In the late 19th and early 20th centuries states, counties, cities, towns and villages all across America erected thousands of commemorative statues, monuments, tablets and other memorials to honor their citizens who served in the American Civil War of 1861-1865. Additionally monuments that are national in scope such as those like Antietam and Gettysburg and in the nation’s capital city were constructed. There is even a memorial monument in Edinburgh, Scotland dedicated to the Scots who fought in the Union Army. It is exceptional as it is the only American Civil War memorial outside of the United States.
In almost every instance, there was an outpouring of community support and funds needed for these monuments were privately raised by subscriptions from local individuals and civic organizations of various kinds. However, monuments in state capitals and Washington DC were primarily funded by these governments since many of the governors, legislators and appointed officials from Northern and Southern States had served in the war and were members of various veterans’ organizations.
A notable aspect of the Civil War monument phenomena was the unveiling ceremony attended by large crowds and which often featured lengthy dedicatory speeches, prayers, poems, parades, concerts, cannon salutes, dinners, dances, fireworks, and other festivities. The most popular designs for these monuments were the obelisk and the statue of either of a specific figure, usually a well-known general or the anonymous soldier in the “parade rest” pose. By far, it is the dominant design theme for Civil War monuments in Westchester County. The second choice in figures is the standard-bearer or color-bearer, holding a flag. He usually wears a short jacket often known as a sack coat, wraps his left arm around the flag, and has his right hand at the hilt of his sword, ready to draw in defense of his colors.
A speaker at the 1903 dedication of a statute of General William Tecumseh Sherman in Washington DC, General David B. Henderson, claimed that: “the statues of the world are quiet historians.” They may be quiet but military statutes, war monuments and related memorials are nevertheless eloquent three-dimensional interpreters of a nation’s conflicts. The fact is that our view of the past does not come primarily from history books but from a much more complicated and interwoven set of sources that include mass media, regional and family folklore and the public spaces that contain heroic statues, name-filled plaques and other objects that recall and exalt long ago wars and other calamitous events. In the years following the Civil War, Americans in the North and South embarked the daunting task of commemorating and interpreting the story of 625,000 dead soldiers and their battles in stone and metal.
As Walt Whitman wrote in, Specimen Days in America, it was “the dead, the dead, the dead — our dead — or South or North, ours all” that commanded the creation of monuments all across the country. American historian Michael Kammens states in his book, Mystic Chords of Memory (1991) that “societies in fact reconstruct their pasts rather than faithfully record them, and that they do so with the needs of contemporary culture clearly in mind – manipulating the past in order to mold the present.” Furthermore, it seems that Civil War monuments particularly in the South still have the power to color our view of that conflict 150 years after it was fought.
This post (and it’s forthcoming second installment) however, focuses on the Civil War Monuments found in Westchester County, NY where several private, civic, and veteran’s organizations erected statutes and other large memorials to the service and sacrifice of their sons and to proclaim the righteousness of the Union cause.
Westchester County has 14 monuments, one each in Hastings, Mount Vernon, Montrose, New Rochelle, Rye, Port Chester, Sleepy Hollow, Somers, White Plains and Yonkers. Ossining and Peekskill have two each. By far, the single-most design theme for Civil War monuments in Westchester County is the “standing soldier” followed by the obelisk – one in Somers and one in Hastings. The latter interestingly enough, is dedicated to the Confederate dead.
There are other non-soldier and non-obelisk memorials such as the “Kneeling Angel” in Ossining, a Civil War cannon in Katonah and others. This will be no means an inclusive list of all the county’s publicly displayed Civil War commemorative objects as the article does not discuss the various historical roadside markers and wall plaques inside museums, churches and other buildings and, tombstones of Civil War veterans buried at various cemeteries in the County.
The exact number of Westchesterites who served in the Civil War is difficult to come by. However, based on the number of regiments that originated in the county and other NY State units that included recruits from various Westchester communities, it is estimated that some 30 thousand Westchester men wore the uniform of the Union Army over the course of the 4-year war and the following units were organized in Westchester County
Infantry: 5th, 7th Veteran, 9th, 17th, 27th, 32d, 38th, 48th, 49th, 59th, 65th, 95th, 164th, 168th, 176th, 186th, 191st, 192d.
Cavalry: 2d, 4th, 11th, 16th, 25th, 1st Mounted Rifles.
Artillery: 4th, 5th, 6th, 13th,- independent batteries, 5th, 7th, 12th.
Engineers: 1st, 15th (new)
Around 1870 a group of women from the then Village of Sing Sing (now Ossining) formed the “Ladies Monument Association” to erect a monument to the memory of the men of the Village who had fallen in the battles of the Civil War. They raised about $350 but this was simply not enough for the statue they had in mind. However, they did get enough for a cornerstone and it was ceremoniously laid on July 4, 1872. In accordance with the custom of those times, various dignitaries delivered long and florid speeches.
