Location: 2 Park Avenue, Centerville
Coordinates: 41°38’59.3″N 70°20’55.2″W
Date dedicated: July 4, 1866
Number listed: 32 men lost in the war
Barnstable’s Civil War monument is located in the village of Centerville on a small, neatly landscaped green at the junction of Main Street and Park Avenue. The green contains several memorials to those from this Cape Cod town who served in various wars. The granite obelisk, dedicated in July 1866 is among the oldest Civil War memorials in the Commonwealth (only two older have thus far been documented in the course of this project). The primary inscription reads, “They died for their country.”
The Grand Army of the Republic Post in Centerville was named for Color Sergeant Theodore Parkman of the 45th Massachusetts Infantry. Although Parkman had no direct connection to Barnstable, 25 of the 160 men from Barnstable who served in the war served with Parkman in the 45th Massachusetts. He was considered a hero and Barnstable veterans evidently remembered him fondly. Parkman, born in 1837, was the scion of a well-known Boston family. His father was a Unitarian minister and antislavery activist. His mother was a Transcendentalist and feminist. Just before the war, Theodore earned a Doctorate in Chemistry in Germany and in October 1861 returned home to work as a chemist at Harvard College. His first cousin, Robert Gould Shaw, and many of his friends had already enlisted. In August 1862, Parkman followed them, enlisting as a private with the 45th Massachusetts. Given his family’s connections, Parkman might easily have secured an officer’s commission and his father questioned him on this, asking, “Are you quite sure that you realize the life of a private? I suppose you might have to dig all day in the trenches.” Theodore responded, “Well, you know, father, I am not going for the fun of the thing.”
The 45th Massachusetts was stationed in New Bern, North Carolina and participated in several expeditions to the interior. Parkman quickly advanced in rank to color sergeant and was admired by his comrades in the regiment. A member of his company recorded that after a skirmish at Kinston, North Carolina, Parkman gathered his company together that evening and spoke “of the things that make us all better and nobler men.”
On December 16, 1862, the regiment took part in the Battle of Whitehall, North Carolina. The 45th was posted in front of a Union battery as support and was ordered to lie down as the gunners dueled with a Confederate battery across the river. The river bank on the Union side was higher and therefore the Union gunners were ordered to depress the elevation of their guns. Sadly, this put the 45th Massachusetts in the line of fire and Sgt. Parkman was killed by friendly fire. His remains were buried in Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain. His portrait hangs in Memorial Hall at Harvard University. A copy of this portrait was given to the GAR Post in Centerville, although it is not clear if that portrait survives.