Oxford

Oxford Memorial Town Hall (Worcester County)

Location: Memorial Town Hall, 325 Main Street, Oxford
Coordinates: 42°07’03.3″N 71°51’53.8″W
Date dedicated: November 19, 1873
Architect/contractor/sculptor: Earle and Fuller of Worcester, architects; Thomas G. Learned of Worcester, general contractor; E. B. Walker & Co. of Oxford, granite work; D. W. Cook, brick work; Tateum and Horgan of Worcester, brown stone.
Number of names: 61 who died in the war (on tablets in vestibule)

Oxford’s Memorial Town Hall was first proposed in 1865 and in November of that year, the citizens of Oxford voted $10,000 appropriated for that purpose. The following year, as often happens in local politics, that vote was overturned and it would be nearly a decade before the structure became a reality.[1] When it was dedicated in memory of those from Oxford who died in the war, the marble memorial tablets now featured in the vestibule were not yet in place.[2] The speaker on that occasion, Peter B. Olney, an Oxford native and accomplished New York attorney, gave a discourse focused almost entirely on the colonial history of the town, only mentioning the “late war” towards the end of his remarks.[3] The memorial tablets were completed in 1874.

During the first weeks of the war, volunteers in Oxford came together to form a militia company known as the “DeWitt Guards” in honor of Alexander DeWitt, a former Congressman, local leader, and colonel of the state militia. The company was officially organized on May 4, 1861 and became Company E of the 15th Massachusetts Infantry. The first casualty from Oxford was 1st Lt. Nelson Bartholomew of the 15th Massachusetts who died of illness early in his service in August 1861. Thirty-three others from this company died in service, making up roughly half of the names on Oxford’s memorial tablets.[4]

Clara Barton (1821-1912)

Any remarks on Oxford’s Civil War history must certainly include Clara Barton, the well-known battlefield nurse and founder of the American Red Cross. As Massachusetts Civil War historian Alfred S. Roe wrote in 1910 (while Barton still lived), “Were an Oxford veteran to be asked what reminder of the war, to be seen in this town, he prized most highly, the immediate response would be, ‘Clara Barton.'”[5] During her early career, Barton was a schoolteacher in Oxford. Many of her former students–who were young men by 1861–enlisted in the army. Her remarkable efforts as an independent battlefield nurse are well known.

One of her most astonishing accomplishments is perhaps not so well known–the establishment of the Friends of the Missing Men of the United States Army. Barton established this office immediately after the war and some 63,000 applicants appealed to it for aid in finding their lost husband, son or brother.[6] Sadly, in most cases this meant locating his battlefield grave. However, Barton and her small staff did locate a number of living soldiers languishing in hospitals or otherwise lost but not forgotten. In all, her office located some 22,000 men or their remains. A large portion of this work focused on the notorious Georgia prison camp known as Andersonville. Working with army officials, Barton and a small team of volunteers helped to identify some 13,000 bodies buried at Andersonville which the army reinterred in marked graves in a new National Cemetery.[7]

After Clara Barton passed on April 12, 1912 (the anniversary day of the Battle of Fort Sumter), her funeral services were held in Oxford’s Memorial Hall and attended by hundreds. Her coffin, which passed by the memorial tablets bearing the names of many battlefields at which she had tended to the wounded and dying, was draped in an American flag and escorted by veterans whom she had treated.[8]

Click images for enlarged view:

[1] George Fisher Daniels, History of the Town of Oxford, Massachusetts: With Genealogies and Notes on Persons and Estates, (Oxford: Pub. by the author with the cooperation of the town, 1892), 230.
[2] Massachusetts Spy, November 21, 1873, 2.
[3] National Aegis, November 22, 1873, 8.
[4] Daniels, 161 and 184-185.
[5] 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), 91-92.
[6] Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum, https://www.clarabartonmuseum.org/bio/
[7] Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008), 217.
[8] Boston Herald, April 16, 1912, 3.

2 thoughts on “Oxford

  1. A shout out goes to Dorrance Atwater of Terryville, CT, who record and smuggled the names of the dead at Andersonville . The list of names became the basis of Clara Barton’s work in identifying the dead Union soldiers there.

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