A Civil War veteran, Colonel Benjamin A. Willis, of the Twelfth Regiment, New York State Volunteers, made one of these. Later that year, the “Monumental Dramatic Association” raised more funds by putting on plays at the Olive Opera House situated on the corner of Central Avenue and Brandreth Street. Their first presentation, “The Scout of Tennessee” was a hit. Soon after though a fire destroyed the scenery and other props and forced them to halt production. Nonetheless, by1879 they had accumulated $1550 for the monument and it was dedicated with great ceremony on Decoration Day (now called Memorial Day) of that year.
The ceremonies included a huge parade consisting of hundreds of Civil War veterans who banded together under the name of the Grand Army of the Republic, several local militia companies, the Sing Sing Police and Fire Departments and the cadets of the Mt. Pleasant Military Academy. Local and state elected officials as well as the heads of various civic, religious and fraternal organizations made the obligatory orations.
The Kneeling Angel Monument was originally sited at the junction of Church and Main Street, just to the west of the First Baptist Church where “Sasinoro Plaza” now is and it stood on a base of two massive granite blocks. The angel was cast from “white bronze.” Actually, it is not bronze but an alloy of varying amounts of copper, tin, and zinc. From the 1870s through the 1910s, “white bronze” was used as a raw material for grave markers and statuary.
The Monumental Bronze Foundry of Bridgeport Connecticut, the firm that cast Ossining’s Kneeling Angel Monument coined the term “white bronze” as a marketing ploy to make the alloy more sellable. Grave
markers made of this material usually took on a pale gray or pale blue appearance, and stood up to the elements better than stone markers because they were less porous and they were substantially less expensive than real bronze, an alloy of brass and copper.
Each side of the Kneeling Angel monument has four white bronze panels with inscriptions. On the north are a group of flags drums, cannons, cannon balls and a medallion of President Lincoln and his well-known statement, “With Malice Toward none, With Charity for All.” And below this the words, “One country, One Flag, One Destiny.” The west panel has a bas-relief portrait of a soldier with the inscription, “They died for their country.” The east and south sides consist of a bas-relief stacked rifles and beneath them the names of six officers and thirty-five enlisted men who had fallen. Beneath these names are the words, “In Memory of our Brave Soldiers.”
Soon after it appeared, “The Kneeling Angel” acquired a derisive name, “The Squatting Angel.” Perhaps some felt that the figure’s kneeling position presented an image of sorrowfulness that was not in keeping with the martial and victorious spirit a winning side in a war ought to convey. In April 1884, the monument was moved from its prominent position in Downtown Ossining to the grounds of the old Park School to a spot where the present school playground is. Later in 1939, due to the construction of the new Park School it was moved once again to the lower part of Nelson Park and finally it came to rest at its present location at the eastern edge of Nelson Park.
In January of 1887, a movement to have a new monument that would be more heroic in nature than the Kneeling Angel was launched. Accordingly, a prototypical image of a Civil War soldier with musket in hand was selected. It was similar to the soldier monuments found on courthouse lawns, battlefield sites, cemeteries and other public spaces in the North and the South. Thousands of these sculpted forms made of various stone and metal materials were produced.
The man chosen to head up Sing Sing’s Monument Committee was Colonel Edwin McAlpin, a resident of the Village and commander of the 71st Infantry Regiment of the New York National Guard. (Col McAlpin did not serve in the Civil War) The committee included practically all of the Village’s prominent men and they contracted with Maurice J. Power owner of the National Fine Arts Foundry located at 218 E. 25th Street in Manhattan to cast it. Among the notable pieces of bronze sculpture produced by the foundry were large battle monuments at Trenton and Monmouth, New Jersey- Newburgh, Albany and Buffalo, New York- Augusta, Maine- Manchester, New Hampshire- Clinton, Holyoke, Lawrence and Springfield, Massachusetts- and others in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina. It is probable that the sculptor Ossining’s Standing soldier monument was Caspar Buberl (1834–1899) He and Power mutually worked on a number of other Civil War monuments and earlier in their careers, they apprenticed together.
Ossining’s soldier was placed atop a 14’ granite shaft and he towers 7’ ft. 6” above that. A bronze tablet on the shaft bears the names of the 35 Ossining soldiers who perished in the War. According to newspaper accounts the dedication on Decoration Day, May 30, 1887 was preceded by a huge parade of civic and military organizations including McAlpin’s regiment who came on up from New York City on a train chartered by the Colonel at his personal expense. The total cost of the monument was $3,500.
Originally, the statue was located over a small reservoir at Hubbell’s Corner (the intersection of North Highland Avenue (Rt.9) and Croton Avenues). Apparently, the statue’s location was a bottleneck and New York State and the Village agreed to widen the intersection and change the grading. Accordingly, in September of 1930, it was moved to the intersection of Pleasantville Road and Brookville Avenue where it stands today.
Next time: more Civil War monuments in Westchester County.
Photo: The Kneeling Angel Monument (Courtesy Westchester Historical Society).