Holyoke Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument (Hampden County)

HolyokeLocation: Veterans Memorial Park, Maple and Dwight Streets, Holyoke
Coordinates: 42°12’30.1″N 72°36’30.0″W
Date dedicated: July 4, 1876
Architect/sculptor/manufacturer: Maurice J. Power, National Fine Art Foundry, design; Henry Jackson Ellicott, sculptor; John Delaney & Son, foundation
Number of names: 55 who died in the war

Holyoke’s impressive memorial statue and the poignant bas-relief scenes depicting moments in the life of a Union volunteer all make for a remarkable monument…one with a troubled history.

The final design was chosen after a lengthy controversy over the first design selection, one by architect Larkin G. Mead (who designed the Lincoln Tomb among other works). It seems that not only was Mead’s design disliked by many, the local GAR Post also objected to the way in which the committee handled the contract.[1] Dropping Mead’s design resulted in lawsuits from contractors already engaged. The matter was eventually sorted out and the project put out to bid again in late 1875 with new proposals reviewed in December 1875.[2]

The winning design was from Maurice J. Power who ran the National Fine Art Foundry in New York. Henry Jackson Ellicott sculpted the main statue and the relief scenes. He worked for Power on several projects and is also responsible for the Infantryman on the Lawrence and Clinton monuments. Curiously, several publications refer to the sculptor as “H. G. Ellicott” (clearly an error and probably confusing the sculptor with a different individual) and repeat the dubious claim that he served in the Confederate cavalry–some even going so far as to name him second in command of Mosby’s Rangers. Searches of reliable Civil War soldiers databases do not turn up any evidence of service for an “H. G. Ellicott” or a Henry Jackson Ellicott in either army. This tradition Confederate service must therefore be taken with a grain of salt. And the use of “H. G. Ellicott” which appears even in recent publications should be abandoned.

“Liberty” by Henry J. Ellicott

The statue, according to the Smithsonian Art Inventories Catalog, represents Liberty holding a shield in one hand and a laurel wreath aloft in the other. The granite base features four bronze relief tablets (below) depicting scenes from the war. In the first, a soldier embraces his wife before departing to join his unit. Another depicts the chaos of battle as men and horses grapple. A third shows a wounded soldier being tended by a surgeon or orderly. The final and most enigmatic shows a widow and her son weeping by a soldier’s grave while an African American man stands looking on. There seems to be some deliberate commentary here regarding emancipation but the artist’s intended meaning, whether positive or negative, is entirely unclear.

The dedication of the monument, which took place on the bicentennial of the nation’s birth, was marred by tragedy. Before the orations began, a gun crew commenced to firing a 21-gun salute. Sadly, the gun discharged prematurely just as powder was being rammed. One of the crew, Charles C. Sawyer was mortally wounded, surviving nearly 24 hours despite grievous injuries. Another gunner, William Grant, lost an arm but survived. Both men had survived service as artillerymen in the war without a scratch.[3]

Other monument dedication ceremonies in Massachusetts saw accidents resulting in injuries but not fatalities. In more than one case injuries occurred when temporary seating platforms gave way (in Beverly, for example). Such events typically resulted in postponement of the proceedings but remarkably, in Holyoke’s case, despite the gruesome scene, the ceremonies went on and shaken speakers took the podium.

Abolitionist Charles W. Slack of Boston gave the oration. According to the Springfield Republican, he “indulged in a glorification of the soldiers” and asserted that their work had not been entirely accomplished until the passage of the 15th Amendment guaranteeing the right of suffrage to freedmen.[4]

[1] Springfield Republican, November 4, 1875, 6.
[2] “Trouble Over a Monument,” Hartford Daily Courant, November 10, 1875, 2.
[3] Springfield Republican, July 5, 1876, 6.
[4] Springfield Republican, July 5, 1876, 5.

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