration; Andrew, who died in office during the war, was often seen as a martyr to the cause.

So all four were leading figures during the war, who had died before the memorial itself was unveiled and dedicated. Andrew and Lincoln were obvious choices; Farragut and Thomas were the most recent heroes to have passed. Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, and most every other leading flag officer still lived; it likely struck the committee as impious to inscribe their living names upon a memorial for the dead.

That’s speculative, of course; take it for what it’s worth

Hi Yoni,

Thanks for the comment. That is a very thoughtful explanation and one that I hope to follow up on next week with an email to the local historical society. Stay tuned.

I’ll venture a guess that the connection was the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry, which seems to have many West Roxbury connections belonged to the Army of the Cumberland for the latter parts of the war.

Veterans of another Army of the Cumberland regiment (79th Pennsylvania from Lancaster, PA) with which I am very familiar pushed hard to get the the town’s main GAR post named after George H. Thomas, so it doesn’t surprise me to see other evidence of his popularity after the war.

Seems to me there may be an interesting study surrounding the historical memory of George Thomas.

Kevin,

Hope you’ll have as much fun up there teaching them yanks they were fighting a war only to free the slaves instead of saving the union as you did down here teaching our children our ancestors were fighting only about slavery,

God Bless

Every time I pass this monument the gate is locked. Any idea if the monument is ever open to the public?

I don’t know, but given that the monument was recently refurbished it is probably an attempt to prevent vandalism. If it helps to preserve the spot than so be it.

Nice photo.

“CW memory” examples can be surprising; I was out of town for a meeting in Colorado Springs and had an hour to kill before returning to the airport to come home and I drove through a neighborhood of streets named after Meade, Sheridan, Farragut, Custer, etc. Of course, a little later I figured out the town had been founded by a Union veteran, but it did jump out at me.

The business about General Thomas donating the land is no doubt wrong. The site of the monument was the original location of the Eliot school, which is now on Eliot street. The land was left empty as far as we know until the Monument was built in 1871. The confusion may be because a Hugh Thomas and his wife left land somewhere in Roxbury to be used to raise income for the Eliot school. We don’t know where that land was, but that land donation is sometimes confused with the land that was donated by John Eliot, and makes up today’s Eliot street.

The Thomas on the Monument probably is General Thomas, but he had nothing to do with the site. It seems like they chose Farragut for the Navy, Thomas for the Army, Lincoln for the federal government and Governor Andrew for the State.

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