I am probably one of the few people who walks the streets of Boston looking for glimpses of its Civil War past, both historical and commemorative. It’s a neglected past. Sure, you can find groups that stop at the monument to the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, across from the state house, but you will be hard pressed to find much more even though the city and surrounding communities boast a rich Civil War commemorative landscape.
But, it is not simply about coverage. The challenge, as I see it, is finding ways to integrate Civil War monuments and other commemorative sites within the history and memory found along The Freedom Trail. Bostonians did not anticipate the Civil War apart from their memory of the American Revolution and they certainly did not work to come to terms with its cost and what it accomplished outside of that broader narrative. Taken together, these sites offer the opportunity to tell a different story about Boston’s history and memory.
How can we connect the Granary Burying Ground with William Lloyd Garrison’s preaching just up the street at the Park Street Church? How can we connect the story of the men who served in the 54th with the evolution of the story of Crispus Attucks at the site of the Boston Massacre. How can we discuss the the Minute Man Monument at Old North Bridge alongside Concord’s Civil War monument?
There are a number of reasons to approach these sites in this way. Most importantly, it moves us beyond the artificiality of the The Freedom Trail itself. It certainly serves any number of practical purposes, but it leaves you with the impression of a city stuck in time. Boston didn’t just help to establish this nation, it was central in its evolution and in coming to terms with the issues that led to the Civil War and beyond. Such an expansive approach offers a much more complex narrative and a wider space in which to make those all important connections to the present.
This is the tour of Boston that I want to walk.
You may notice a link in the navigation menu for ‘Tours.’ Right now it is empty, but over the next few weeks I am going to outline a few short walking tours of Boston that flesh out some of the ideas sketched above. You may even choose to join me for one of these tours.
Thanks to Taylor Stoermer for prodding me to think more carefully about this subject.