Yesterday students in my Civil War Memory class handed in their final projects. They are amazing and reflect a good deal of research and creativity. Students researched Civil War monuments and memorials in their own communities or designed their own for a specific location. One student created a video that explored a number of Civil War monuments in Stoughton, including this unusual grave marker, which I thought was worth sharing.
Marcus Morton Porter (1841-1921). Porter enlisted as a private on October 15,1862, in Company G, 47th Massachusetts Infantry, and was mustered out on September 1, 1863. He was a member of Post 72, GAR. Porter became a member of the Old Stoughton Musical Society in 1893 and served as the society’s president from 1911 to 1913.
This particular student admitted that she has never enjoyed living in Stoughton, but that working on this project left her feeling more closely connected to her community.
On Sunday I head out with roughly 35 students and 3 colleagues for a 5-day tour of the Civil Rights South. We’ve been meeting with students to give them a broad outline of the history and questions that will be covered as we travel from Atlanta to Memphis.
One of my main responsibilities will be to help students make connections between the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement through a close examination of monuments and memorials. I want students to understand that the visual reminders of the civil rights struggle are fairly recent additions to the landscape and that they exist in some tension with reminders of the Civil War and the Lost Cause. Continue reading →
One of the nice surprises in the special issue of Common-place that I edited with Megan Kate Nelson is an essay that we had nothing to do with. Sarah Beetham’s “Object Lesson” on Civil War monuments and cemeteries is a wonderful introduction to the subject that was submitted independently from those that we commissioned. It fits perfectly into the issue given our overall theme. She begins with a description of Martin Millmore’s Roxbury Solider Monument in Forrest Hills Cemetery, which is five minutes from my house. It’s a beautiful place and one that I regularly visit. Millmore himself is buried close to the entrance. I am going to use it this week in class.
In a quiet glade amid the trees and lawns of Boston’s Forest Hills Cemetery, a bronze soldier of the American Civil War stands on a low plinth clutching his rifle (fig. 1). His posture is reminiscent of parade rest, a pose often assumed by soldiers on ceremonial occasions, but he gazes downward and to his right with a wistful air (fig. 2). He wears the standard overcoat and forage cap issued to soldiers of the Union Army for winter service, and his finely modeled, unbearded face reflects the youth of the typical Civil War volunteer. The base of the statue declares that it was “Erected by the City of Roxbury in honor of Her Soldiers, who died for their Country in the Rebellion of 1861-1865.” Its grassy clearing is enclosed with a low stone fence inscribed with the names, units, and dates of death of the Civil War soldiers of the Boston suburb of Roxbury (fig. 3). Amid the rolling hills and screening vegetation of the cemetery, the stone fence demarcates a space for quiet reflection. Overall, the monument is part gravestone and part triumph, mourning the deaths of the young soldiers of Roxbury while honoring their valorous deeds in the successful Union war effort.
The field trip we took through Boston last week transformed my view of how the North, and specifically Boston, commemorated the Civil War. I hadn’t fully realized before this how prominent memories of the Civil War were and were aimed to be, through the monuments, in the few decades after. The monuments, I realized through looking at them, were supposed to be seen on a regular basis by people walking by, so that the Civil War still filled the consciousness of Boston and the North. It seems to me that the commemorators wanted this for two reasons: 1. They wanted to commemorate the people who died, and 2. The monuments could garner support for the causes of the war and for unity. And they could justify the war in a way, making the deaths of the soldiers seem noble and pulling Boston together under a mindset of unity and American pride. I was surprised that there were actually multiple monuments commemorating blacks and women who served in the war. I’ll discuss my favorite three monuments: the sphinx, Harvard’s Memorial Hall, and the Shaw Memorial. Continue reading →
I’ve been looking forward to the opportunity to introduce students to some of Boston’s most important Civil War sites for some time. It almost didn’t happen given yesterday’s snow storm, but the city does an incredible job with snow removal from roads and other public spaces. It was, however, very cold this morning. The other problem was the lack of visibility at certain sites owing to the snow. No worries. We forged ahead and had a great day beginning at Mount Auburn Cemetery and ending at the Boston Common. Below is a photograph of my class at the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial.