Roxbury Soldiers’ Monument

Location: Forest Hills Cemetery, 95 Forest Hills Avenue, Roxbury
Coordinates: 42°17’32.7″N 71°06’33.7″W
Date dedicated: May 30, 1868
Architect/contractor/sculptor: Martin Milmore, sculptor

On the soldiers’ lot in Forest Hills Cemetery–a serene, secluded space shaded by large trees–stands Roxbury’s monument to their lost husbands, fathers and sons. The pedestal bears the inscription, “Erected by the City of Roxbury in Honor of her Soldiers Who Died for their Country in the Rebellion of 1861-1865.” The statue, known as the “Citizen-Soldier,” was sculpted by the Irish-born sculptor Martin Milmore. It was his first Civil War monument. He later designed and sculpted many more.

It is, both in form and symbolism, an exceedingly important monument. It defined the “standing soldier” form and influenced generations of sculptors. While it is true that several other sculptors were simultaneously developing this form of memorial (including Henry J. Ellicott in New York and Carl Conrads in Hartford), Milmore’s “Citizen-Soldier” captured the public’s attention more than any other. Early Civil War monuments were typically funereal in form—usually an obelisk evoking a grave marker. Purely architectural monuments continued to be the dominant form for 10 to 15 years after the war. But by the mid to late 1870’s, the soldier at rest, emulating Milmore’s standing soldier, became common and is today the model of a “typical” Civil War monument.

The symbolism was as innovative as the form. It was an important cultural development—an attempt to represent the Common Soldier rather than the Great General astride his horse (as seen in so many European monuments). This new American trend was democratic in philosophy, literally elevating the soldier in the eyes of the public, making him the symbol of reverence and creating a stand-in for so many husbands and sons lost. In a young nation with very little public art (as compared to European nations), this was a major cultural development.

Martin Milmore (1844-1883)

Milmore was born in Sligo, Ireland in 1844. When he was seven, his widowed mother emigrated to Boston and soon after made arrangements for her sons to join her in America. His older brother Joseph became a stonecutter and educated Milmore in that trade. Martin Milmore took it a step further and became a excellent sculptor. By the late 1860s, the two had opened a studio together on Harrison Street in Boston’s South End.

Milmore’s later works include, most notably, the Boston Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument as well as monuments in Charlestown, Fitchburg, Woburn, Framingham, and other locations. His enigmatic “American Sphinx”—an unusual Civil War memorial at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge—is also well known. His larger works are imposing but there is something particularly poignant about the “Citizen-Soldier” in Roxbury. The figure was meant to represent a young volunteer soldier looking upon the graves of fallen comrades. Later sculptors may have roughly imitated the form but few, if any, captured the emotion on the soldier’s face.

The sculpture was completed in the summer of 1867 and sent to the Ames Foundry in Chicopee to be cast in bronze in August.[1] It was displayed temporarily in front of Roxbury’s City Hall (without the pedestal) in the early months of 1868.[2] By May 1868 it was fully installed at the soldiers’ plot in Forest Hills Cemetery and was dedicated on the first Decoration Day (now known as Memorial Day) on May 30, 1868. At the time, it was one of the largest bronze statues in the United States.[3] Although it was sculpted at about the same time as Carl Conrads’s soldier atop the Deerfield, Massachusetts monument, it was cast and installed after Deerfield’s was in place and dedicated, making Roxbury’s the second (though more famous) standing soldier monument in Massachusetts.

During the dedication ceremonies, Rev. George Putnam gave the keynote address. He was pastor of the Roxbury First Parish Church and a highly esteemed theologian. In 1836, he was one of the four Harvard graduates (including Ralph Waldo Emerson) who met to discuss the creation of what would be called the Transcendentalist club. On the dedication day, the weather was rainy and Putnam promised not to keep them long. He was true to his word–his remarks were quite short by the standards of the day.

He cleverly noted that the only “speaker” needed that day was the mute statue itself and reflected briefly on its appearance and significance:

He looks weary; well he may, for he has run his race, and well and bravely done his work…He looks pensive and thoughtful, for he remembers the carnage, the hospital, and the prison. He has pathos in his expression, for he looks on the graves of his dead comrades. We come to inaugurate this monument, but it needs not many words to do it. Let it be done by grateful, tender memories, and devout thanksgiving in all our hearts.[4] 

Nearly half those buried in the Roxbury soldiers plot were members of the 35th Massachusetts Infantry who fell at Antietam.[5] Close to 2,000 men from Roxbury served in the Civil War. They were well represented in nearly every regiment but one of the largest segments of Roxbury men served with the 35th Massachusetts (105 in total). This unit was recruited during the summer of 1862 and rushed to the front just as the Maryland Campaign began. On their way to the front, they had only a few days to learn to load and fire their muskets.

The regiment became part of Ferraro’s Brigade just before the Battle of Antietam. This brigade took Burnside’s Bridge over Antietam Creek after so many others had been decimated in the attempt. Due to their minimal training, the 35th Massachusetts was kept in the rear during that assault. However, as sunset approached, their brigade formed up on the heights beyond the bridge and braced for the Confederate counter-attack. When it came, this wave hit the green 35th Massachusetts particularly hard. As most of the Union left flank retreated back across Antietam Creek, the 35th Massachusetts remained as the primary barrier to cover them and to prevent the Confederates from re-taking the bridge. They fired until their ammunition was gone under a terrible cross-fire from Confederate infantry and artillery. Every officer of the regiment was taken from the field, either killed or wounded, before the unit retired. Of the 1,000 that began the campaign only 300 were standing at the close of the battle. They held the bridge that night.[6]

Of such things, we might imagine, Roxbury’s Citizen-Soldier ponders.

Click images to enlarge:

[1] “Roxbury Soldiers Monument,” Art Inventories Catalog, Smithsonian Institution Research System
[2] Daily Evening Transcript (Boston), February 18, 1868, 2.
[3] Massachusetts Cultural Information System, “Forest Hills Cemetery”
[4] Boston Traveler, June 1, 1868, 1.
[5] Bacon’s Dictionary of Boston, (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1886), 82.
[6] James Bowen, Massachusetts in the War 1861-1865, (Boston: C. W. Bryan and Co., 1889), 526-530.

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