Reading Soldiers’ Monument (Middlesex County)

ReadingLocation: Laurel Hill Cemetery, 750 Main Street, Reading
Coordinates: 42°31’36.6″N 71°06’13.3″W
Date dedicated: October 5, 1865
Architect/sculptor/manufacturer: William Johnson of Malden, carving and installation
Number of names: 48 who died in the war

Reading’s monument is the third oldest in the Commonwealth dedicated to all those from a given town who served in the Civil War. The war had only been over for a matter of weeks when the town voted to erect it during a meeting on May 25, 1865. It was preceded by Somerville in 1863 and Newton in 1864. Reading was the only Massachusetts town to dedicate a monument in 1865. Several more followed in 1866. Its form is typical of the earliest Massachusetts Civil War monuments–an obelisk of white marble in the style of tomb markers, located in a prominent position in the town’s main cemetery.

Abiel Holden, Esq. of Reading was the driving force behind the monument. A wealthy shoe manufacturer, Holden had taken an active interest in supporting the volunteers from Reading. He pushed for a memorial early in the war. Friends convinced him it would best to wait until the war’s end and he acquiesced, though he commented that he would likely not see the monument built. Sadly, he was correct as he died in November 1863. But he made the monument possible through a generous bequest which covered a large portion of the cost, and it was Holden who specified the location and general form of the monument in his will.[1]

The first Reading men to enlist belonged to the local militia company, the “Richardson Light Guard.” This company consisted of men from the towns of South Reading (now Wakefield) and Reading (20 in number).[2] It was named for Dr. Solon H. Richardson of South Reading, the primary financial backer of the company when it formed in 1851. They were ordered to muster on April 19, 1861, became Company B of the 5th Massachusetts and served a term of 90 days. One week before their term expired, the regiment took part in the First Battle of Bull Run and were heavily engaged in the sharpest part of the battle on Henry House Hill. None of the company were killed or wounded in this battle, though three were taken prisoner, including Private James Griggs and Private Charles Tibbetts of Reading. They would not be paroled for a year.[3] Casualties due to battle or disease would affect Reading before long–48 men who died in the war are listed on the monument.

On October 5, 1865, the town dedicated their monument, according to the inscription, to those who died in the “Great Rebellion.” A ceremony was held in the cemetery and then the procession then moved on to the Old South Church were remarks were given. Rev. W. H. Wilcox gave the key address which was described by a Boston paper as “very brief.” Rev. Wilcox stressed that they had gathered to dedicate not only a monument to the dead but a monument to the living. It was a “memorial of the service of the survivors” as much as a monument to those who had fallen.[4]

A dinner was held afterwards which, judging by a description in the Boston Daily Advertiser, had more the spirit of a homecoming celebration. It was, after all, just months after many had returned home. After a series of toasts, remarks were made by Alonzo Quint, a veteran, filled with “racy anecdotes” of a soldier’s life and “telling hits upon the would-be traitors of the North.”[4]

Click to enlarge images:

[1] Lilley Eaton, Genealogical history of the town of Reading, Mass., including the present towns of Wakefield, Reading, and North Reading, with chronological and historical sketches, from 1639 to 1874, (Boston: A. Mudge & Son, Printers, 1874), 749-751.
[2] George W. Nason, History and complete roster of the Massachusetts regiments, minute men of ’61…, (Boston: Smith & McCance, 1910)
[3] W. E. Eaton, History of the Richardson Light Guard, of Wakefield, Mass. 1851-1901, (Wakefield: Printed at the Citizen and Banner Office, 1901), 52.
[4] Boston Daily Advertiser, October 6, 1865.

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