Southbridge

IMG_6230
Southbridge Soldiers and Sailors Monument (Worcester County)

Location: In front of Town Hall, 41 Elm Street
Coordinates: 42°04’24.9″N 72°02’04.2″W
Date dedicated: July 4, 1914
Architect/contractor/sculptor: Edward H. Kavanagh, design; Kavanagh Bros. of Quincy, contractor
Number of names: 292 who served

The Southbridge monument and its excellent statue are an original design, not seen elsewhere in the Commonwealth. As bronze monuments were so often recast for numerous communities, the originality of Southbridge’s statue is something of a rarity. The contractor, Kavanagh Bros., based their stone-cutting operations in Quincy with a showroom at 136 Charles Street in Boston, but the brothers were born in Southbridge.[1]

The eldest of them, Edward H. Kavanagh, designed the monument. It is not clear if he sculpted the statue itself or had a sculptor on staff who did so, but the pose of the youthful recruit marching forward was part of his original design. In many ways, the statue resembles “The Volunteer” by Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson. The pose is nearly identical, as is the informal fatigue uniform and marching gear including a blanket roll. The style, however, is different from Kitson’s slightly impressionistic work.

IMG_6231Southbridge men made up most of Company H of the 34th Massachusetts and significant portion of Company H of the 51st Massachusetts. Among those in the 34th Massachusetts was 2nd Lt. Malcolm Ammidon, a 34 year-old manufacturer. He was a successful man, sharing ownership of the Columbian Cotton Mills in Southbridge with his brother Henry and, in 1860, was elected a selectman of the town.[2]

A small collection of Ammidon’s letters which was recently sold at auction gives some interesting insight on his attitudes towards the war. Being older than the typical recruit, he put off enlisting for a year or so but in July 1862, as he wrote, “when the call came for three hundred thousand more men, I felt as though I ought not to stay any longer while so many of our brave and worthy countrymen were risking their lives in a cause which I was as much interested as anyone.” He tried to enlist as a private but his company elected him a second lieutenant and the town presented him with a sword.[3]

Ammidon wrote of his desire to help preserve the Union. He also wrote of his hatred of slavery. “I want this question settled now,” he wrote, “once for all, and not have it left as an accursed legacy to our children.” But he had some extremely harsh words for enslaved people, a reminder that not all those who fought for emancipation fought for civil rights as well.[3]

Military life did not suit Ammidon. One of his letters and the 34th Massachusetts regimental history both make reference to his seeking a discharge. He nonetheless served two years until the Battle of New Market, Virginia, May 15, 1864 in the Shenandoah Valley. The 34th Massachusetts was fiercely engaged, suffered more than 80% casualties, and was forced to retreat with the rest of the Union forces. Lt. Ammidon and 19 other members of the 34th Massachusetts became isolated during the retreat and were captured by the Confederates. Ammidon was sent to a prison camp in Macon, Georgia.

A few months later, he was among the hundreds of prisoners-of-war sent by the Confederacy to besieged Charleston to act human shields, placed in a prison camp downtown in line of fire of Union batteries (Union officers responded in kind with Confederate prisoners).[4] Yellow-fever swept through the Charleston prison camp and Lt. Ammidon died of the fever on October 1, 1864. He is buried in the National Cemetery at Beaufort, South Carolina. After the war, back in Southbridge, they named the local Grand Army of the Republic Post No. 168 for Malcolm Ammidon.

[1] Boston with Its Points of Interest: With Illustrations from Original Photographs, Mercantile Illustrating Company, 1894, 297.
[2] Frank E. Best, Amidon Family: A Record of the Descendants of Roger Amadowne of Rehoboth, Mass, (1904), 107.
[3] “Lieut. Malcom Ammidon, 34th Massachusetts, Comanies H & C, Civil War Letters,” Cowan’s Auctions, February 2016.
[4] William Sever Lincoln, Life with the Thirty-fourth Mass. Infantry in the War of the Rebellion, (Worcester: Noyes, Snow and Co., 1879), 400.

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