Natick

IMG_3586
Natick Civil War Monument (Middlesex County)

Location: Town Common at Main and Central Streets
Coordinates: 42°17’00.9″N 71°20’48.4″W
Date dedicated: July 4, 1868
Architect/contractor/sculptor: Shepard S. Woodcock, architect; Runnells, Clough & Co., manufacturer
Number of names: 86 men who died in the war

Brig. Gen. Alfred Stedman Hartwell, born in Natick, served as president of the dedication exercises on July 4, 1868.[1] When the war began, he was in Missouri, a recent graduate of Harvard, teaching at Washington University. He served briefly as a private in a Missouri militia unit, then returned to Massachusetts where he was commissioned an officer in the 55th Massachusetts Infantry and eventually commanded that unit. It was the second African-American regiment from the Commonwealth and, like the more famous 54th Massachusetts, the regiment was commanded by white officers. Hartwell eventually commanded a brigade (consisting of the 54th and 55th Massachusetts as well as the 102nd U.S. Colored Troops) and was wounded during the Battle of Honey Hill, South Carolina in 1864 leading the brigade.

Hartwell, Alfred
Alfred S. Hartwell of Natick in 1858

Like the men of the 54th Massachusetts, the African-American soldiers of the 55th Massachusetts battled discrimination in various forms and during their service engaged in months of protest over unequal pay. Promised $13 a month but only offered $10 a month by the War Department, the men chose to go without pay rather than accept the injustice. As their frustration mounted, groups of men periodically refused to turn out for duty while service in South Carolina and Florida. Pressed to action by the resolve of his men, as well as his own sense of justice, Hartwell vigorously petitioned his superiors and ultimately the War Department for equal pay for his regiment. In April 1864, he wrote a friend at home: 

I can hardly write, talk, eat or sleep, I am so anxious and indignant that pay is not forthcoming, or official assurance of pay, for my men. Can anything be done to hasten this thing? No man staying home can imagine how great and terrible is the wrong done these men, and the distress they suffer. I do all I can to make things right, and there is a great deal to almost discourage us. The wives of the men, they say, often reduced to degradation that drives the husbands almost crazy.[2]

Seeking to raise the morale of the regiment, Hartwell promoted 1st Sgt. John Freeman Shorter (one of the first African-Americans to hold a line officer commission) to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. This proved counter-productive, however, as Massachusetts Governor John Andrew formalized the promotion but the U.S. War Department refused–further increasing tensions. The pay situation for all African-Americans serving in the army was finally resolved in August 1864 when the War Department agreed to equal pay. In October the men of the 55th Massachusetts finally received more than a year’s worth of back pay amounting to roughly $60,000.[3]

The Natick monument was designed by Shepard S. Woodcock, a Boston architect.[4] During the ceremony, Senator Henry Wilson (also of Natick, first colonel of the 22nd Massachusetts, and future Vice-President under Grant) gave the key note address during which he shared personal remembrances of many of the 86 men whose names are on the monument.

[1] Boston Journal, July 6, 1868, 4.
[2] Hartwell quoted in Katherine Dhalle, “History of the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry,Lest We Forget, Volume 3 – Number 2, April, 1995.
[3] Dhalle, “55th Massachusetts”
[4] Boston Journal, July 6, 1868.

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