Braintree monument (Norfolk County)

BraintreeLocation: Town Hall Mall, 1 John F. Kennedy Memorial Drive, Braintree
Coordinates: 42°12’22.7″N 71°00’16.7″W
Date dedicated: June 17, 1874
Architect/Sculptor/Manufacturer: Carl Conrads, sculptor; New England Granite Works, carving; Hammatt Billings, architect of pedestal
Number of names: 45 men who died in the war (and one who did not–see below)

The lifelike statue is a copy of the well-known work, “The American Volunteer,” sculpted by Carl Conrads for the Antietam National Cemetery. That much larger version at Antietam (the statue alone is 21 feet high) was first exhibited at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, then moved to Maryland. While the Antietam monument was under construction, Conrads’s “Volunteer” was reproduced in smaller form for numerous communities including Braintree, Billerica and a fine marble version in Lexington.

Conrads, a German immigrant, worked for the New England Granite company of Hartford Connecticut which produced several of his designs. The company was founded by James G. Batterson, sculptor, inventor, businessman, scholar and scientist. Those interested in reading more about the life of this interesting Renaissance man (who also founded Travelers Insurance Co.) are encouraged to see this article about him on the website of the Connecticut Historical Society. The pedestal was designed by the Boston architectural firm of H. & J. E. Billings. Hammatt Billings was a prolific sculptor, artist and architect whose works are ubiquitous and yet he never achieved the level of notoriety he arguably deserves. His best-known work is the massive Monument to the Forefathers in Plymouth. He had a hand in several Massachusetts Civil War monuments.

Batterson studio
This photo of the studio at New England Granite Works shows several sizes of “The American Volunteer” in production. (Photo in the collections of the Connecticut Historical Society)

One of those listed on the monument is Richard Furfey, a young man who immigrated from Ireland with his family shortly before the war. In June 1861, aged 19, he was living in Braintree with his older brother Cornelius (or Neal) and working as a mat weaver. The two of them enlisted with the 9th Massachusetts Infantry (one of the Bay State’s two Irish regiments) on June 11, 1861. During the Battle of Gaines Mill, Virginia on June 27, 1862 both brothers were wounded. Richard struggled to drag Neal to safety but when a massive Confederate charge overran Union lines, Richard was forced to leave his brother on the field.[1]

Richard served out his three-year term with the 9th Massachusetts, fighting in many battles. He was wounded a second time during the Battle of the Wilderness in May 1864. He was mustered out in August of 1864. Richard enlisted for another term in December 1864 with the 6th Massachusetts Battery in December 1864 and served until August 1865.

Richard survived the war. Imagine his surprise when he learned that he was listed among the dead on the Braintree Soldiers’ Monument. It is not clear how this error came about. The history of the 9th Massachusetts (printed in 1899) offers a hint. According to that history, Richard was mortally wounded during the Battle of Spotsylvania in 1864 and “supposed to be killed.”[2] It would seem that somewhere a report exists recording Richard as among the dead at Spotsylvania. In actuality, he died in 1877 (three years after the monument was placed) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is curious that none of his former comrades or neighbors noticed the mistake while the monument was being planned or corrected it afterwards.

The monument was restored and re-dedicated in 2014.

Click photos to enlarge:

[1] George A. Thayer, The Braintree Soldiers’ Memorial, A. Mudge & Son, printers, (1877), 17.
[2] Daniel G. MacNamara, History of the Ninth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, (1899), 501.

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