DartmouthLocation: Outside Dartmouth Middle School, 366 Slocum Road
Coordinates: 41°37’35.3″N 70°57’53.4″W
Date dedicated: October 2004
Architect/contractor/sculptor: Johnathan Pellitteri

Dartmouth’s monument, dedicated to the memory of Medal of Honor recipient Private David Lewis Gifford and all those from Dartmouth who served in the Civil War, is one of the most recent in the Commonwealth. Placed in 2004, it was a collaborative project of the Dartmouth Veterans Memorial Park Committee and the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Sculpture Program. The project was completed in time to honor the 100th anniversary of Private Gifford’s death.

Gifford enlisted with the 4th Massachusetts Cavalry in December 1863 at age 19. His battalion was headquartered at Hilton Head, South Carolina. On May 24, 1864 two companies of the 4th Massachusetts Cavalry were ordered along with other units to join a nighttime expedition up the Ashepoo River to burn a railroad bridge controlled by Confederates. During this expedition, the main transport, the steamer USS Boston, ran aground on a large oyster bed, stranding 400 men within range of Confederate artillery. Initially, an effort was made to bring a Union gunboat alongside the transport to unload the men but the gunboat commander decided it was too dangerous.

uss boston
A 1905 depiction of the rescue

Lt. George W. Brush of the 4th Cavalry therefore took the initiative, secured a small boat and asked for four volunteers to man the oars and rescue those on the Boston. All five of these men manning the small boat, including Gifford, would receive the Medal of Honor. As Lt. Brush described, “…we began the work of ferrying our comrades from the steamer to the south side of the river, taking about thirty men to a load. Meanwhile the enemy continued their firing, with our boat as their chief target. Now and then a shot would kill a man and several times we came near foundering; but at last we got them all safely ashore.” The Boston, along with 74 horses, was burned by the retreating Union troops.[1]

The pose of the statue certainly defies the norm of the standing sentinel atop a pedestal. Dismounted cavalrymen such as Gifford commonly fought in open skirmish order, a loose formation which allowed them to take advantage of whatever cover was available. This appears to be what’s being interpreted here. However, those not familiar with that fact might find the monument puzzling.


[1] James L. Bowen, Massachusetts in the War, 1861-1865, (Springfield MA: Bowen and Son, 1888), 778; Brush quoted in Walter F. Beyer, Deeds of Valor: How American Heroes Won the Medal of Honor, (Detroit: The Perrien-Keydel Co., 1905), vol. 1, 347-348.

Leave a Reply