Northborough Soldiers’ Monument (Worcester County)

Location: Town Common Park, 45 West Main Street, Northborough
Coordinates: 42°19’10.7″N 71°38’42.0″W
Date dedicated: September 17, 1870
Architect/contractor/sculptor: Webber and Murch Co.
Number of names: 29 men who died in the war

The first plan for a soldiers’ memorial in Northborough called for marble tablets to be installed in the new Town Hall. Others later proposed an obelisk. The matter was left to a committee and ultimately the town voted in 1868 to erect a freestanding monument in memory of the townsfolk who died in the war. As was often the case, there was much debate about the location of the monument. Local historian Josiah Kent tells us that among the proposed sites were the town cemetery, Mt. Assabet, and the site of the “old hay scales” (wherever that might have been).[1]

Kent did not elaborate on the various arguments for one site over another but such ambivalence was typical in Massachusetts (and elsewhere). Memorializing lost sons and husbands in this manner was so new, norms and conventions did not exist and towns often found themselves divided over whether such a monument should be located at the heart of civic life or in a more sacred space conducive to mourning and reflection. The location in the center of Northborough won out by a narrow margin.

On the day of the dedication, held on the anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, steady rain forced the ceremonies indoors to the Town Hall. George B. Loring of Salem gave the dedication oration. A newspaper account summarized his concluding remarks on the “great lessons of the war”, primarily personal devotion to country which would be passed down to future generations so that they might enjoy, according to the National Aegis, “a purer national life, a higher appreciation of liberty, a better citizenship and a more enduring nationality.”[2] It is difficult to say from this brief paraphrasing but it sounds as though Loring deliberately avoided the subject of sectional differences and slavery–matter which, just five years after the war, were often highlighting in monument dedication orations.

In all, 154 men from Northborough served in the war. The monument records names of the 29 who died. The town’s losses during the Battle of Antietam were particularly high. Five Northborough men died as a result of that battle (one-sixth of the town’s casualties during the entire war).[3] All these men served with the 15th Massachusetts Infantry which was nearly surrounded by Confederates near the Dunker Church that day and took terrible casualties. The date no doubt was etched into the memory of many residents and is likely why the town chose to dedicate the monument on September 17, 1870–the anniversary of the Battle of Antietam.

[1] Josiah C. Kent, Northborough History, (Newton: Garden City Press, 1921), 223-224.
[2] National Aegis, September 24, 1870, 6.
[3] Kent, 232-233.

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