North Adams

North Adams Soldiers’ Monument (Berkshire County). For additional images see gallery below.

Location: Monument Square, 134 Main Street, North Adams
Coordinates: 42°41’55.1″N 73°06’34.6″W
Date dedicated: July 4, 1878
Architect/contractor/sculptor: Charles Niles Pike, sculptor

A grateful acknowledgement is due to C. A. Chicoine and his excellent website Monument Square of North Adams, Massachusetts from which much of the information in this article was obtained. The site is one of a very few dedicated to the history of a Massachusetts Civil War monument and certainly the most comprehensive.

The North Adams Soldiers’ Monument was erected due to the efforts of the local Soldiers’ Aid Society headed by Mrs. Miles Sanford. Her son was Capt. Charles D. Sanford, for whom the local Grand Army of the Republic post was named after the war. Born in Michigan, Sanford came to North Adams as a youth with his family when his father was engaged as the minister for the First Baptist Church. He graduated from Williams College, became a lawyer and at age 21 joined the army as a 1st Lieutenant with the 27th Massachusetts Infantry. He recruited most of Company H and was quickly promoted to the captaincy of that company. His army career was distinguished by many special duties and commendations too numerous to mention here. On May 16, 1864, he was killed during the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff, Virginia while leading his company.[1]

The sculptor was Charles Niles Pike. A North Adams native, Pike served during the war as a hostler and personal carriage driver to some of the highest ranking generals of the war, including McClellan, Hooker, Meade, and Grant. The original small-scale model was crafted by a former student of Pike’s, George E. Bissell of Poughkeepsie who was also responsible for several Civil War monuments in New York and Connecticut. Pike completed the life-size version and refined the details.[2]

The statue, carved from Sicilian marble, was described by the Springfield Republican as “a typical American soldier” wearing all his accouterments and a “saddened look to the face giving the soldier the appearance of viewing, with mournful contemplation, the graves of his fallen comrades.”[3] The pedestal was made of brownstone from Portland, Maine. The primary inscription reads, “Presented to the town of North Adams by the Ladies’ Soldiers Aid Society.” A writer for the North Adams Transcript noted that some in town did not feel it was grand enough, though “everybody admits its beauty and simplicity and admires the art and skill displayed in its construction.”[4]

On the dedication day, a procession of roughly 1,200 marched through town. The crowd of spectators was estimated to be about 10,000 according to the Springfield Republican. Judge James T. Robinson made the oration of the day. A resident of North Adams He was a graduate of Williams college, a former state senator, newspaper editor and a respected orator. His speech exemplifies the common reconciliationist language of the post-Reconstruction period:

Robinson, James T.But what of the future? The armed struggle is over… The armies are disbanded, slavery is abolished, and the freedman has the ballot…All permanent cause of alienation and discord between the sections is removed. The soldiers we honor died for both sections and all races and the time will come when the people of the South will see that our victory was their victory, because it was a victory over injustice and wrong…We must recognize the fact that the majority of the southern soldiers were sincere and brave.… We do not by this admit the justice of the cause they have defended. Honest and brave men have fought for a bad cause before this…So now we may mourn even for the gallant southern dead, and still keep our wreaths of glory for the brow of those only who died for the republic. But when new duties, new questions, new parents are upon us, and we must turn our backs to the past and our faces to the future.[5]

An antislavery man and a member of the Free Soil party before the war, Robinson acknowledged the importance of the death of slavery but gave greater emphasis to the shared valor on both sides and the need to forget the past. Rhetoric of this sort was common across the country at this time and would be for decades to come. Unfortunately, in collectively turning away from the strife of the past, citizens North and South also turned away from justice for freedmen.

The North Adams monument has endured some catastrophic accidents. Situated in the center of a busy intersection and, for quite some time lacking a protective fence, the monument was struck by a car in 1978 (in its 100th anniversary year) and again in 1999, causing the statue to topple. After both incidents, despite the fact that most believed the damage was irreparable, the statue was pieced together by Carl Robare of Stamford, Vermont. For details on this remarkable labor of love see the story, photographs, and interview with Carl Robare on C. A. Chicoine’s website here.  

Having seen greater calamity than most Massachusetts Civil War monuments, the North Adams monument still stands today, now encircled by a protective fence on an attractively landscaped island overlooking Monument Square.

[1] W. P. Derby, Bearing Arms in the Twenty-Seventh Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1861-1865 (Boston: Wright & Potter, 1883), 283-284.
[2] C. A. Chicoine, “The Sculptor,” Monument Square of North Adams, Massachusetts
[3] Springfield Republican, June 21, 1878.
[4] Chicoine, “A Brief Introduction”
[5] Republican Journal (Belfast, Maine), July 11, 1878, 4.

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