IMG_0465 (2)
Auburn Soldiers’ Monument (Worcester County)

AuburnLocation: Hillside Cemetery, 65 Central Street, Auburn
Coordinates: 42°11’50.9″N 71°49’55.9″W
Date dedicated: May 30, 1870
Architect/sculptor/manufacturer: Unknown
Number of names: 15 men who died in the war

Auburn’s tribute to their sons lost in the war was dedicated on Decoration Day, May 30, 1870. It was placed on the highest point in Hillside Cemetery. Information is somewhat scarce as to its construction and dedication. The cost of $1,500 was funded by a town appropriation.[1] In form (a marble obelisk) it is consistent with the earlier memorials erected in the first few years following the war. The dedication address was given by Rev. Thomas Eliot St. John of Worcester. He was known for his stirring sermons on the Union cause during the war and was a popular speaker afterwards.[2]

Fifteen men who died in the war are listed on the monument. Two others were somehow overlooked–Privates Thomas Dolligan and Leander J. Owen.[3] A highly informative article in the Worcester Telegram reporting on the re-dedication of the monument in 2014 provides some brief information on each of the Auburn soldiers who died in the war. The lives of any one of these soldiers might be further expanded on here. But Private George F. Newton catches the eye not only due to his youth but also due to the evident tribulations on his brief service record. Some additional research reveals further details about his short life…

George F. Newton was a young farm laborer living in Auburn when he enlisted on July 12, 1861. His enlistment record indicates he was 18 (the minimum age permitted). In fact, he was just 15 years old.[3] It was not at all uncommon for young men to lie about their age and for recruiting officers to turn a blind eye. When the war began, he was an orphan living with his grand-parents (his mother died when he was two and his father was listed as unknown on his birth record). He was mustered in to the 15th Massachusetts Infantry, Company A. The regiment was assigned to the Army of the Potomac’s “Corps of Observation” in the early months of the war. This consisted of an army division stationed on the Potomac well upriver from Washington for the purpose of preventing a Confederate crossing in that area.

On October 21, 1861, the 15th Massachusetts served as the advanced unit in a reconnaissance across the Potomac at Ball’s Bluff towards Leesburg, Virginia. After encountering a substantial Confederate force, the 15th Massachusetts took the heaviest casualties of any federal unit in the battle. The entire Union force was routed and many Union soldiers were captured. Private George F. Newton was initially listed as a deserter and presumed dead.[4] In actuality, he was one of the many men of the 15th Massachusetts taken prisoner. He was first taken to a prison in Richmond. From there, many of the members of the 15th Massachusetts were sent to various prisons across the South. According to Confederate records, Private Newton was slated to be transferred to a prison in Alabama–although it is not clear if this was carried out.[5] He was released four months later on February 22, 1862 being one of 400 prisoners (including 61 men from the 15th Massachusetts) shipped to the Union stronghold of Fortress Monroe, Virginia under a flag of truce.[6]

George Newton rejoined his unit just in time to participate in the Peninsular Campaign–a massive movement of Union troops from Fortress Monroe up the Virginia Peninsula towards Richmond. About halfway up the peninsula they were stopped by the Confederates at Williamsburg. The 15th Massachusetts fought at Williamsburg on May 7 and then boarded two steamships at Yorktown to be sent up the York River towards Richmond. Private Newton did not go with them. According to his Massachusetts service record, he died of disease in Yorktown on June 10, 1862. Other sources indicate that he was wounded. The Worcester Telegram article on the re-dedication states that he died “near the Elm City” in Yorktown.[3] The Elm City was a hospital ship operated by the United States Sanitary Commission. It seems likely that Newton was about to be sent to a hospital in Washington, D.C. but died before he could be taken on board. He was 16 years old.

Private George F. Newton has a grave marker in the Yorktown National Cemetery. He also has a grave marker in Hillside Cemetery in Auburn. He might, in fact, be buried in either place. There is no definitive record of his burial.

The Auburn Soldiers’ Monument was restored and re-dedicated in 2014 through funds from the Massachusetts Department of Veterans Services, the Massachusetts Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, and a matching appropriation from the Town of Auburn.

Click to enlarge photographs:

[1] Alfred S. Roe, Monuments, tablets and other memorials erected in Massachusetts to commemorate the service of her sons in the war of the rebellion, 1861-1865, (Boston: Wright and Potter Printers, 1910), 26.
[2] The Universalist Register, 1907, 117.
[3] Ellie Oleson, “Auburn’s Civil War memorial has been restored,” May 23, 2014.
[3] “Private George F. Newton Memorial,” Find-A-Grave; also for birth record see Massachusetts vital records to 1850 : Auburn, 1762-1875, 42; also George was listed as 14 years old in the 1860 U.S. Census.
[4] Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1864, 455
[5] William H. Jeffrey, Richmond prisons 1861-1862: compiled from the original records kept by the Confederate government, etc., (St. Johnsbury: The Republican Press, 1893), 175.
[6] “National Prisoners Released, Arrival of Four hundred at Fortress Monroe,” New York Times February 22, 1862.

Leave a Reply