Concord Soldiers’ Monument (Middlesex County)

ConcordLocation: Monument Square, Main and Lexington Streets, Concord
Coordinates: 42°27’39.7″N 71°20’57.5″W
Date dedicated: April 19, 1867
Architect/sculptor/manufacturer: Hammatt Billings, architect
Number of names: 48 men who died in service

The Boston architectural firm of H. & J. E. Billings designed the monument. Hammatt Billings was a prolific sculptor, illustrator and architect whose works are ubiquitous and yet he never achieved the level of notoriety he arguably deserves. His best-known work is the colossal “Monument to the Forefathers” in Plymouth. He had a hand in several Massachusetts Civil War monuments including the one in Braintree.

The primary inscription reads, “Town of Concord Builds this Monument in Honor of the Brave Men Whose Names it Bears and Records with Grateful Pride that They Found Here a Birthplace, Home or Grave. 1866.” An inscription on the east face reads, “They died for their country in the war of the rebellion.” A bronze plaque displays the names of the 32 residents of Concord who died in the war. The monument is somewhat unusual in that the committee chose a liberal definition of resident, opting to include not only those who were born in Concord or resided there at the time of enlistment, but anyone who had at some time called Concord a home before the war. This broad definition resulted in several past residents being overlooked. In 1914 a committee recommended the addition of 16 names and the main bronze plaque was recast accordingly.[1]

As is always the case, a great number of these names might be highlighted. Two officers in particular stand out–one an Irish immigrant commanding a company in the Irish 9th Massachusetts, another a lieutenant of old Yankee ancestry, serving in a regiment largely made up of descendants of the Pilgrims.

Capt. James E. McCafferty, Jr. was the son of Irish immigrants. He spent his childhood years in South Boston, his teen years in Concord (on the outskirts of town–a farm on Virginia Road), and lived in Boston at the start of the war working as a gas company engineer. From his early youth, he was infatuated with the Massachusetts militia, carrying the guidon for South Boston militia company and spending hours in front of a mirror practicing the manual of arms. The regimental historian of the 9th Massachusetts wrote of a drill competition between then Lt. McCafferty and a seasoned Sergeant-Major who felt he was up to the task. The event became something of a legend for the unit, telling us something about the importance of pride in one’s officers and the role this played on the battlefield. McCafferty won handily, moving, the historian said, “like and automaton…the admiration of all beholders” and inspiring similar proficiency in the regiment.[2] One June 17, 1862, during the Battle of Gaines Mill, McCafferty’s company was ordered to hold a bridge against an entire brigade of South Carolinians. The Confederates eventually overwhelmed them and McCafferty died in the effort. As the Union army retreated from the field, his body was never recovered. McCafferty’s name was one of those added 57 years after the dedication of the monument.[3]

Lt. Ezra Ripley was the son of one of the town’s most prominent families. His father, Rev. Samuel Ripley, raised in the famed Old Manse which once belonged to the Emerson family, was a prominent minister with a pulpit in Waltham. His mother, Sarah Bradford Ripley, a self-educated and formidable woman, ran a private school at the Ripley parsonage in Waltham. Ezra Ripley graduated from Harvard, was admitted to the bar, and practiced law for ten years in Cambridge before the war. Thomas Wentworth Higginson called him, “a slender, delicate, sensitive, and peculiarly unwarlike person.”[4] His health was “anything but robust.” Nonetheless, Ripley signed on and eventually became a lieutenant in the 29th Massachusetts Infantry–a unit largely from Plymouth County and made up of many descendants of old Mayflower families. He served through severe engagements on the Peninsula, went home on furlough, then rushed back to his regiment at the start of the Antietam campaign. After the fight, he wrote a lengthy letter to his family describing the engagement. “I have seen sights and gone through what I hope will never be my lot again,” he wrote. When the 29th Massachusetts was transferred to the Vicksburg Campaign in Mississippi, Ripley injured his leg and was left behind in the “wilderness” with one man to look after him. By the time he caught up with his regiment, traveling much of the way in an open wagon exposed to the sun, he was seriously ill. His commanding officer sent him homeward but Lt. Ripley died on the boat heading up the Mississippi River.[5] His prominent monument in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery bears a long epitaph describing his service and character.

IMG_0848Concord’s monument was dedicated on the anniversary of the Battles of Concord and Lexington. The corner of the monument rests on a stone from the abutment of Concord’s Old North Bridge where the American’s engaged British troops and Emerson’s famed “shot heard ’round the world” took place. By coincidence, it was also the date that the first volunteers departed Concord in 1861. Naturally, Emerson gave the dedication address. He spoke of the rapid change in ideas that took place in the North during the war, perhaps too optimistically. “Reform must begin at home. The aim of the hour was to reconstruct the South; but first the North had to be reconstructed. Its own theory and practice of liberty had got sadly out of gear, and must be corrected. It was done on the instant…it was found, contrary to all popular belief, that the country was at heart abolitionist, and for the Union was ready to die.”[6] Of course, much of the country, North and South, remained un-Reconstructed and refused to support the civil rights amendments. He devoted the bulk of his address in recounting the war record of Colonel George Prescott and the 32nd Massachusetts Infantry in which a large number of Concord men served. He concluded by imploring his neighbors to remember not only the fallen but those who fought and returned.

Click to enlarge images:

[1] Annual Report for the Town of Concord for the Year Ending December 31, 1913, (Concord: Thomas Todd, Printers, 1914), 285-292.
[2] Daniel Macnamara, History of the Ninth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, (Boston: E. B. Stillings & Co., 1899), 12.
[3] Macnamara, 418.
[4] Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Harvard Memorial Biographies, (Cambridge: Sever and Francis, 1866), volume 1, 107
[5] Higginson, 112-115.
[6] Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Complete Works, (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1904), volume xi, document xvii

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